The Biggest Coal Exporter in North America

A compilation from stories in the ECOreport

One of the Coal cars that overturned in Burnaby, BC,  on June 11, 2014
One of the Coal cars that overturned in Burnaby, BC, on January 11, 2014 – courtesy the ECOreport

Not too long ago, there were plans to ship 80 million tons of coal through six terminals in Washington and Oregon. Now there are three. Domestic coal burning plants are being phased out in both states. Their Governors expressed concerns further expansion would lead to  “air quality and climate impacts in the United States that dwarf almost any other action the federal government could take in the foreseeable future.” So the coal industry has sought new outlets to the North, in British Colimbia’s Lower Mainland.

There has been a dramatic increase in the amount of coal entering BC since 2010. Though coal burning plants cannot be built in the province, because of climate change regulations, this does not prevent the province from exporting coal. There are plans to make BC the biggest coal exporter in North America. The existing terminals at Delta and North Vancouver are being expanded and a new facility is proposed for Surrey.

Map of Proposed Coal Expansion - Courtesy video Save the Salish Sea
Map of Proposed Coal Expansion – Courtesy the Wilderness Committee’s video Save the Salish Sea

Westshore Coal Export Terminal at Roberts Bank

Westshore coal export terminal at Roberts Bank, in Delta, is the largest export facility on the Pacific coast and there are plans to make it larger. Denis Horgan, Vice President of Westshore Terminal at Roberts Bank in Delta – the largest coal export facility on the Pacific coast – said the $230 million project is more about “staying efficient,” and carefully used the words “stockpile expansion.”

Neptune Terminals in North Vancouver

This is not the only facility expanding. Last year, Port Metro approved a $200 million expansion of Neptune Terminal’s coal handling facility in North Vancouver. It is now be capable of handling 18.5 million tonnes a year, twice its former capacity.

According to Kevin Washburn, of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change (VTACC),  the Port Authority rushed through its decision on the Neptune expansion in January of 2013 despite growing opposition and demands for public hearings and a health impact assessment of the proposal.

In late 2013 North Vancouver city council passed a motion calling on the Port Authority to conduct a health impact assessment of the Neptune decision.  The Port Authority has not responded to this request.

On January 11, 2014, a 152-car coal train, heading for Neptune Terminals in North Vancouver, to derail in Burnaby this afternoon. Seven cars went off the tracks near Government and Cariboo Roads, near Burnaby Lake. Three of the cars spilled their loads.  As you can see from the photo at the top of this page, at least one of these emptied its load into a protected waterway. No one was injured.

Emily Hamer, a spokeswoman for CNR, said she did not know how much of the coal went into the water or whether CPR or CNR, which owns the tracks, is responsible for the derailment of the 152-car train.

Washburn issued a press release saying, “The accident today in Burnaby highlights a fundamental flaw in decision making around expanded coal exports in Metro Vancouver.”

“The Port Authority has absolute power to approve expanded coal exports from publicly owned Port lands, and it refuses to acknowledge that those decisions have an impact on surrounding communities. Whether it’s the health impacts from increased exposure to diesel exhaust or coal dust or train derailments themselves, increased coal exports come at a cost to our neighborhoods.  Local and regional governments and our health authorities deserve a say in these decisions.”

Neptune terminals in North Vancouver - Courtesy Save the Salish Sea
Neptune terminals in North Vancouver – Courtesy the WIlderness Committee’s video Save the Salish Sea

Fraser Surrey Docks

There is also a proposed $15-million project that would allow Warren Buffet’s Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway to bring up to four million tonnes of American coal to Fraser Surrey Docks every year. The coal would be barged to Texada Island and then loaded onto ocean-going vessels.

SNC Lavalin, hired by Surrey Fraser Docks to conduct an environmental assessment, claimed the proposal would “not likely cause significant adverse effects to the environment or human health.”

After reviewing SNC Lavelin’s report, chief medical health officers Dr. Patricia Daly and Dr. Paul Van Buynder concluded that it is “primarily a repackaging of work previously done by other consultants” that does not “deal with the full scope of the project” or “meet even the most basic requirements of a health impact assessment.”

Some of the specifics they felt were missing are:

• Data regarding population increases in Surrey or Delta, or comments on the effect this increase would have on the most vulnerable population (children and elderly) over the proposed life time of the project.
• The segment dealing with coal dust mitigation leaned too heavily on a 25-year-old report and while it was suggested that sealants could address this problem, no proof was given.
• There was “little consideration of the increase in diesel emissions from trains, barges, trucks and idling vehicles at railway crossings.”
• It was not appropriate to use a letter written in 1998 to address concerns about dust from Westshore Terminals fifteen years later.
• The sections on air quality monitoring and emergency vehicle access were inadequate.

• There was no indication that residents of the surrounding area were properly consulted.

The United Steelworkers and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have written letters in support of the project, but most of the surrounding communities have voiced their opposition.

Paula Williams, head of the community group, Communities and Coal, said she has never been involved in anything like this before.

“We came here because it was quiet and peaceful and a good place to raise kids, and it was close to the beach,” she said. “Little did we know what was looming – although I think, quite honestly, this was all meant to be. Protesting anything – unless you’re part of an environmental group – seems un-Canadian.”

The BC Nurses Union, Vancouver Coastal Health, the school boards of Burnaby and Vancouver and the municipal councils of Surrey, Delta, and White Rock have raised objections.

BC’s biggest credit union, VanCity, promptly urged Port Metro Vancouver to not move forward with the proposal until the health officer’s concerns were addressed.

One of the strongest objections came from Burnaby, where Mayor Derek Corrigan said, “Over and over again, decisions are being made by bodies who are not independent. Port Metro Vancouver is conducting this environmental assessment. The majority of directors on Port Metro Vancouver are appointed by the very companies that stand to economically benefit from these decisions. And so here you have a Board of Directors, appointed by the companies that are in charge of the environmental assessment to determine if they are going to make more money.”

In regards to the decision to hire SNC Lavalin, Mayor Corrigan said the company is currently being investigated for corruption in Montreal and the World Bank has banned them for ten years because of corruption.

“If this company has been banned by the World Bank, why the heck are they doing environmental assessments in our back yard?” Corrigan said. “This is completely losing control of any public interest in these projects what-so-ever.”

(Click on this link to access a video of Mayor Corrigan saying these things.) Burnaby’s council voted unanimously to oppose expansion of coal exports.

Another view of Neptune Terminals - Courtesy Save the Salish Sea
Another view of Neptune Terminals – Courtesy the WIlderness Committee’s video “Save the Salish Sea

[youtube id=”0YKIuLtp4pc” width=”600″ height=”350″]

In response to a request from Port Metro Vancouver, Surrey Fraser Docks hired SNC Lavalin to do a health assessment.

Tim Blair, Senior Planner of Port Metro Vancouver, told the ECOreport this report will not be reviewed by any medical personal and the Port be seeking any additional opinions.

He believes there is already sufficient information about the effects of coal dust in current literature.

The Peace Arch News reports that Dr. Paul Van Buynder was pleased that there will be further inquiries, but also disappointed there will be no further formal comment from the medial community allowed.

“I believe this work should be done in consultation with health experts and in a fashion transparent to the concerned public,” Van Buynder said in an emailed statement. “It is important for the credibility of any further review and the decision outcome that the process is not undertaken by the proponent in isolation of public health.”

Port Metro has retained a consultant, Golder and Associates, to analyze Fraser Surrey Docks health assessment and will make its decision this June. They will post the results for everyone to see.

To be continued …..

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