The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority's proposed expansion of coal-exporting facilities jeopardizes the health of the planet, according to a Vancouver environmental activist.
Kevin Washbrook, director of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, told the Georgia Straight by phone that planned upgrades will make this region the largest coal exporter in North America.
"We're coming up against a cliff here," Washbrook said in reference to climate change. "This stuff just can't be built if you're legitimately considering the impacts to the planet."
He also maintained the increased coal exports through the port will lead to greater annual greenhouse-gas emissions than annual emissions from oil transported through the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
"Coal-export proposals are just as serious a threat to the climate as pipeline plans," he declared.
The port authority is reviewing an application by Fraser Surrey Docks to develop a "direct-transfer coal facility" to handle up to four million metric tonnes per year—with a potential to rise to eight million metric tonnes per year over the long term.
Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway, which is owned by billionaire Warren Buffett's holding company, wants to bring the coal in by rail to be loaded onto 8,000 deadweight-tonne barges.
They would be towed to Texada Island. From there, the coal would be stored and then placed onto deep-sea vessels for export to overseas markets.
Washbrook explained that communities along the U.S. west coast have been effective opponents of coal-port developments, often basing their arguments around noise, dust, health, and traffic concerns.
"Meanwhile, BNSF is quietly adding capacity north of the border," he noted.
Meanwhile, the port authoriy is reviewing an application by Neptune Terminals to create a new railcar dumper, conveyers, and a longer shiploader boom.
"Combined, the project proposal will increase the terminal's coal handling capacity to 18 million metric tonnes per year—an increase of six million metric tonnes," the port authority states on its website. "Approximately one additional train per day and one additional ship per week are expected to call on the terminal following the project's completion."
Washbrook said that Westshore Terminals at Roberts Bank shipped a record 27 million tonnes of coal last year. This, along with the planned upgrades, would mean that the port authority would be able to export 53 million tonnnes per year—which is 10 million tonnes more than the second largest North American coal-exporting port in Norfolk, Virginia.
Moreover, Washbrook said that the port authority will become the contnent's "largest exporter of global-warming pollution".
That's because when this coal is burned, it has the potential to generate 106 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.
The Northern Gateway pipeline, on the other hand, will facilitate an increase of 80 to 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere each year.
"It's a testament to the success of the groups working on the tar-sands issue that everyone talks about it," Washbrook said. "But one of my worries is if we're successful at stopping Enbridge, people will go, 'Great, problem solved.'...The issue is still there."
The port authority calls itself as Port Metro Vancouver, though it's not part of the regional government known as Metro Vancouver, which is governed by municipal politicians.
Nobody from the port authority has been available for comment as of this writing. Its review process is done in-house and projects must be built to the National Building Code and conform to a land-use plan.
"They're going to send it out to consultation to Surrey and the local First Nations, but that's purely for advisement," Washbrook said of the Surrey Fraser Docks proposal. "They have no obligation to make changes to this. In the case of Neptune, I see nothing on the website that they're going to provide any similar consultation. So here, we have this quasi-Crown corporation that basically has complete autonomy to make huge decisions."
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.