Daniel Tseghay and Andrew Weaver: We can choose not to export coal in B.C.

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      “Seems like it’s a problem we probably have to get used to,” said conservative CNN commentator Erick Erickson about climate change, “as opposed to something we can cure.” In a segment lampooning the curious habit of conservatives rejecting the fact of human-caused global warming only to eventually claim it’s too late to do anything about it, Stephen Colbert summed it up well: “Erickson has finally hit the fifth stage of conservative climate change grief: denial, denial, denial, denial, and acceptance.”

      This mystifying, and disingenuous, change of heart is visible practically everywhere now—including in the debate over coal. Terminal ports around the Pacific Northwest are planning on shipping coal abroad, particularly to China. And the rationalization is, basically, that it’s too late to do anything about it—so we might as well sell it off and get the tax revenues and the jobs before someone else does.

      “Proponents of the coal export terminals,” notes economist Thomas M. Power in a paper entitled The Greenhouse Gas Impact of Exporting Coal from the West Coast, “consistently claim that the decision to authorize them will have no effect on the total amount of coal that is burned globally, and hence on the global climate. In their view, opening up the West Coast to the export of...coal will only change the source of the coal burned in Asia—not the total amount.”

      And this is precisely the same argument being made in British Columbia. The first of two coal port expansion projects in the Lower Mainland was approved without consultation in late January by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority (Port Metro Vancouver). It more than doubles the amount of coal leaving North Vancouver’s Neptune Bulk Terminals, from 8.5 million to 18.5 million tonnes. The second port expansion project at Fraser Surrey Docks, expected to ship up to four million metric tons of coal brought in from the U.S., is currently under review.

      Combined, the two terminals will be the continent’s “largest exporter of global-warming pollution” according to Kevin Washbrook, director of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change. Trapped in all that coal which these ports intend to ship abroad is the equivalent of 106 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. By comparison, the Northern Gateway pipeline, which has received far more attention and condemnation, will produce 80 to 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

      “We’re strengthening our role as a key link in Canada’s Pacific Gateway and as an important contributor to our local and provincial economy,” Port Metro Vancouver’s website states. But this is inaccurate and misleading.

      “Suffice to say, coal ports don’t do much for local economies, in the port towns themselves or on the routes to and from them,” wrote David Roberts in an article for Grist. “Rail traffic would radically increase, crowding out other rail-using commodities, cutting towns in half for hours every day, and leaving a coating of toxic coal dust everywhere. Coal ports employ very few people, but are loud and polluted with diesel fumes and coal dust, which renders waterfronts unsuitable for other commercial or community uses.” Coal ports will do more to decimate than to accumulate local jobs.

      To the Erick Ericksons of the world—to those who would say that if Port Metro Vancouver doesn’t export the coal, somebody else will and profit while doing so—Thomas M. Power’s article responds. The “proposed coal export facilities in the Northwest will result in more coal consumption in Asia and undermine China’s progress towards more efficient power generation and usage. Decisions the Northwest makes now will impact Chinese energy habits for the next half-century; the lower coal prices afforded by Northwest coal exports encourage burning coal and discourage the investments in energy efficiency that China has already undertaken.” Or, to put it simply, if we keep the coal where it belongs—in the ground—for long enough, we might help encourage investments in renewable energy abroad. There will no longer be a market receptive to competing exporters.

      What we do matters. We can’t keep pretending, after so much time spent in denial, that we have no other choice but to export coal. There’s still time and we still have, before us, possibilities.

      Daniel Tseghay is the B.C. Green candidate for Vancouver-False Creek.

      Andrew Weaver is a Lansdowne professor and Canada Research Chair at the University of Victoria and is the B.C. Green candidate for Oak Bay-Gordon Head.




      Feb 9, 2013 at 10:28am

      The irony is that while Communist China is transitioning to Green alternatives like Nuclear & Clean Thorium Nuclear as well as Solar Power, BC & Canada are ratcheting up GHG Emissions by way of expansion of Coal, Oil(Tar Sands) & Gas.

      The disturbing & morally corrupt Corporate Welfare give away by the BC Fiberals is increasing as they face defeat in the polls & upcoming election the Fiberals are rushing in changes & support for Coal export expansion.

      The NDP leader Mr. Dix has taken a Business friendly approach & has been touring & speaking to Corporate interests privately assuring them he will also be supporting Corporate Welfare.

      While the Green party is admirable the reality is it will not be in power in the foreseeable future nor will it be an effective opposition under our current electoral system, perhaps a change to proportional representation is the Green parties only hope of being a meaningful opposition within the legislature where Laws are passed.

      We the people of BC need to hold whomever is in power by pressuring & demanding accountability of ALL Politicians to serve the interests of British Colombians first Corporations way down the list.

      * Demand the NDP (the next party in power) to FORCE renegotiation of Above Market Power Contracts causing Billions in BC Hydro Deficits to be paid for by us the poor BC residents ala Corporate Welfare.

      The BC Fiberals are and always will be for Corporations before the People of BC.

      The Debt can be addressed if we as Voters demand and hold to account by way of legislation Accountability and Checks and Balances for ALL Politicians regardless of where they position themselves in the Political Spectrum, Left, Right or somewhere in between.

      Solutions to Fix the Mess...

      * Put Pressure on the Corporations to change or Cancel the Power Contracts for example Access to Run of River Hydro projects can be impeded Legally.

      * Government can demand higher Tax Rates upto 100% or more for Private Power producers.

      * Stop Coal expansion & increase the Royalty rates so that Coal becomes really expensive & thus not economical which help drive up the price on China speeding up conversion to alternatives.

      * Increase & implement a Norway & Newfoundland Royalty high structure for the benefit of current & future generations of British Columbian Health Care & Education.

      Its up to you the BC Voter.

      Martin Dunphy

      Feb 9, 2013 at 2:29pm


      Reportedly, China has embarked on a program of expanding coal-fired electricity-generation plants to the point where they will build, on average, a new one per month for the next four or five years.
      I can't say I would argue about anything else in your post, though.

      Lee L.

      Feb 12, 2013 at 1:38am

      Sorry Dunphy...
      Your numbers are fudged..

      In 2007, China was completing a new coal fired electric plant at the rate of 2 per WEEK.
      ( See BBC on that ) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/6769743.stm
      China's goal is to build in excess of 350 more which you cannot do at that rate you typed.

      India is next with a plan for 400 plus plants which again, will not proceed at the leisurely 1 per month.

      You are dreaming again, as usual.

      Martin Dunphy

      Feb 12, 2013 at 1:52am


      So, I was even more right than I originally thought?
      Thanks for pointing that out.