Surrey and Vancouver city councils to review motions on Fraser Surrey Docks coal export expansion

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      Surrey mayor Dianne Watts has said a report will be put to council on Monday (March 11) outlining concerns related to the expansion of coal-export capacity at Fraser Surrey Docks.

      In a telephone interview with the Straight, Watts said that there are potential health and environmental implications associated with the transport of coal.

      “We have concerns and we would like those to be addressed,” she said. “Those are around the coal dust, the noise, the lengths of trains, and safety issues.”

      In Vancouver, mayor Gregor Robertson has a motion going before city council on Tuesday (March 12) that calls for all new coal export-expansion proposals to undergo a formal health-impact assessment.

      Robertson has also proposed that staff “report back on a bylaw to prevent the expansion of, or creation of new, coal export infrastructure within the City of Vancouver.”

      Meanwhile, on Monday (March 11), White Rock city council is expected to vote on an environmental advisory committee recommendation to request the City of Surrey not proceed with the port expansion. Delta and New Westminster councils have also expressed concerns about the proposal.

      The expansion at Fraser Surrey Docks—which sits on the Fraser River between the Alex Fraser Bridge and the Pattullo Bridge—would increase the port’s capacity for exporting coal to four million tonnes per year initially and later doubling that to eight million.

      Rail lines moving coal to the port run through North Delta, Crescent Beach, White Rock, Semiahmoo First Nation territory, and Surrey, according to information supplied by Voters Taking Action on Climate Change.

      Erica Frank, a professor at the UBC school of population and public health, expressed alarm about the health risks associated with the transport of coal through populated areas.

      “We know what coal dust does in terms of heart disease, in terms of lung disease, and in terms of cancer,” she said in a telephone interview. “However much you carry through an area, people are going to get exposed to that.”

      Frank noted that there has yet to be a comprehensive study that details the cumulative effects of coal-export expansions in Metro Vancouver in a quantifiable manner. However, a recent report contained information on the health effects of transporting coal via rail in Oregon state.

      That document emphasized that even small quantities of coal dust are hazardous to human health. It goes on to say that more research is needed to assess the community-level health risks associated with the transport of coal.

      “Little is known about people exposed to low levels, such as people who live in communities through which coal is transported,” the report states. “However, some studies suggest that living near coal operations has health effects.”

      Frank argued that the Oregon report should serve as a wake-up call to residents north of the border.

      The Fraser Surrey Docks expansion would come on the heels of a January 23, 2013, decision by Vancouver Fraser Port Authority—a federal body—to allow a $200-million expansion of North Vancouver’s Neptune Bulk Terminals, roughly doubling that site’s export capacity of coal to 18.5 million tonnes per year.

      It’s estimated that these proposals, combined with existing capacities to export coal, amount to 55-59 million tonnes per year, making Metro Vancouver the largest coal export hub on the continent.

      Kevin Washbrook, director of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, has said that growing volumes of coal moving through Lower Mainland ports are an issue that extends beyond the region.

      “It's increasingly clear that we are not going to avoid runaway climate change…without radical action to cut emissions,” he wrote in an email. “This can't be reconciled with a massive increase in the export of the dirtiest fossil fuel.”

      In November 2012, a group of North America’s leading climate scientists signed a letter asking the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority to delay making any decisions on expansions at the Neptune Terminals and Fraser Surrey Docks.

      “Converted into global warming emissions, this volume of exported coal will release, when burned, more than 100 Mt of CO2 emissions per year,” the letter states. “A volume of global warming pollution much larger than all the emissions within BC each year, and more than that associated with oil exports from the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.”

      According to the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s website, any increase of capacity more than four million metric tonnes of coal per year will be subject to a new project permit and environmental review.

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      Jim McKeown

      Mar 7, 2013 at 9:10pm

      Who writes this shit. We used to farm in Greenland. Oh yes we have climate change but we always have had.

      Lee Leeman

      Mar 7, 2013 at 10:30pm

      "Converted into global warming emissions, this volume of exported coal will release, when burned, more than 100 Mt of CO2 emissions per year,” the letter states. “A volume of global warming pollution much larger than all the emissions within BC each year, and more than that associated with oil exports from the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.”

      What is this really saying?

      First... coal fired electric plants emit between 10 and 20 Mtons CO2 per let us say about 15 MTons. These would be similar to the ones being constructed by Germany to 'back up' its wind turbine generation capacity. On the other hand, China , which has a lot of its own coal, is building 350 of those coal fired electric plants, completing one every 5 days. India is just beginning to build and plans about 450 new coal plants.

      Blocking export increase might offset 5.

      Worth it?

      Lee Leeman

      Mar 7, 2013 at 10:31pm

      And if 100 Mtons of CO2 is greater than all the emissions in BC each year, then BC and all its coal ports and cars and diesel generators and gas fired plants is pretty much irrelevant.


      Mar 8, 2013 at 10:36am

      Erica. Coal has been mined for centuries and hundredts of studies have been done on transport and handling.Basically if we dont sell them coal someone else will,you are not going to stop coalfired electric production.SEE Lee Leemans article.


      Mar 10, 2013 at 8:21am

      As climat scientists they shoul also be aware of past changes,Ice age,Tropical.So the earth has had CLIMATE CHANGE since day one,and will continue to do so with or without us.As prviouse Susuki forcasts we should be under 100 feet of ice,then when that didnt happend now we have global warming,now its climate change so no one can say WEATHER isnt happening.Realise the BILLIONS being spent on this weather,so lots of mony to be made and payed for by us the tax payer.Dose anyone think that WE CAN CHANG THE GLOBEs WEATHER,since the weather man cant predict from day to day,thede scientists can tell us 30 years down the road.Where there is billions to be made there is a line to take it


      Mar 14, 2013 at 2:34am

      Oh my God! Oh my God! The sky is falling! People are transporting coal in trains to the Port of Vancouver to have it loaded onto ships! Isn't that dangerous?

      C'mon, people. Wake up; do your research and don't blindly believe the exaggerations made by special interest groups such as Mr. Washburn's. Coal is energy like Uranium, Oil, Wind, Hydro, Solar, Geothermal & Tidal. Germany indeed is building new coal fired power plants - why? Because not one kind of technology is the silver bullet. Realistic humans who think about this for a few moments will soon realize this and conclude that the answer is being as efficient as possible. To simply try & stop pipelines & terminal expansions is naive. Mr Washburn & his group should focus their energy in helping China & India with technology to reduce emissions from coal & other fossil fuels. They would have more of an influence & have greater credibility than trying to stop coal being used as an energy source.

      The bottom line with coal an oil is that they are forms of energy that is easily transported great distances at ambient temperatures safely & economically. Quite simple, really.