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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