Vancouver Fraser Port Authority poised to become North America's largest coal exporter

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      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.

      The port authority, on the other hand, is governed by an unelected board of directors, most of whom are appointed on the recommendation of port users.

      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."

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      Nov 22, 2012 at 2:10pm

      Humans are bad for the environment.


      Nov 22, 2012 at 2:53pm

      To me not considering the greenhouse emissions. Coal is a better choice, the mines employ people, there is very little damage if a spill or break should discharge into the waterways, whereas heavy oil from a Gateway pipeline break will destroy the spawning beds and drinking water. If coal dust is a concern then it should be contained under a roof protected from the wind.

      Kevin Washbrook

      Nov 22, 2012 at 3:33pm

      The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority has a mandate to operate with broad public support in the best interests of Canadians. It's failing to do so.

      Here are some first steps in how the Port Authority board can correct that problem: 1. Delay any decision on coal export expansion; 2. Properly inform and engage the public in the decision making process, and take that input seriously; and 3. Explicitly include consideration of the climate impacts of proposed exports in its approval process.

      We're running out of time to stop climate change, and in the case of coal exports it's simply not good enough to say that it's someone else's responsibility for burning it, we just ship the stuff.... That doesn't serve the interests of my children or any of the other Canadians that I know.


      Nov 22, 2012 at 7:34pm

      Any idea where the coal itself is from?


      Nov 23, 2012 at 7:19am

      no surprise really as worldwide electric cars are pushed and everyone should know that electricity is mainly generated by coal and nuclear power so driving an electric car is bad for the environment in the end.

      Nic Slater - Delta South MLA Candidate

      Nov 24, 2012 at 12:14pm

      The issue of coal export is only one of many being forced upon residents of the lower mainland by <a href="">"Port Metro Vancouver"(see "Challenges")</a>.

      They are a federal authority with no accountability to the electorate. Their actions and future expansion plans affect our livability in this region and their outdated use of transportation is based on a desire to maintain a status quo that does not include our health, nor livability values.

      The lower mainland requires a major shift in transportation infrastructure away from the use of diesel and bunker fuel to one of electric trains, buses, and trolleys that not only move people, but also move containers throughout inter-city networks.

      We all experience the cost of driving becoming more prohibitive every year. Parking in Vancouver is typically the same as a one way Translink ticket, which is why more and more of us are choosing to take transit instead of our cars.

      The new Port Mann Bridge is only going to add more rubber tired vehicles to the existing Vancouver traffic chaos. How is that a solution to traffic gridlock!

      Metro Vancouver needs a transportation strategic plan based on future needs and costs, not the demands of a quasi governmental organization like Port Metro Vancouver

      Paul the Realist

      Dec 3, 2012 at 11:58am

      This project will create many good, high-paying jobs in Surrey. I don't believe it is realistic to oppose every energy project and every mine as is happening now. It will take time to switch to greener alternatives. This switch is occurring at a faster rate every year. Immediately forcing higher energy prices on the many poor people of China who can barely afford to eat doesn't make sense. Let their economies develop and gradually switch to greener energy sources.