Stop the expansion of coal exports from B.C.'s ports
Sign the petition against coal export expansion from B.C.'s ports and get connected to a network of people across Canada working together online and off to keep our communities healthy and free from coal dust.
Frequently Asked Questions
1) What projects are being proposed in B.C.?
Fraser Surrey Docks is proposing to build a new port facility on the Fraser River in Surrey to ship up to eight million metric tonnes of U.S. thermal coal to Asian power plants every year. Between 160 and 320 trains per year would travel from U.S. mines in Montana and Wyoming – passing through the B.C. communities of White Rock, Ocean Park, Crescent Beach, Panorama Ridge and North Delta. When the project was first proposed in 2012, Fraser Surrey Docks planned to transfer coal onto barges then send it down the lower Fraser River to the west coast of Texada Island for loading onto ships. In May 2015, the company announced it instead wants to directly load ocean-going ships on the Fraser River, but keep barging to Texada as a back-up option.
Fraser Surrey Docks is one of three remaining proposals for new thermal coal ports on the west coast of North America. But since 2008, Port Metro Vancouver has quietly allowed increasing amounts of U.S. coal through B.C.’s Westshore Terminals in Delta, hitting a peak of 12 million metric tonnes in 2014.
Exported thermal coal is eventually burned in Asian power plants, shortening life expectancy for millions of people and contributing to global warming, ocean acidification and mercury emissions. Health and environmental damages from coal mining, processing, transport and combustion are currently estimated to cost up to half a trillion dollars annually in the U.S. alone.
2) I’ve heard increasing coal exports could endanger our health — how?
The Fraser Surrey Docks terminal would significantly increase diesel pollution from trains and machinery at the port site. Diesel particulate matter is a noxious form of air pollution small enough to embed in the lung tissue. It’s associated with both pulmonary and cardiovascular issues, including cancers, heart disease and asthma. Coal dust is also a form of particulate matter known to contribute to lung problems and asthma. Even worse, coal dust contains toxins such as lead, sulphur and mercury.
The combination of diesel particulate matter and coal dust emissions along the rail lines seriously increases exposure risks in rail-line and port communities and would increase air pollution throughout the Vancouver region. Increased noise associated with rail traffic also poses significant local health risks. That’s why prominent health experts – including the chief medical officers for the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal Health Authorities and the province’s chief medical officer – have all called for a comprehensive health impact assessment to determine the impacts of airborne dust, and potential contamination of air, land, food and fish harvested from contaminated waters. The assessment would also look at diesel exhaust impacts, the effects of increased railway traffic on access to emergency care and noise pollution. So far, the provincial government has ignored calls for a health impact assessment and the port authority instead asked Fraser Surrey Docks to produce an environmental impact assessment and human health risk assessment that has been deemed fatally flawed in its scope and analysis by more than a dozen expert critics.
3) Besides health experts, who else has expressed concern about the Fraser Surrey Docks coal proposal?
There is widespread public and political opposition and concern about the proposal. Tens of thousands of everyday British Columbians, dozens of community and environmental groups, local governments and school boards, faith leaders and businesses have taken action:
- 50,000 British Columbians have signed petitions
- 10,000 people have submitted public comments to government regulators since 2012
- 14 local governments have passed resolutions opposing and/or demanding a real assessments and public consultation: New Westminster, Surrey, Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond, Powell River, Coquitlam, North Vancouver, Langley City, Delta, White Rock, Metro Vancouver, Sunshine Coast Regional District and the Islands Trust
- 6 school boards have passed similar resolutions
- 50 doctors and health officers
- 51 faith leaders
- 120 businesses, organizations and unions, with Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, Communities & Coal and Dogwood Initiative at the forefront of the campaign
- 3 First Nations: Sechelt, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam
- The Union of BC Municipalities
- The Safe Energy Leadership Alliance, which is made up of local elected officials from Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California and B.C.
- The Power Past Coal coalition, which is made up of hundreds of U.S. groups fighting coal export projects south of the border
4) But hasn’t there been public consultation and proper assessment of the proposal?
Sadly, no. That’s exactly what the thousands of concerned voices have been calling for, but federal and provincial regulators have so far refused to conduct proper assessments and consultations.
Ideally, a proper project review would start with project plans being made public as soon as it’s proposed, followed by a public process to determine the scope of assessments needed to inform permit decisions. Objective regulators would then ensure the proponent produces studies that comply with the determined scope and give the public ample opportunities for meaningful input on draft and final assessment (including public hearings – in a way that actually carries weight in the final decision made about project permits).
Instead, the Fraser Surrey Docks coal proposal was largely kept secret until community groups got wind of it. There was never a public scoping phase before assessment and the lead regulator – Port Metro Vancouver – decided that the project did not trigger an official environmental assessment and was not planning to take public input or hold public meetings. Under mounting pressure, the port authority asked Fraser Surrey Docks to conduct two open houses in Surrey and produce an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The port and the proponent made up the rules and scope of the assessment and Fraser Surrey Docks hired tarnished industry insider SNC Lavalin to conduct the environmental studies. During an unprecedented public comment period on the EIA, 99 per cent of the more than 4,000 letters submitted by experts and the public rejected the assessment as fatally flawed and opposed the project.
Those who were concerned about the project and dismayed with the results at the port authority appealed to B.C.’s ministers of Health and the Environment to use their discretionary powers to require full assessments of the project’s full scope. The ministers ignored, and ultimately rejected these appeals.
In an attempt to appease critics, the port authority asked Fraser Surrey Docks to conduct further studies and produce a Human Health Risk Assessment, rather than the comprehensive, independent Health Impact Assessment recommended by chief medical officers. Fraser Surrey Docks used the same industry insider to produce this assessment. Then the port authority hired a third party consultant to review the assessment, but neither document was released for public review – let alone input – before the port made its decision to approve the project permit in August 2014. Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, Communities & Coal and two private citizens have teamed up with Ecojustice to challenge the port’s biased decision in court. The Musqueam First Nation has also launched a legal challenge against the permit. Those cases may go to trial in late 2015 or early 2016.
After all that, Fraser Surrey Docks decided in May 2015 to change the nature of its proposal to directly load coal ships rather than transfer coal onto barges bound for Texada Island. The company will have to apply back to the port authority for an amendment to its permit, but offered to take direct “public input” for a two-week period following the announcement about whether it should amend some of its studies before applying for the amendment.
5) What’s the status of the Fraser Surrey Docks coal port proposal?
As originally proposed in 2012, the project required five permits from different levels of government to move forward. The project has received approval of only two of those permits. Construction has been delayed by two years, and the remaining permit processes and court challenges will extend well into 2016, if not beyond as the proposal faces mounting opposition.
Here’s a more detailed run-down of each permit:
● Port Metro Vancouver project permit: issued in August 2014. Subject to two legal challenges from community groups and the Musqueam First Nation. As of May 2015, Fraser Surrey Docks will also need to apply to amend its port permit, which means another chance to push the port authority to reverse its decision.
● Provincial Ministry of Energy and Mines permit for the Lafarge Texada loading facility: issued in March 2014 and challenged in court, but approval was upheld in March 2015. If Fraser Surrey Docks truly does eliminate the barging leg of its shipping scheme, this permit will be moot. Unfortunately, its approval means the company really could keep barging as a “back-up” plan.
● Liquid waste permit from the regional government (Metro Vancouver): In March 2015, Metro Vancouver took public comments on a liquid waste permit for the first time in its history, and will make a final permit decision sometime in 2015.
● Air quality permit from the regional government (Metro Vancouver): Fraser Surrey Docks has not applied for an air quality permit because it decided to challenge Metro Vancouver’s air quality jurisdiction in court. In May 2015 the company asked the court to adjourn its case until 2016.
● A water quality permit from the provincial government: as of May 2015, Fraser Surrey Docks has not yet applied for this permit from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
6) Why would U.S. coal companies want to ship through B.C.?
U.S. coal companies are desperate to get their product to Asian markets because demand in the U.S. is drying up as the country gets serious about transitioning away from coal power and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. When the Chinese economy was booming about five years ago, there was an increasing demand throughout Asia for imported coal. In a scramble to keep the dying industry alive, U.S. coal companies and industry allies proposed seven new coal ports all up and down the west coast to try tapping into that Asian demand.
The only place the industry has found an outlet is B.C.’s existing coal port, Westshore Terminals in Delta. U.S. companies were able to buy up a sliver of excess capacity there, but space has now run out. Other than a tiny amount through the Port of Long Beach, no existing U.S. port is currently able to ship coal.
Of the seven proposals for new coal ports on the West Coast, Fraser Surrey Docks was seen as the easiest option for quick approval and faster access to export markets. Why? Because it is an existing port terminal, whereas new ports in the U.S. would have to be built from scratch, and because Canada’s environmental laws and regulatory system are far weaker than those in the U.S. States of Washington and Oregon. With gutted assessment and fisheries laws, and industry-captured regulators, B.C. seemed like the best bet for Big Coal.
7) Haven’t U.S. ports refused to ship this coal and rejected new development proposals?
With the exception of the Port of Oakland, no U.S. ports have refused to ship coal – they simply don’t have the capacity and equipment needed to ship coal right now. That’s why the coal industry started proposing a slew of new coal port developments in 2010-2011. Of six original proposals in the U.S., only two are still on the table. Proponents withdrew proposals for three of the projects and state regulators in Oregon rejected a fourth proposal in 2014. The two remaining proposals – for Longview and Cherry Point in Washington State – are now undergoing extensive, publicly-scoped environmental assessment processes that will likely continue well into 2016.
As in B.C., local residents, elected officials, health experts and community and environmental groups have joined forces to fight the U.S. proposals because communities along the coal export route do not want the health, environmental, climate and economic impacts. Dogwood Initiative is the B.C. partner of the Power Past Coal coalition, a cross-border collaborative of hundreds of groups united in our resolve to block new coal exports from the west coast of North America.
8) But isn’t this good for the economy?
Aside from a few dozen jobs, B.C. would see virtually no benefit from shipping more U.S. thermal coal. Our communities would bear the health and environmental risk while foreign companies would reap the profits. As is the case at Westshore Terminals, coal for the Fraser Surrey Docks port would most likely come from Cloud Peak and Signal Peak mines in the U.S. The rail company carrying the coal is Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway. Fraser Surrey Docks is owned by Macquarie Infrastructure Partners, a U.S.-based private investment fund managed by the Macquarie Group of Australia.
What’s more, we could end up saddled with stranded assets. Demand for imported coal in Asia is tanking because China has finally gotten serious about cutting down on the coal-fired air pollution that is choking its cities and killing its citizens. The country invested heavily to accelerate economic growth after the global recession and has now scaled back dramatically, reducing demand for energy. South Korea and Japan still import some coal, but have recently instituted tariffs to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. And the market is over-saturated with competing exports from other Pacific Rim countries. This has all sent the price of thermal coal into a permanent downward spiral, meaning the possibility of profiting off U.S. thermal coal exports is more and more unlikely. Even now, Cloud Peak Energy is selling coal at a loss to Asian buyers.
Increasingly, smart money is divesting from coal. U.S. coal industry share prices are plummeting: pensions and other funds are pulling out investments and “dark money” – aka high-risk speculators – is replacing investment from stable firms like Goldman Sachs on coal export projects. Even the World Bank has stopped investing in new coal infrastructure. There is no profitable future in thermal coal exports, but Fraser Surrey Docks and other proponents are pushing ahead anyway in a desperate attempt to squeeze whatever they can out of the last gasps of a dying industry. New coal export infrastructure built today could well be stranded assets tomorrow.
9) What can I do to help stop coal port expansions?
The only way to stop the Fraser Surrey Docks-Texada Island project and future expansions is to build a movement so strong that government and industry cannot proceed without our consent. The best way to join the movement is to sign the petition at beyondcoal.ca and get connected to an ever-growing network of British Columbians working to reclaim decision-making power over our air, land and water.
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