Controversial Coal Export Terminal Green-Lighted at Fraser Surrey Docks

Canada’s largest port has given the green light to a proposed controversial facility on the Fraser River that would unload U.S. coal destined for energy-hungry Asia.

Despite facing significant environmental and health concerns, Port Metro Vancouver said in its decision, released last Thursday, that the proposed coal transfer facility at Fraser Surrey Docks poses no unacceptable risks.

The $15 million project could handle at least four million metric tonnes of coal per year delivered by the Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railway Company. It will then be loaded onto barges at the Surrey facility and transferred to ocean-going carriers at Texada Island, prior to export.

Referring to environmental studies and mitigation efforts, Jim Crandles, Port Metro Vancouver’s director of planning and development, was quoted as saying “we are confident that the project does not pose a risk to the environment or human health and that the public is protected.”

Disappointed opponents, however, said there are many unanswered questions about local and regional impacts of building and operating the facility.

Those include coal dust and diesel exhaust exposure in local populations, fire risks associated with storing coal in open barges in local communities, noise impacts, emergency vehicle access constraints, and impacts associated with transporting coal in open barges on the ocean.

“If it goes ahead, this decision means more U.S. coal trains travelling through our communities,” Kevin Washbrook, director of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, told DeSmogBlog in an email Friday. 

“It means more coal being shipped to Asia to be burned, and more emissions into our atmosphere, at a time when we absolutely, positively need to cut back on those emissions. All to run uncovered, football field-length barges of U.S. thermal coal down the world’s richest salmon river.”

Washbrook, who has compared Big Coal to Big Tobacco and its efforts to obscure the risks of smoking in order to keep making huge profits, added the decision will be challenged through the local air quality permitting process, during the coming municipal elections in November and in court.

Simon Fraser University health sciences professor Tim Takaro said the project runs contrary to public health.

“Coal is a fuel of the last century,” Takaro says. “We have to stop using it sometime and here’s a great opportunity to apply society’s ‘brakes,’ join communities in the U.S. that have refused to ship this same product, and think of the future generations who will inherit the messes we make.”

The Port Metro Vancouver decision comes shortly after the Oregon Department of State Lands rejected a proposal to export 8.8 million tons per year of coal to Asia from the Port of Morrow in Boardman.

But as DeSmogBlog noted on Thursday, the Long Beach City Council had just approved a proposal to export coal and petroleum coke, which is a tar sands by-product, to the global market, mainly Asia, to the tune of 1.7 million tons per year.

Last November, the Winnipeg Free Press reported a group of concerned citizens, environmentalists and scientists asked Port Metro Vancouver officials to delay any expansion of coal-exporting facilities, saying public input was required and climate change problems would be increased as a result of the projects.

Among those who signed a letter opposing any coal port expansion were David Suzuki, Naomi Klein and James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the first scientist to warn the U.S. government of the potential dangers of unmitigated climate change and who described coal-fired power plants as “factories of death.” 

Image credit: Coal power plant pollution via Shutterstock.

Chris Rose is a journalist and communications consultant. Born in Vancouver, his interests include politics, history, demographics, the economy, the…

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