Obama’s New Climate Regulations Could Bring More U.S. Coal to B.C. for Export

A new U.S. proposal to dramatically reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants could result in more thermal coal being shipped to Asia through existing and planned port facilities in Metro Vancouver, people attending Port Metro Vancouver’s annual general meeting were told Tuesday.

“[President Barack] Obama’s administration is changing the game,” Steven Faraher-Amidon said during a question period.

Faraher-Amidon also told the meeting that five schools in Delta and Surrey are within 700 metres of the contentious Fraser Surrey Docks coal handling proposal while medical studies in the U.S. have found that living within five kilometres of coal dust and diesel particulates presents significant health risks. A former Port Metro Vancouver environmental impact assessment that looked at the Fraser Surrey Docks terminal was criticized for being limited in scope and failing to adequately address public health concerns.

The 64-year-old retired Surrey teacher added a proper health impact assessment needs to be done before the Fraser Surrey Docks coal facility — which could eventually handle eight million tonnes annually — can be approved.

Faraher-Amidon’s comments came a day after the Obama administration announced a plan that would result in a 30 per cent drop in coal-fired electricity plant emissions below 2005 levels by 2030. According to an Environmental Protection Agency media release, the reduced emissions will protect public health, move the U.S. toward a cleaner environment and fight climate change.

“Climate change, fueled by carbon pollution, supercharges risks to our health, our economy, and our way of life. EPA is delivering on a vital piece of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan by proposing a Clean Power Plan that will cut harmful carbon pollution from our largest source — power plants,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was quoted as saying.

“By leveraging cleaner energy sources and cutting energy waste, this plan will clean the air we breathe while helping slow climate change so we can leave a safe and healthy future for our kids. We don’t have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment — our action will sharpen America’s competitive edge, spur innovation, and create jobs.”

Location of Fraser Surrey Docks via Google Maps.

Responding to the EPA plan, the Metro Vancouver environmental group Voters Taking Action on Climate Change said Monday some analysts predict that the new rules will eventually lead to the closure of hundreds of coal-fired power plants in the U.S., leading to increased pressure to export American thermal coal from B.C. ports.

In a letter to B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake and the port authority, the United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union, Unifor, and the T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation all called Monday for a full health impact assessment of the Fraser Surrey Docks coal export proposal.

Concerned about health and climate change implications from burning thermal coal, the B.C. Conference of the United Church of Canada has also asked the port authority to reject the Fraser Surrey Docks proposal.

Currently, no ports in California, Oregon and Washington export thermal coal.

Port Metro Vancouver says it treats materials for export as safely as possible. It also says it is up to the federal government to decide what materials are traded internationally.

In a later interview, Faraher-Amidon said it seems the port is ignoring the new U.S. plans and what they might mean for increased trainloads of thermal coal into B.C. for export to Asia. “We are a natural conduit for where they are going to bring the coal,” he said.

Image Credit: BNSF train by Contemplative Imaging via Flickr 

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

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