British Columbia will review parts of a proposed coal export project under its jurisdiction but is unlikely to weigh in on other concerns, including whether Port Metro Vancouver should export more U.S.-mined thermal coal, provincial Mines Minister Bill Bennett said.
"As a minister who believes in natural resource extraction and understands the very important connection between resource development and the Canadian economy in general and the B.C. economy in particular, I don't think we can pick commodities or pick particular industries and say, 'Well, we don't like that – we're not going to do that one,'" Mr. Bennett said Tuesday.
"The rules and regulations and standards apply to everyone," he added. "And if you want to build something or do something in B.C. and you can meet those rules and regulations and standards, then it doesn't matter what industry you're in or what commodity you're dealing with – if you meet those standards, you should get a permit for what you want to do."
Mr. Bennett was referring to a proposal by Fraser Surrey Docks to build a coal transfer facility at its existing site on the Fraser River. Under the proposal, filed in 2012, coal mined in the United States would be shipped to Fraser Surrey Docks by rail, loaded onto barges and then transported to Texada Island, where it would be loaded on ocean-going vessels for transport to export markets.
Port Metro Vancouver, a federal body, is reviewing the project. B.C. has jurisdiction over mining activities on Texada Island.
Voters Taking Action Against Climate Change, a group campaigning against the proposed Fraser Surrey Docks coal export facility, has suggested the province could block the project by rejecting a proposal from Lafarge Canada Inc. to upgrade its facilities on Texada Island.
The province has a role to play in ensuring the review of the Texada portion of the project is more detailed and stringent than what is currently expected, VTACC director Kevin Washbrook said.
"The Texada issue isn't about picking and choosing which commodities B.C. exports," he said. "It's about government protecting the public interest by properly doing its job of evaluating the health and environmental impacts of a massive increase in coal exports from Texada Island."
Lafarge's Texada Island facilities are located about 100 kilometres northwest of Vancouver next to Powell River. Lafarge mines limestone in the area and also operates shipping facilities at which coal and other material is loaded for export. Lafarge has filed a proposal to increase its coal stockpiling facilities. The province has jurisdiction over that part of the project.
To date, controversy has focused on Fraser River elements of the $15-million project, which remains under review by Port Metro Vancouver.
As part of its campaign, VTACC has emphasized that the proposed Fraser Surrey Docks facility would ship thermal coal, used primarily to generate electricity, rather than metallurgical coal, used in making steel, and would increase Port Metro Vancouver's overall coal exports. Coal has long been the port's principal export, and the proposed Fraser Surrey Docks facility – which would have an initial capacity of four million tonnes a year – would be a small player in port shipments of more than 30 million tonnes a year.
Mr. Bennett was speaking from Toronto, where he rang the opening bell on the Toronto Stock Exchange as part of a trip to promote B.C. mining and push for federal approval of the proposed New Prosperity mine, a copper-gold mine near William Lake.
The federal government rejected the mine, as it was then designed, in 2010 over environmental concerns, including the destruction of Fish Lake. Proponent Taseko Mines then filed a revised mine plan that would save the lake. On Oct. 31, a federal review panel found the project would result in several significant adverse environmental effects, including on water quality in Fish Lake.
Taseko challenged those findings, saying they were based on the wrong information, and in December filed for a judicial review of the decision. The company says the judicial review would not have to proceed if the federal government allowed the project to go to the next stage of "detailed, permit-level examination."
The Tsilhqot'in National Government remains strongly opposed to the project.
Under Canadian Environmental Assessment Act timelines, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq is expected to make her decision by Feb. 28 – 120 days after the review panel report on Oct. 31.