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U.S. climate-change plan will likely affect Vancouver coal-port expansion

A coal stacker reclaimer at the Vancouver Port Authority’s Westshore Terminal. The Obama administration’s plans on climate change may impact plans for an expansion of the ports coal-export capacity.

Vancouver Port Authority

The Obama administration's plan to restrict emissions from coal-burning power plants in the United States is expected to intensify an environmental battle that is already under way over coal-port expansion in British Columbia.

"I think it has potentially huge implications, because [Obama's] rules are going to dramatically shrink the market for coal in the States," Kevin Washbrook, director of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change (VTACC), said Monday about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Energy Act.

Under the new regulations, coal-burning power plants will have to cut carbon emissions 30 per cent by 2030. Mr. Washbrook said that restriction will cause some power plants to shut down and others will have to cut back on their use of thermal coal, forcing the mining industry to look for other markets.

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"After whatever shakeup happens in the industry there is going to be increased pressure to get [coal] out of the country," he said.

Mr. Washbrook said California, Washington and Oregon have all expressed opposition to new coal ports, but B.C. has not voiced any such objection.

"I think we're looking at a much bigger battle here in the future," he said. "So brace yourself."

There is already controversy in B.C. over proposed coal-port expansions, including a proposal by Fraser Surrey Docks to build a facility to ship up to eight million tonnes annually through Port Metro Vancouver.

The plan is to bring coal to the docks by train, transfer it to barges for shipment to Texada Island, and then load it into bulk tankers bound for Asia.

Opposition is building to the project, which is awaiting approval by the port authority.

Mr. Washbrook's group filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court on Monday, seeking an order quashing a provincial permit that allows Texada Quarrying Ltd. to store coal at its quarry site. VTACC claims the authorization was improperly granted and that the government withheld important information that should have been released to the public.

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The United Fishermen and Allied Workers' Union and the T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation have also expressed concern about the Fraser Surrey Docks proposal.

"First, we are concerned about the impact of diesel fuel air pollution and coal dust on the health of communities along the transportation route," the groups wrote in a joint letter to B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake. "Second, we object to the expansion of B.C. coal export capacity to serve foreign markets with no regard to the impacts to global climate change."

Ryan Jabs, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health, said both Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health have raised questions about the project, and Port Metro Vancouver has requested more information from the proponent.

"If the project is approved and local medical health officers have concerns about specific health impacts of the final project, they have the authority to require actions that include investigations like a health impact assessment," he said in an e-mail.

The B.C. Conference of the United Church of Canada, a group representing 190 congregations in B.C., released a statement Monday calling on the port authority to reject the Fraser Surrey Docks proposal.

"Thermal coal is responsible for contributing massively to climate change. It also creates significant pollution when mined, transported and burned. We would ask all decision makers to reject this proposal," Campbell Connor, minister of the United Church of Canada, said in a statement. In a recent open letter to Premier Christy Clark, more than 50 Christian, Jewish, Unitarian, Quaker and Sikh religious leaders also asked for the project to be halted.

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Jim Crandles, director of planning and development for Port Metro Vancouver, said in an e-mail that as part of a comprehensive technical review of the project, comments from three levels of government, First Nations, the public and stakeholders had been considered as well as an environmental impact assessment submitted by Fraser Surrey Docks.

"A decision will be made once this project review is complete," he said.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More

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