Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

The Fraser Surrey Docks Coal Export Proposal

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BNSF 6386 Delta BC

You probably know already that proposals to expand coal exports at several ports in the United States have failed to get the necessary local approvals. Unfortunately, in Canada, we do not have local control of the ports like they do down there. Here the port is a federal concern, and under Stephen Harper they got used to doing pretty much whatever they wanted. The ports in Canada are actually controlled by the industries and companies that use them and hence they are immune – to a large extent – from concerns expressed by the people who live next door.

Except that there are some remaining powers, which under the new Liberal government may actually have some force. provided that Justin actually keeps all those promises he made before the election. Case in point is the idea that Fraser Surrey docks could be used by BNSF to load thermal coal from the US Powder River Basin for export to power stations in Asia.  Given that the size of ships that can navigate the Fraser are currently limited by the depth of water over the Massey Tunnel and the headroom under the Alex Fraser bridge, the idea is to use barges to tranship the coal from the railhead in Surrey to Texada Island where a new, deep water ship terminal would be built. The desperation of the coal exporters willingness to even consider this kind of expense is borne out of two considerations: the market for thermal coal is shrinking, and the US federal government is beginning to wonder why it is giving away coal at knockdown prices from public lands. Given the endorsement of the Paris Agreement by the US and China, the days of expanding coal fired generation of electricity are clearly numbered. Together with the plummeting price of both solar and wind power, and ways to cheaply store that.

The Dogwood Initiative is fighting the proposal.   They wrote to me as follows:

Yesterday, regional bureaucrats approved a wastewater permit for the Fraser Surrey Docks coal export proposal, moving this climate-killing megaproject one step closer to construction.

This is our chance to stop millions of tonnes of U.S. thermal coal from slipping out through the Lower Mainland to be burned in Asia.

Metro Vancouver must now consider whether to issue an air quality permit that would allow Fraser Surrey Docks to pollute our lungs and our communities with coal dust and diesel fumes.

The good thing is Metro’s board is made up of elected local politicians — accountable to you. They’re on the record against any expansion of coal exports on the Fraser River, and they have the power to put the brakes on Fraser Surrey Docks.

If enough people speak up, we can empower Metro Vancouver to protect our communities and our climate.

Will you take two minutes to write to the Metro Vancouver Board and ask them to stand firm in their opposition of Fraser Surrey Docks?

With prices collapsing and coal projects being cancelled around the world, this delay could be enough to permanently end the threat of an expanded coal port. In the past five years, seven thermal coal export proposals have already been stopped in the U.S.

The tide is turning against coal, and we need the elected members of the Metro Vancouver Board to show real leadership by saying ‘no’ to Fraser Surrey Docks.

We’ve made it quick and convenient, so please take a couple minutes to write to them right now.

We can stop this project, but not without you. Please take action today.

Will

P.S. In 2015, there was so much public interest in the wastewater permit that Metro Vancouver offered a public consultation period for the first time. An unprecedented number of local residents voiced health, safety and environmental concerns about the management plan for wastewater at the coal port expansion. It set the project back by a year. Now the real fight over the air permit begins. Will you be one of the people willing to stand up and speak out?

So of course I agreed and sent the following missive to the Metro Vancouver Board

Dear Metro Vancouver Board Members,

Across the west coast of the United States, communities have stood up against the expansion of coal export facilities. Quite apart from the immorality of increasing fossil fuel exports at a time when our climate is nearing the limits of what it can cope with and remain livable, these communities raised real concerns about the  impacts of coal dust on the local population. Carrying pulverised coal in open rail cars at speed spreads fine dust over a wide area. We already see this in Greater Vancouver due to current coal export movement. We also see that the supposed mitigation measures offered by the railway and terminal operating companies are worthless.

Metro Vancouver Board members ought to be concerned about climate change and the very doubtful economics of coal exports, but sadly you have no legal ability to act on those concerns. You do however have the opportunity to prevent more damage to our health and the environment. The existing coal export operations show how careless these operations are, and how weak our control systems have been. We simply cannot afford to be so reckless with human health any more. You must refuse the air quality permit given the shameful performance of these operations to date.

And to date I have had three replies which give me some cause for hope

Thank you for contacting our office, your message has been received.

Please note, staff will look into your correspondence and follow up as soon as possible.

To report a City Service related problem or time sensitive matter, please visit www.surrey.ca to connect with the appropriate department.

Sincerely,

Linda M. Hepner

Mayor

City of Surrey

Well, ok that one is just an automated acknowledgement, but the next two are better

Thank you for writing to me on this matter of the proposed coal transfer facility at Fraser Surrey Docks, as I appreciate the opportunity to clarify that my position and the Metro Vancouver Board position continues to be in  opposition to coal shipments from the Fraser River Estuary. On June 12 2015, the GVRD Board passed a Notice of Motion to write to Port of Vancouver and FSD indicating this and I have included the minutes of the meeting for your convenience. (item H. 1 )

http://www.metrovancouver.org/boards/GVRD/RD-June_12_2015-MINS.pdf

 

While the Sewage Control Manager did  issued a liquid waste discharge permit to Fraser Surrey Docks on September 6, 2016 in relation to their proposed coal transfer facility, it continues to be Metro Vancouver’s position that before the facility can operate it must also obtain an air quality permit and Metro Vancouver has not yet received an  Air Quality permit application. This position of requiring an Air Quality permit  is not without opposition from the proponent, as the facility is on federal land and there is a potential constitutional issue of jurisdiction.

 

The Sewage Control Manager is directed by GVS&DD Sewer Use Bylaw No. 299 2007, to independently evaluate applications based on technical merit and in accordance with bylaws and the BC Environmental Management Act. When the technical criteria are met, the Sewage Control Manager is required to issue a Liquid Waste Discharge Permit. Had the Sewage Control Manager rejected the permit application, FSD could have moved forward with other wastewater control measures, including applying to the province for a permit to direct discharge to the Fraser River.

 

To be clear, the issued permit is very narrow in scope and only allows for storm water runoff and wastewater from activities like dust mitigation and equipment wash-down from the potential FSD facility to be discharged to the Annacis Wastewater Treatment Plant.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Acting Mayor Raymond Louie

Vice-Chair – Metro Vancouver Regional District

And then

Thanks for your email. Surrey City Council stands opposed to the coal export terminal and has passed a resolution to that effect. Furthermore, with the price of thermal coal, it is highly unlikely that the proposed export terminal and the transportation from the US will make economic sense for the foreseeable future. Thank you for your concern in this matter.

Bruce Hayne

Councillor, City of Surrey

Now if you have read this far, you know what is coming

Wouldn’t you like to add your thoughts to this process: not as a comment to this post (though a copy here would be interesting) but your own thoughts: it seems that the Metro Board is actually listening.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 7, 2016 at 8:16 pm

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