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

Posts Tagged ‘coal exports

Why we’re taking the Port to court

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From Kevin Washbrook via FraserVoices

After three years of preparation, Ecojustice goes to Court on behalf of VTACC and Communities and Coal this Wednesday to challenge Port Authority approval of a new coal terminal on the Fraser River. The cities of Surrey and New West will be there with us, making submissions in support of our arguments.

We’re fighting to stop US coal companies that want to run mile-long trains of open coal cars through our communities so they can ship the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel from Metro Vancouver. Similar plans have been repeatedly rejected by communities in the US. A win here in federal court will be another nail in the coffin for west coast thermal coal exports.

This has already been hard fought litigation, with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority pushing back the entire time. That’s not surprising, as a federal Court decision in our favour could have serious implications for how the Port operates.

In Vancouver? Consider dropping into federal Court to follow some of the proceedings May 17-19, 701 W Georgia, starting at 9:30 a.m. each day.

Read more about the history of this challenge and our concerns about conflicts built into project permitting at the Port in this blog post.

Watch local youth talk about the impacts this project would have on their communities and the climate in this one minute video (at the top of this post).

Learn more about the case, see photos from the last four years and contribute to our legal defense fund here.

Thank you to everyone who has already donated to this challenge, and a huge note of gratitude to Ecojustice for taking on this case — without their tireless effort this work wouldn’t have been possible.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 15, 2017 at 11:41 am

Killing the Fraser

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Written by Stephen Rees

May 2, 2017 at 11:51 am

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

Elections in Washington doom Vancouver, and the planet

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There is much celebration to the south of us. In their state and local elections, despite huge expenditures, the coal merchants were unable to get the result they wanted. “Bad news for Big Coal in Whatcom County” is the headline in the Seattle PI.

In a nationally watched county election, a slate of four Whatcom County Council candidates, backed by conservation groups and the Democratic Party, took the lead over pro-development, Republican-aligned opponents. The county is a key battleground over whether Western Washington will become home to a huge coal-export terminal.

And this got tweeted as “Big coal can’t even buy an election these days”. This also got picked up by the Sierra Daily in a piece headed “Coal Train to Nowhere

Understandably given local concerns over coal dust and its health impacts it seems likely that the export of more coal to China through Cherry Point is not going to happen.

“The coal industry is in a death spiral,” Eric de Place of the Sightline Institute said to Connelly. “They cannot even buy an election right now.”

I think he is being a bit short sighted. While this is a triumph for people over corporations – if the votes continue to go this way – Big Coal is not going to give up. It simply takes the trains from the Powder River a little bit further. Over border to Port Metro Vancouver. There are no concerns about local accountability here. No-one who has to run for an election here has any ability to stop the coal trains. And the Port only has to meet the needs of shippers. It has no obligations at all to the local community. Indeed Prairie provinces have more influence than the Mayor of Surrey, say. So while her council objects to coal trains that has no effect at all.

The additional costs of a slightly longer train journey to Surrey Fraser Docks are unlikely to deter Warren Buffet. He doesn’t need to buy any politicians here. The Port is positively salivating at the extra business. They will do his bidding happily and ignore whatever protests there might be as the Directors are secure in their positions. The federal government has abandoned any pretence at trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and anyway these count against the country where the coal is burned. It matters not at all to Stephen Harper that we are headed for a 2℃ increase in global temperatures – because his only concern is his own re-election. Coal trains through White Rock will have no measurable impact on that.

Port Authority: Climate change not our problem

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The following is a Press Release from Voters Taking Action on Climate Change on the decision yesterday by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority to approve plans for coal export expansion at Neptune Terminals in North Vancouver.

I am copying it in full since it is well argued and referenced – and I somehow doubt that it will attract anything like the coverage it deserves in the mainstream media (which goes to the Vancouver Sun story. VTACC isn’t mentioned but the responsibility issue is. You might have to pay to read that.)

The contrast to the way that coal terminal expansion in our region is being dealt with stands on stark contrast to the ongoing battle just to the south of us.

Climate change not our problem: Port Authority approves Neptune coal export expansion
— shrugs off calls for broader consultation on climate, health impacts from climate scientists, mayors, Lung Association and others

For immediate release

January 24 2013

Vancouver —

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority announced yesterday that it has approved plans for coal export expansion at Neptune Terminals in North Vancouver.   In doing so it ignored appeals from the public, climate scientists, regional mayors, the BC Lung Association and leading NGO’s(1) to delay a decision until the broad public had been thoroughly consulted on the climate and potential health impacts of this proposal.

Approval means that coal exports from this facility will expand by as much as 13 million tonnes per year over 2011 levels.(2) At full output, Neptune Terminals could see 4 to 5 loaded coal trains arriving each day (up to 10 train trips per day total), based on current coal train capacities.(3)

The Port Authority has rejected arguments about climate change, potential health impacts, and broad public consultation in making its decision.  We address each of these points in turn below.

Climate Change
Climate change is a real and urgent threat to our children’s future.  The greenhouse gas emissions that will result from the burning of BC’s coal exports will hurt all global citizens, including British Columbians.  The International Energy Agency reported last year that if we continue to blindly service increasing demand for fossil fuels, by 2050 the world will be locked into a devastating 6 degree increase in temperature.

Taking steps to avoid this outcome cannot be reconciled with increasing exports of coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels.  “Business as usual” is no longer an option.  We must all take responsibility to reduce emissions.  The Port Authority does not get a free pass on this issue by choosing to narrowly interpret its federal mandate as the demand-driven facilitation of trade.

Coal exports from Metro Vancouver have increased considerably in recent years, and if the Neptune Terminals and Fraser Surrey Docks coal export proposals are both approved Metro Vancouver will be the biggest coal exporter in North America.  Total emissions from this exported coal would be greater than those from the Northern Gateway pipeline.  The public should not think that these will be the last proposals to increase coal exports out of our region.(4)

The Port Authority and its tenant, Neptune Terminals, have not explicitly acknowledged that metallurgical coal exported from Neptune Terminals, when used in steel making, produces as much global warming pollution as thermal coal used in power production.  By ignoring the harm that these exports will do to our fragile climate, Neptune Terminals and the Port Authority do a disservice to the public. 

Regional impacts from increased coal train traffic
The Port Authority has not acknowledged that developments on its own lands have impacts in communities far outside its jurisdiction.  It has not addressed the fact that the Neptune Terminals expansion will result in increased train traffic through North Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, Surrey, Langley and other municipalities further afield, resulting in increased exposure to diesel emissions and unknown amounts of coal dust.

The Port Authority indicates that Transport Canada has the power to regulate rail traffic, but it does not clarify that there are no regulations governing the release of coal dust from trains in Canada, and that any measures to control coal dust escapes are entirely voluntary on the part of railways.  The Port Authority has ignored a call from the BC Lung Association, the Public Health Association of BC, Canadian Physicians for the  Environment and individual health leaders to delay these decisions until unanswered questions about potential health impacts have been properly assessed.  If the Port Authority truly aspires to be a good neighbour to Metro Vancouver communities, it would work to close these gaps in public oversight prior to approval of coal export expansion.

Port Authority decision making and consultation processes
We remind the Port Authority that their federal  mandate includes a requirement that they act with broad public support in the best interests of Canadians.   The Port Authority has ignored calls from the Mayors of Vancouver and New Westminster for broader public consultation on these decisions.  They have ignored similar calls from leading public organizations and high profile individuals.  Again, these actions call into question the Port Authority’s aspirations to be a good neighbour to Metro Vancouver communities.

In keeping with the Port Authority’s stated commitment to transparency, we call on the Port Authority to make public all comments received during their consultation over the Neptune Terminals decision, as was done during the scoping phase of the review of the proposed Cherry Point coal terminal in Washington State.

More broadly, the conduct of the Port Authority during this review process calls into question how well it reflects the interests of the region within which it operates.  Seven of eleven seats on the Port’s Board of Directors are nominated by port users.  Only one seat is nominated by regional communities.  There are no board members representing health concerns.  There are no board members representing environmental concerns. Voters Taking Action on Climate Change (VTACC) calls on the federal government to change the make up of the Port Authority board to better reflect the priorities of our region in Port decision making.

“The Port doesn’t lack the authority to consider climate change or broad health concerns in its decisions, it lacks the courage to do so,” said Kevin Washbrook, Director with VTACC.  “We think the Port Authority shrugs off any responsibility for these issues because its board doesn’t reflect who we are as a region, our shared concern for a healthy future and our sense of a moral obligation to take action on climate change,” Washbrook said.

VTACC calls on the Port Authority to reconsider this decision, to open it to full public review, and to more broadly interpret their mandate to incorporate shared responsibility for our future.  This is the transparent, fair and morally responsible thing to do.

“It is hypocritical to celebrate Vancouver as a Green City and British Columbia as a climate leader, while we continue to prosper from the export of coal and oil,” said VTACC Director, Kathryn Harrison “With each approval of new infrastructure for coal exports, the Port Authority further locks us into an economic path dependent on  fossil fuels. They are sacrificing our children’s future for short-term gain.”

–30–

(1) Read the open letter from climate leaders here. Signatories included Bill McKibben, James Hansen, David Suzuki, Andrew Weaver, Mark Jaccard, Naomi Klein, Tzeporah Berman, William Rees, Greenpeace Canada, the Council of Canadians, the Islands Trust Council and a host of other individuals and organizations.

(2) Starting with the Port Authority’s overall figures for coal exports in 2011 (32.7 million tonnes in 2011) and subtracting Westshore’s self published figures (27.3 million tonnes) leaves approximately 5.2 million tonnes for Neptune in 2011. (Minor amounts of coal may have been shipped from other locations.)  The proposals just approved will increase Neptune Terminals capacity to 18.5 million tonnes/yr.

(3) A rough estimate of the relationship between daily train traffic and annual export volumes can be derived from the Fraser Surrey Docks proposal. This indicates that 4 million tonnes/yr export results in 1 coal train per day (scroll down to point 8).  Other sources confirm these numbers, assuming standard rail car volumes and 126 car trains.   Applied to Neptune, this means that in 2011, with exports of approximately 5.2 million tonnes, there was likely 1 coal train per day to the terminal, and perhaps 2 on some days — or 2 to 4 one way trips in loaded and out empty.

Using the same calculations, exports of 18.5 million tonnes per year would mean 4 to 5 coal deliveries per day, and 8 to 10 total train trips (in loaded, out empty).  Neptune indicates that it may begin using trains that are 152 cars in length.  If that is the case it would decrease the total number of daily trips, assuming the rail cars were the same volume.

It’s worth noting that longer trains will also increase delays at rail crossings; a 152 car train is approximately 2.6 km in length

(4) Fraser Surrey Docks has indicated that it is seeking out other coal export customers in addition to BNSF.  If the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal near Bellingham Washington (projected to generate 18 return coal train trips per day) is not approved, there will be increased pressure to export US coal through BC.  Westshore Terminals general manager Denis Horgan has stated that currently proposed capacity increases will not be enough to meet expected demand:

“Between us, Neptune and Ridley right now, let’s say we’re close to 50 million tons capacity. All of us combined. With all of these projects going on in a couple years time we’ll be at 70 million. But even then it still isn’t enough,” said Denis Horgan, vice president and general manager, Westshore Terminal.”
Source: http://www.coalage.com/index.php/features/1808-while-canadian-terminals-expand-export-capacities-many-us-producers-are-still-going-to-be-short-of-space.html

Written by Stephen Rees

January 25, 2013 at 8:50 am