By Randy Shore , December 18, 2012, The Vancouver Sun
Opposition is mounting this week to the port authority’s plans to expand the region’s capacity to ship coal, with health-care professionals joining a protest movement spearheaded by climate activists.
The B.C. Lung Association, the Public Health Association of B.C. and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment have delivered a letter to the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority outlining their objections to coal port expansion, citing increased risk of cardiovascular disease associated with diesel fumes and coal dust generated by coal transport through local communities.
The letters calls on the Port to delay the proposed expansions at Fraser Surrey Docks and North Vancouver’s Neptune Terminals and overhaul its consultation process to better account for public concerns and the potential health impacts of its operations.
The two projects could increase the port’s coal capacity by up to 18 million tonnes, to a total as high as 53 million tonnes a year.
Port spokesman Duncan Wilson said it is frustrating to hear the port’s consultation process criticized and suggested the protesters’ real target is the environmental footprint of coal as a fuel rather than the port’s ability to transport it safely.
“Our consultation process is similar to a municipal development process,” he said. “Neighbours are notified, there are open houses, and local councils are notified and asked for comment.”
“In the case of Fraser Surrey Docks, 3,200 notices were sent to local residents as well as to Delta, Surrey and New Westminster [councils],” he said. “In the case of Neptune, in addition to the public notices, there was an open house attended by more than 600 people.”
On Tuesday, Voters Taking Action on Climate Change staged a protest at the port authority head offices at the foot of Canada Place.
“These expansions will make [Metro Vancouver] the biggest exporter of coal in North America. This comes at a time when international climate talks are failing, scientists are saying that greenhouse gas emissions are rising faster than ever, and that we are running out of time to deal with this problem,” said Kevin Washbrook, a protest organizer.
“Now we have a port authority that wants to export more coal, which is the dirtiest fossil fuel going,” he said.
Washbrook said both the provincial and federal governments seem determined that Canada and B.C. will be energy superpowers, a goal that would appear to frustrate progress to slow climate change.
“You can’t reconcile exporting more and more fossil fuels with the message that we need to burn less fossil fuels,” Washbrook said.
The group is calling for public consultations on plans to expand coal capacity, a position recently echoed by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and councillors from Delta and New Westminster.
Port Metro Vancouver is conducting an internal review and stakeholder consultation to address concerns about issues related to transport, such as coal dust.
“The decision about whether to trade in coal is one for the lawmakers, it is out of [the port’s] jurisdiction,” said Wilson. “We can’t discriminate that way.”