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Thermal coal is being increasingly shipped out of BC ports. The vast majority of this thermal coal originates in mines outside of our province: primarily in the Powder River Basin in the US and from a few mines in Alberta. American mining companies such as Cloud Peak Energy, Arch Coal, and Peabody Energy, are attempting to get their product to Asian markets and are desperate to do so as US power plants have increasingly displaced coal with natural gas. Facing stiff opposition from increasing coal exports through Washington, Oregon, and California, these companies have shifted their attention to BC.

The shipping of this thermal coal is completely inconsistent with BC’s climate strategy and yet the provincial government has done nothing to impede it. In fact it seems like the opposite is true, BC, it appears, is open for business.

While it is true that the operation of Port Authorities (and any expansions) falls under federal jurisdiction there are significant opportunities for the province to step in and take an active role in opposing the expansion of thermal coal exports.

The most controversial coal expansion project is currently the Fraser Surrey Docks Terminal Expansion. Using this example, the province could undertake a number of initiatives:

  1. Texada Quarries has applied for a permit amendment to increase their Coal Storage limit and this is a key link in the Fraser Surrey Docks proposal. The permit amendment process runs through the ministry of Energy and Mines. Under both the Mine Act and the Environment Management Act this permit could be refused because of concerns around Health and Environmental Impacts. As part of its permitting process the province could also call for a Health Impact Assessment and Environmental Impact Assessment as a prior condition to granting the amendment.
  2. The Minister of Health could order a Health Impact Assessment being called for by both the Local Medical Health Officers and the Provincial Health Officer with the Fraser Surry Docks Terminal Expansion.
  3. The Ministry of Environment could also order its own comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment, as opposed to the one that was commissioned by FSD that has received heavy criticism.

Clearly the province has powers that could delay, impede and derail this specific expansion. For a province that claims to be a leader in climate change action, the expansion of thermal coal exports through our ports is deeply hypocritical. Significant opposition around this project exists. Municipal councils, health officials, school boards, environmental groups and concerned citizens have all voiced their opposition to a project that does little to benefit our province yet showcases the hypocrisy of the BC Liberal position on climate change.

In comparison, our southern neighbors take climate change seriously when considering new projects. For example, in Washington, as part of its Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Gateway Pacific Coal Port project, the Department of Ecology is actively considering the impacts climate change in its assessment. The EA includes an analysis of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the project site and construction, transportation from mine to market, and the end-use burning of exported coal in Asia!

The government claims that jumping head-first into the race on LNG is the single best thing that the province can do to address climate change. I frankly think that actively opposing the expansion of the dirtiest fuel on the planet would do a lot more.


  1. March 7, 2014 at 9:08 am

    The PMV clearly see this as managing public relations and are not taking the public seriously. Here are a few good reasons that they should be taking a very different approach. This list of scientific articles published in referred journals are filled with facts that they need to meaningfully respond too. The fact that they hired a retired specialist in pesticides to review the proposed coal port, a respected person, but one that knows next to nothing about coal or transportation health impacts is just one sign that PMV is more interested in appearances than protecting the public’s health. It is no wonder that all the regional and Provincial Health Officers do not approve of their approach.

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  2. March 6, 2014 at 10:30 pm


  3. Sjeng Derkx-
    February 25, 2014 at 8:25 pm

    I have had a chunk of coal sitting in my window sill for a number of years now. Sometimes I carry it in my pocket or wave in the air at meetings. I use it to remind myself and others that coal is global enemy number one.
    Of course it is foolish to bet BC’s economic future on fracking for gas. Of course it is a terrible idea to risk our ecology by allowing pipelines and tankers filled with Alberta dilbit to cross our rivers and ocean. But if we are serious about survival of the world as we know it, we cannot continue to ignore coal.
    Not only is coal dirt cheap and a major contributor to CO2 in the atmosphere, the worse thing is that there is such a massive amount of it. We have enough coal to burn down the planet a few times over and the only way to prevent that from happening, is to leave it in the ground.
    Thank you Andrew for drawing our attention to this gigantic elephant in our room