Media Release

For Immediate release:

February 13 2013

Port Authority misrepresents public comments received on coal export proposals

-- description of comments suggests bias, raises questions about Port Authority's commitment to public interest

Vancouver -- Voters Taking Action on Climate Change (VTACC) has obtained copies of the public comments received by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority in response to their review of two applications to increase coal exports from Metro Vancouver. A review of these comments reveals that the Port Authority misrepresented the nature of comments both for and against these proposals.

In its Input Consideration Memorandum, a rationale for approval of the Neptune Bulk Terminals proposal released by the Port Authority on January 23rd 2013, the Port provided the following characterization of public comments:

"In addition to correspondence regarding Neptune, Port Metro Vancouver received approximately 375 emails and letters expressing general support for trading coal. Port Metro Vancouver also received more than 640 emails and letters (with the vast majority of those being form letters) expressing general concerns about the possible broader environmental and health impacts of coal." (pg 3)

A review of two files obtained from the Port Authority, one containing comments in favour of coal exports and one containing comments opposed, provides a more accurate summary of public views:

  1. 378 of 640 comments opposed to coal exports were identified by the Port Authority as examples of one of five different "form letters." This can hardly be described as the "vast majority" of comments, as suggested in the Input Consideration Memorandum.
  2. 360 of 375 comments in support of coal exports were identical, and were sent to the Port Authority on a single day - January 16th 2013, exactly one week before the decision was released. In its Input Consideration Memorandum, the Port Authority failed to point out that virtually all comments in favour of coal export were "form letters."

"The Port Authority's statement in the input consideration memo suggests that it weighed comments in support of expanding coal exports more favourably than those opposed. This apparent bias from a public authority charged with protecting the public interest is deeply troubling," said VTACC Director Kathryn Harrison. "It is perhaps not surprising, though, given that the Port's terms of reference sets aside 7 of 11 positions on the Board of Directors for nominees by Port users," Harrison said.

Given this suggestion of bias on the part of the Port Authority, VTACC asks it to rescind the Neptune decision and open both coal export proposals to a full and transparent public review.

"If the Port Authority wants to restore public confidence and meet its goal of being a good neighbour to Metro Vancouver communities, it should hit rewind on both the Neptune and Fraser Surrey Docks coal export approval processes and invite broad public participation in these decisions," said VTACC Director Kevin Washbrook.

VTACC has asked West Coast Environmental Law to conduct a review of the Port Authority's decision making process and the Neptune Bulk Terminals coal export approval in order to determine if there is any basis for a legal challenge of the decision. VTACC has also initiated a series of federal Access to Information Requests in order to review all Port Authority communications regarding the Neptune decision and the still to be decided Fraser Surrey Docks coal export application.