Media Release

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

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."

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(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."