A group of climate change activists is taking aim at proposals to increase coal exports from B.C. - including an expansion project at North Vancouver's Neptune Terminals.
In a letter that went out this week, the group called on Port Metro Vancouver to delay approvals on two coal terminal expansions. The projects include a new coal port at Fraser Surrey Docks, which would export U.S. coal, and an expansion plan at Neptune which would increase the terminal's export of metallurgical coal from eight million tonnes annually to 18 million.
The letter is signed by climate activists from both Canada and the U.S., including Andrew Weaver and Mark Jaccard, who are both members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Kevin Washbrook, a director of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, an organization involved in distributing the letter, said the activists are targeting the port because "We really are running out of time in terms of dealing with climate change. . . . At some point somebody's got to take responsibility for this."
Washbrook said if the projects are approved, Port Metro Vancouver will be "exporting more coal than anywhere else in North America."
Last year, Lower Mainland port terminals collectively shipped about 31 million tonnes of coal.
Coal is one of the "dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet," said Washbrook. "We're not going to solve it by passing the buck.
We can't wait for other countries to do the right thing."
Neptune Terminals has two proposals being reviewed by Port Metro Vancouver that would increase coal-handling capacity. The first involves replacing a large piece of equipment called a stacker-reclaimer with a more modern version. The second proposal involves adding other equipment, including a railcar dumper and conveyors, so that trains can be unloaded faster. The increased capacity would mean one additional train of coal per day would be unloaded and one more ship per week would be loaded at Neptune.
Washbrook said it's disconcerting that Port Metro Vancouver will make decisions on projects with such a large environmental impact with relatively little public comment.
Patricia MacNeil, project communications advisor for the port, said Neptune has hosted meetings and open houses on its expansion plans and sent flyers to the neighbouring community.
All projects involve an environmental assessment, said MacNeil. But she said it isn't in the port's mandate to examine the wider environmental impacts of the products being shipped. "Our mandate is to facilitate Canadian trade," she said.
Barbara Joy-Kinsella, media relations advisor for the port, echoed those comments, saying if the climate activists want to address wider issues, "They'll have to take that conversation to the federal government."
Jim Belsheim, president of Neptune Terminals, responded to the climate activists in an email, pointing out that the coal Neptune handles is primarily used in steelmaking, not for electricity production. Steelmaking coal is vital in building everything from rapid transit to buildings to household appliances, Belsheim said. Most of Neptune's coal is shipped to steel mills in Asia.
But Washbrook said carbon from metallurgical coal is still released into the atmosphere. "Just because it's used to make steel doesn't give us a free pass," he said. "Nobody in government knows what that coal is used for and they don't care."
In his statement, Belsheim pointed to Neptune's importance to the economy. If the coal projects go ahead, the company will have invested about $400 million in terminal upgrades - including expansion of its potash handling capacity - since 2009, he said. Belsheim said those improvements will create 185 permanent new jobs.