ALLOWING Neptune Terminals to double the coal handled at its North Vancouver location neglects pressing environmental concerns, according to at least one environmentalist.
Port Metro Vancouver recently approved Neptune's application for new equipment intended to eventually push 18 million tonnes of steelmaking coal from the port to mills in Japan, China and Korea.
Global environmental concerns fall outside the scope of PMV's authority, according to vice-president of social responsibility Duncan Wilson. "We don't decide what commodities Canada trades," he said.
"Climate change is everyone's responsibility," responded Kevin Washbrook, director of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change. "This problem is too far along to say all we do is export."
Washbrook questioned the value of PMV's review. Neptune Terminals announced a $63-million investment in new equipment in May, 2011, some of which was spent on a stacker reclaimer.
In June, 2012, Neptune applied to PMV to add a railcar dumper, shiploader boom and conveyors to its operations.
"It makes me wonder: What was the whole point of public consultation at all if even before they had applied to the port to build this stuff, they had already signed a contract to have it built?" he asked.
Upgrades at the terminal were discussed with PMV before a formal application was filed, according to Neptune president Jim Belsheim.
"We originally would've talked to them about the initial components of the project before that and then we do all our work, and then we submit the formal application," he said.
The stacker reclaimer was not initially part of Neptune's application to the port.
"Typically, new equipment . . . does not require a permit," Belsheim said. "As we got underway with the permit for the total project, it was decided to include the stacker reclaimer in with the permit application to ensure full transparency."
The Neptune president also pointed out the terminal is upgrading as opposed to expanding.
"It's all within our existing terminal footprint," he said. Discussing concerns about exhaust from diesel locomotives, Belsheim said North Vancouverites should not have to worry.
"While the train's on Neptune's site it's moved mechanically, electrical-motor driven," Belsheim said.
During transportation, a substantial amount of coal dust can be seen from rail cars, according to Washbrook.
"Coal trains continue to release coal dust into neighbourhoods even when they are running back 'empty.'"
Critics claim coal trains "lose" weight en route to the port because of the dust factor, but Port Metro Vancouver does not monitor the rail cars.
"I don't know the specifics of the weight of the train," said Jim Crandles, director of planning for PMV.
While thermal coal is generally burned to produce energy, metallurgical coal is heated in an oven and reduced to a solid carbon mass. A chemical reaction is then used to create iron ore or steel.
Steelmaking coal is responsible for 25 per cent of all industrial carbon emissions, according to a report from Cambridge University researcher Julian Allwood.
That impact is largely overlooked by PMV, according to Washbrook. "Either they don't understand the implications of the products they export, which is pretty bad, or else they're being misleading," he said.
Steelmaking coal is vital for rapid transit infrastructure, according to Belsheim. "It's part of the solution for improving the environment," he said.
PMV's consideration of Neptune's application should have been extended until a thorough review of public health impacts could be considered, according to B.C. Lung Association program manager Menn Biagtan.
"We have to make sure that we've looked into the balance between protecting the environment, the public and promoting economic growth," she said.
PMV was not receptive to the B.C. Lung Association's concerns, according to Biagtan.
"I don't think Port Metro Vancouver would even look at it or consider it," she said.