Four Questions About BC’s Coal Policies

The ECOreport asks the provincial Ministry of Energy & Mines four questions about BC’s coal policies

By Roy L Hales

Screen-shot-2014-03-18-at-3.43.47-PM1I recently asked the provincial government four questions about BC’s Coal Policies. Instead of answering the first three, their spokesperson replied, “I suggest you direct these questions to Port Metro Vancouver.” Only most of these questions were connected to the provincial Ministry of Energy and Mines decision to grant the Lafarge Canada facility on Texada Island a permit amendment so that it can handle up to 8 million tonnes of US thermal coal every year.

Secretly Approving The Texada Facility

There is a Port Metro Vancouver hook in this story, but the province issued the permit amendment for Texada six months before any decision was made about the proposed Fraser Surrey coal facility in the Lower Mainland.

Coal on the beach near Texada's loading facility
Coal on the beach near Texada’s loading facility

The Ministry approved the Texada facility secretly. The first indication that the public received was on April 10, when the Environmental Assessment Office sent a BC resident an email stating:

“On March 12, 2014, the Ministry of Energy and Mines issued a Mines Act amendment with conditions to Texada Quarrying Ltd [Lafarge]. I suggest that you follow up directly with the Ministry of Energy and Mines if you have any questions regarding the amendment.”

(According to a local inhabitant, the government has never asked their opinion regarding the coal facility on Texada. They were not even consulted when the question of adding a coal facility first arose. The only public meeting was held by Lafarge.)

BC’s Faith Leaders

Last May, fifty-one of BC’s Faith leaders wrote a joint letter opposing the Ministry’s decision:

“We write as leaders of Christian, Jewish, Unitarian, Quaker, and Sikh traditions in British Columbia. We are concerned about the moral and environmental issues regarding the proposal to build a new coal transfer facility at Fraser Surrey Docks (FSD) that would expedite the shipment of up to 8 million tons of U.S. thermal coal through Surrey, the Fraser River, and Salish Sea to Texada Island. We are asking you to reconsider the recently approved permit for the augmentation of the Texada Island port facility that would enable the increased coal export, and to phase out all U.S. thermal coal exports from BC ports.”

Note the emphasis on that last sentence, it is in the original letter. BC’s Faith leaders were addressing their concerns to Texada. Their concern was Green House Gases:

The end use of this coal is for electric power generation, primarily in China. The practice of burning coal is the source of most of the horrific air pollution problems in that country. Contributing to the increase in coal-related disability among the Chinese weighs heavily on our conscience. Coal is also the fossil fuel most directly linked to the rising CO2 emissions in China of the last 20 years. Our  province has shown strong leadership in the past on commitments to reduce GHG emissions and our municipalities have robust plans to reduce carbon output. The traffic in coal is not compatible with those plans.   

Bill Bennet’s Reply

Bill Bennett, the provincial Minister for Energy and Mines, replied that Port Metro Vancouver was reviewing Fraser Surrey dock’s  application to add a coal facility. “Port Authorities are under the  jurisdiction of the Federal Government.”

To which the Faith Leader’s replied, on September 24, “… the Province does have the power to award or deny permits for the Texada Island portion of the project. Without a permit to transship coal from Fraser Surrey Docks through Texada Island, the project cannot go ahead. Premier Clark, you can stop this project!”

Four Questions About BC’s Coal Policies

My first question to the government was did they have an answer for the Faith Leaders?

Coal gathered from the beach near Texada's loading facility
Coal gathered from the beach near Texada’s loading facility

The answer given by a Ministry spokesmen seems like an abdication of responsibility: “I suggest you direct these questions to Port Metro Vancouver.”

This was also the answer for my questions about “China’s imposition of a 6% levy on thermal coal, such as would be exported through Fraser Surrey Docks via Texada Island” and the impact of falling coal prices “on BC’s coal terminal expansion projects.”

The Question They Answered

My last question pertains to how BC is reporting its’ emissions. In a recent radio interview Jens Wieting of Sierra Club BC said the province is not reporting emissions from clear cut logging, or transporting coal, LNG or oil. As a result, BC’s carbon footprint may be four times as large as what is being reported.

You may listen to a clip about this, (or access the full interview by clicking on this link)

In response to the question about coal emissions,* another Ministry spokesperson said, “B.C. is following the international reporting protocols set out by the UNFCCC. Fuel-related emissions are attributed to the jurisdiction in which combustion takes place (i.e., where the power plant is). These protocols do not allow for inclusion of emissions associated with fuel combusted in the country to which it is exported in the exporting jurisdiction’s inventory.”

If Sierra Club BC’s figures are correct, BC is already attributing over 40 million tons of GHG emissions to the “jurisdictions” that receive our coal and gas exports.

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* He also replied about logging and LNG emissions, but I want to treat these separately.

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