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Local coal terminal plans are part of a larger fossil fuel export strategy

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Earlier this summer, I wrote an article titled Coal, Oil, Gas: None Shall Pass!, a title inspired by activists who dropped a banner, opposing an oil export terminal in the Port of Vancouver, Washington. Well, the time has come again to send the same message.

In light of this article entitled Why the Climate Movement Should Have No Keystone, I once again encourage all readers, organizes, activists, jugglers, musicians, or whatever, to make sure we look at all the projects that are destroying the planet and communities. You may ask “why?” and I mentioned a few reasons in the previously mentioned article, but here are a few other reasons:

They are all taking over Indigenous lands:

Whether it be fracking projects proposed in Elsipogtog, pipelines heading through Wet’suwet’en lands, tar sands mining projects in the territories of the Athabasca Chipeweyan First Nation or the Beaver Lake Cree, or the many coal mine proposals speckled all over Treaty 8 territory -- fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure projects are disproportionately impacting Indigenous peoples in Canada. Companies and governments are violating Treaty rights, Constitutional Rights, and severely impacting the water and land.

These projects are violating Indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior, and informed consent (for simplicity: the right to say “no” with full information about the impacts of a project) over activities happening on their lands. All fossil fuel extraction industries are playing the colonization game and are taking part in this “slow, industrial genocide.”

The rich getting richer

When I voice opposition to coal, oil, and gas, I have often been asked why I hate B.C.'s economy. This is funny, because I actually said that I hate coal, oil, and gas... not the economy. But if you really want to talk about the economy, maybe you should ask some researchers at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The CCPA released a report about fracking, LNG, and water use in B.C. and exposed some of the myths around this industry. You know that fact about these extractive industries being so good for the economy? It is actually myth. Here is the fact:

“The BC government has focused on the oil and gas industry as a key source of employment and prosperity, which may leave the impression that significant economic benefits outweigh environmental concerns. However, in 2007, oil, gas and mining accounted for less than one per cent of provincial employment, but nearly one third of industrial GHG emissions.”

Hmm, seems like allegations of hating the economy may require a bit more nuance...

Climate change and environmental destruction

They are all climate crimes. I know that may sound like activistspeak but maybe we should just call a spade a spade and recognize that burning fossil fuels is contributing to a warming climate. No single paragraph could really talk about all the social and environmental impacts of climate pollution, but there are a lot of impacts from drought and famine, to desertification of farmland, forced displacement due to increasing numbers of extreme weather events, etc.

And on top of this outcome of burning the fossil fuels, the extraction processes themselves pollute water ways, cause large scale deforestation, and again... force people to leave their homes or live in dangerous conditions. Coal, oil, and gas all do their fair share of tearing up the earth and communities.

But I really began writing this blog because I want to draw attention to coal and B.C.'s role in the industry. In B.C., we often forget to talk about coal. Maybe it is because we are only talking about tar sands pipelines and tankers, or increasingly fracking, fracking pipelines, and LNG. Regardless of why we are doing this, we need to recognize that B.C. already has 10 operating coal mines and has even more proposals for new mines.

It is also home to one of the largest coal export facility in North America, the Westshore Terminal in Delta. On top of that, they are looking to increase the export capacity of this terminal and build new ones, including the Fraser Surrey Docks coal export terminal which would be exporting coal from the United States. Trains carrying the coal have faced fierce opposition from communities and activists in Oregon and Washington, and similar projects have been canceled. Companies may be looking to shipping the coal to BC in order to avoid more opposition south of the border. Unfortunately, when coal trains cross the border, they bring the health impacts with them.

But many people know that, and that is why residents living near the tracks or the proposed terminal are sounding the alarm bells. The Port of Metro Vancouver recently released an Environmental Impact Assessment which was contracted out and completed by a coal industry consultant, SNC Lavalin. The EIA says that it is “not likely” that the coal terminal could adversely affect the environment or community health, yet both Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health have told Port Metro Vancouver that “The assessment of potential health impacts is particularly disappointing, and receives minimal attention in the document.” Another letter submitted by Doctors, medical professionals, and researchers from numerous programs at UBC and SFU including Health Sciences, Medicine, and Molecular Biology requests that the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority “abandon” the process and start over.

The letter recommends that the Port Authority work with regional Health Authorities and consult with local residents and stakeholders to ensure a full and comprehensive list of impacts including:

-the impacts of train noise on community health

- the impacts of burning exported coal on local and trans-ocean air quality,

- the impacts of train noise on community health,

- the impacts of train traffic on emergency response delays and community well-being,

- the impact of diesel exhaust and particulate matter on community health,

- the impact of coal dust on community health, farmland, shellfish and the marine environment.

In short, the flaws in the announced EIA are substantial.

The failure of the EIA to adequately address community health on all these accounts is a clear result of environmental review processes becoming less democratic. Changes in the past two omnibus budget bills, environmental review processes are becoming less about reviewing environmental impacts and more about enabling industrial activity. Since the report was released, people were only given 30 days to comment and word on the street is that the Port Authority does not even need to respond to the comments.

A resident group has launched the site RealPortHearings.org and are encouraging people to email their comments to the Port Authority through their page so that the comments can be made public and be put on the public record instead of going to the abyss of Project Review Committee’s inbox. To access the online submission form, click here and check out their site to learn more.

So there you have it, one more blog post to say that coal, oil, gas: none shall pass and one more blog post about what we can do about it.

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