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Editorial: Coal Debate

Texada Island is a key piece in the plan to increase coal exports to Asia through the Lower Mainland.

Texada Island is a key piece in the plan to increase coal exports to Asia through the Lower Mainland. Fraser Surrey Docks (FSD) has applied to Port Metro Vancouver for a project permit to build coal-handling facilities that would allow the direct transfer of coal from trains originating in the United States to barges. The barges would carry the coal through Sabine Channel, located between Texada and Lasqueti islands, to the quarry on Texada, owned by Lafarge Canada Ltd. The coal would be stored in its existing, but expanded, stockpile area, then transferred to deep-sea vessels for export to Asia.

Proponents of the project point to the economic development benefits of the proposal. It would create 15 to 20 new jobs, Lafarge representatives say, and provide more work for Texada contractors as well.

Additionally, supporters of the proposal point out Lafarge has been transshipping coal from its Texada quarry safely and without incident for over 20 years. For them, it is business as usual.

Opponents have a long list of concerns, including the impact of that much coal—estimated to be four million tonnes a year—will have on the marine environment, air quality and fresh water resources, as well as affecting people’s health. Coal dust is associated with chronic bronchitis, emphysema and pulmonary fibrosis. Many residents concerned about the proposal have called for an objective public hearing in affected communities, citing a lack of opportunities to be heard.

The overarching issue in the debate is the impact burning coal has on climate change. The coal from the US is headed to Asia where it will be used as fuel to create energy. Many opponents believe our society has to change the way we obtain energy and regulators should not allow expanding coal exports to Asia, as it will increase greenhouse gases, the main contributor to global warming.

Clearly, this is a major project that has the potential to affect our adjacent marine life, wildlife, air quality and the health of residents. More study needs to be done, including an independent health impact assessment that medical health officers have called for.

As well, the ministry of energy and mines should require Lafarge to conduct an eel grass study. Herring have declined in the Powell River area since the early 1980s, when a commercial fishery wiped out the run that had sustained aboriginal people for thousands of years. The ministry should also require an air-quality monitoring program as well as fresh-water monitoring.

There is too much at stake to not have a closer look at this proposal.