Kinder Morgan abandoning coal plan: looking for new sites in Pacific Northwest

A decision by Kinder Morgan to abandon plans to build a coal export facility in Oregon could have repercussions for British Columbia.

The company says it is “still looking at options in the Pacific Northwest” after blaming poor logistics as the reason for dropping plans to build a $200 million coal export terminal on the Columbia River in northern Oregon.

The facility would have handled just over 30 million tonnes of coal annually, most of it destined for overseas markets. Kinder Morgan spokesman Allen Fore told the Los Angeles Times “we concluded our analysis and determined that we could not find a location on that particular footprint that would be compatible with the facility that we needed to construct.”

Environmental and community groups who had been fighting the proposal applauded the decision, calling it a “huge victory for the people of Oregon and another blow to the coal companies.”

“The evidence is in that dirty coal export plans are not viable in the Pacific Northwest,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director for Columbia Riverkeeper. “Now families across the Northwest can breathe easier knowing that the largest coal export terminal proposed in the State of Oregon is off the table.”

Three of six proposed coal export facilities are now ‘off the table’ in the Pacific Northwest. One that continues to move forward is a proposal from SSA Marine for a $655 million Gateway Pacific Terminal for the Cherry Point area just north of Ferndale in Watcom County, close to the Canadian border. The deep-water terminal would include a number of cargoes, including coal. The proposal is currently in the environmental impact study phase, but it faces stiff opposition from citizens and environmental groups.

The coal and shipping industry in the Pacific Northwest has expressed concern that if coal export facilities are not approved and constructed, the economic benefits will shift north to Canada. SSA Marine senior vice president Bob Watters told The Vancouver Observer that Cherry Point is an ideal location for a cargo port, but it must first be approved.

“I think with the physical attributes of very deep water, the capability of handling (very large) cape size ships and the shorter rail haul, that we are in a very competitive situation to capture the majority of the PRB (Powder River Basin coal from Montana and Wyoming) before it goes to Canada,” said Watters. “That being said, if our project does not get approved then I think there is a very high likelihood that that PRB coal will go to Canada.”

“Washington has all the same impacts but does not get the benefits of the jobs or tax revenues, and Canada does,” said Watters.

Canada Expanding Coal Exports

Currently BC’s Westshore Terminal is the only coal export facility in the Pacific Northwest. It hopes to expand its exports to meet rising overseas coal demand. Port Metro Vancouver is also considering a proposal from Fraser Surrey Docks to build and operate a new coal export facility from the Fraser River and has approved additional coal exports from the Neptune Terminal in North Vancouver.

VandenHeuvel of Columbia Riverkeeper says Canadians should be wary of companies eyeing coal exporting opportunities in Canada.

“I’m hopeful that B.C. leaders will consider the tremendous threats from coal export and take a stand,” says VandenHeuvel. “It’s true that coal companies are pushing for export terminals in Canada. However, with growing opposition to these terminals in the BC lower mainland, it’s certainly not a likely proposition that these projects will go ahead. We stand in solidarity with BC citizens who don’t want dirty coal exports.”

Canadian Opposition to Coal Growing

In BC, NDP leader Adrian Dix has already called for a public hearing into the coal export proposal from Fraser Surrey Docks. The decision on that proposal rests with Port Metro Vancouver, which is appointed by Ottawa.

The BC based Voters Taking Action Against Climate Change (VTAACC) has been leading the charge against increased coal exports from BC since the Fraser Surrey Docks proposal was discovered last November. And the organization is promising a battle against the Port and coal companies.

“We’ll fight them just as hard as the opponents did down there in the US,” said VTAACC executive director Kevin Washbrook. “We’ve been fighting them hard since last November on the proposal to ship PRB coal from a brand new coal port in Surrey. Now we have vertically integrated opposition from residents, community organizations, municipal governments, regional governments, the NDP, MP’s and health authorities. We are geared up for a major fight.”

In Oregon, SSA Marine VP Bob Watters admits there is growing opposition to coal, but he doesn’t believe it’s shared universally.

“There is opposition is out there and they are quite vocal. But when surveys have been done in Oregon and Washington, the majority of people on an almost two to one basis support expanding export facilities and handling more bulk cargoes, including coal.”

Where We Stand Against Coal, A Relatively Encouraging Update From The Pacific Northwest

There is not enough room in the national headlines for all the battles between fossil fuel expansion projects and climate activists occurring right now. But the Keystone XL proposal’s public comment period ends on April 22nd, so we can shift our focus to coal exportation for a moment. Domestic coal use is one of the few figures that has been steadily dropping, with coal-fired power plants closing ( in many states, and utilities shifting toward other sources ( (mainly natural gas) for power generation. So coal companies are scrambling with proposals to extract coal in Montana and Wyoming, ship it by train to ports in British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon, then freight it to Asian markets. For a good overview of domestic coal use vs. export written last year, read Ben Jervey’s analysis at DeSmog Blog (

It is frustrating (and terrifying) to devote so much of our effort to preventing fossil fuel expansion rather than actually reducing emissions, but springtime brings some good news from the northwest coast. Of the five port proposals for increased coal export capacity in the US this year, one has lost its investors and failed. The other four are facing serious public and legal opposition, and are destabilized by the shifting sands of corporate prospects; Ambre Energy in particular is dogged by rumors of insolvency ( No permits have been issued yet.

One of the most common arguments in favor of expanding the US ports (an argument mostly made by the port developers themselves) is that if we don’t move the coal out ourselves, it will just head up to the ports of British Columbia and leave from there. Eric De Place of the Sightline Institute says the two reasons this is obviously not so ( are: 1. There isn’t the capacity and 2. the Coal Industry says so. Three Canadian export facilities are proposing expansions, but even with those potential increases they would still be nowhere near able to handle the additional coal that’s intended for Washington and Oregon.

And naturally this reasoning-of-least-resistance doesn’t take civil opposition into account. As in the States, oil and pipelines have monopolized the national discourse (,, and taxed the capacity of environmental activists, dampening response to the coal threat. And while Canadian permitting law doesn’t have a mandatory period of public comment, and the Harper government is busy making it nigh impossible for non-corporate humans to steward their own lands, many have taken both legal and direct action ( Vancouver’s mayor, Gregor Robertson, has declared that Vancouver will be The Greenest City in the World(, and several municipalities have already passed anti-coal export resolutions ( Grassroots groups like British Columbians for Climate Action(, Voters Taking Action on Climate Change (, and the Wilderness Committee ( are raising the alarm and demanding accountability.



Ridley Island Terminals

Prince Rupert Port ( in Prince Rupert, BC, the former Halibut Capital of the World, population 12,508. It is 1,500 km. north of Vancouver, almost at the Alaskan border. It is the closest Canadian port to Asia, and exports Powder River Basin and Canadian coal through the Ridley Island Terminals. It was state-owned, but last year Harper decided to privatize it ( as a part of the ongoing liquidation of Canadian assets. Major investors, including Arch Coal, are seeking to expand export capacity from 9 million tons a year to approximately 24 million. Perhaps because of its remote location, this project appears to be proceeding without much of a flap.


Two proposals are being considered for the Vancouver area. One, at the Neptune Bulk Terminals (,, would increase the existing export terminal’s capacity from 8 to 18 million tons of coal a year. The other, Fraser-Surrey (, would create an 8 million ton annual coal export capacity at an existing marine terminal that doesn’t yet move coal. These projects would join the area’s other coal export facility, Westshore, that at 33 million tons a year has the largest capacity in North America. Port Metro Vancouver (, the local port authority (which was amalgamated and privatized in 2008), is overseeing the approval process, and has been getting heat from residents and environmental groups for shielding the projects from public scrutiny. (To reiterate, Port Metro Vancouver and Metro Vancouver are two distinct entities.)

For both expansions, the individual ports must apply for permits from Port Metro, but they conduct their own environmental studies and neighbor notifications voluntarily. Metro Vancouver, the municipal governing body, must issue permits regarding air quality, but Port Metro retains ultimate authority(

Neptune Bulk Terminals

Neptune Bulk Terminals, which is in negotiations to double its capacity, sits in north Vancouver. Port Metro Vancouver stirred up controversy when it approved this proposal; local groups say there was insufficient public outreach before the decision. According to Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, Port Metro both exaggerated public support for the expansion and downplayed the opposition to it ( Metro Vancouver has granted this project its air quality permit, and this project also proceeds apace, despite strong local opposition.


This proposal, from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroads and the Fraser-Surrey Docks, would bring coal export capacity to the Docks, moving Powder River Basin coal down the Fraser river by barge ( Metro Vancouver board members have opposed this proposal by a narrow vote, citing negative impacts to the local environment, and may send a public statement to the Port Metro (, although a final vote won’t be held until the end of April. Metro opposition may yet affect the outcome of this proposal, but the port authority appears to have a great deal of autonomy in this matter, and hasn’t taken public outcry seriously thus far, much of which has come from the coastal town of White Rock ( But the grassroots may be ramping up, if this protest in Surrey on April 21st is any indication (

Westshore-Roberts Bank Superport

Located approximately 20 miles south of Vancouver, in Delta, Westshore ( is currently the largest coal export terminal in North America, and has just finished an expansion. It isn’t currently shipping to capacity, so further expansion at Westshore would only require more trains to arrive, more ships to leave. In December of last year, Westshore made a name for itself in the area news when a bulk coal carrier ship, called the Cape Apricot, collided with the terminal ( , destroying some infrastructure and dumping several tons of coal into the Salish Sea. It has plans to spend $200 million dollars in upcoming years for upgrade and repair.


The Salish Sea is an inland sea comprised of the Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan De Fuca on the American side, and the Strait of Georgia in Canada, which terminates in the Desolation Sound. The evocative names of these geographic features describe one common marine ecosystem that unites BC and the US. The unified title, the Salish Sea, was only officially recognized by both governments in 2009, and this naming ( bears the legacy of both industry and environmental action.

For some, the threat of an ocean spill feels more immediate than the looming cloud of climate change. If coal ships can’t always reliably navigate their own docks, increased traffic through our inland sea would become a much greater hazard to marine life, as well as Canadian and American coastal life. And farther along on the journey there’s another risk to coal ships (or oil tankers, or soybean freighters): the Unimak Pass, which is difficult sailing and already very well-trafficked ( As David Ball writes in the Tyee (

“People on both sides of the border — both tribal and non-tribal — are becoming aware that boundaries don’t really matter much in this issue,” Julie Trimingham, founder of the anti-export told The Tyee. “If this region engages in high-intensity trafficking of fossil fuels, we’re all impacted. If there’s an oil spill, it impacts the entire Salish Sea. If a coal ship crashes or diesel fuel leaks into the water, it affects all of our fisheries.”

Eric De Place goes into detail about the history and increased risks of maritime accidents in the Salish Sea on the Sightline Institute’s blog ( Local groups with their eyes on the sea include Lopez No COALition (, the Lummi Nation Sovereignty and Treaty Protection Office (, the Wilderness Committee (, and the Burnaby Pipeline Watch ( Friends of the San Juans ( is working to create the Safe Shipping Alliance of the Salish Sea, a network of groups working across state and national borders. Their strength will grow through the sharing of information, tactics, and human power.


The largest coal export facility proposals are in Washington state, and come from Peabody (, Arch (, and that dark horse, Ambre. The Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) at Cherry Point in Whatcom County, ( with a proposed capacity of 48 million tons of coal a year, and the Millennium Terminal at Longview in Cowlitz County, capacity 44 million tons, would both be served by the same train lines coming from Otter Creek, Montana, and the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. One piece of Washington senate legislation, SB5805, known as the ‘Pit to Pier’ bill because it hoped to make permitting of mined exports as fast and easy as possible, disappeared after a public outcry.

Gateway Pacific Terminal

The public action against the GPT proposal has been remarkable. In order to establish the scope of an Environmental Impact Study, which is the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process of describing the environmental significance of federal-scale projects, the agencies that will lead the study hold a period of public comment. These comments (scoping comments) provide instructions for what to study and where, and also represent the public sentiments about a proposal. At a Seattle public hearing in December, more than 2,000 opponents showed up to testify and protest, including Seattle super-mayor Mike McGinn, many Washington civil servants, health professionals, and other concerned people, including several road-tripping Northern Cheyenne citizens and ranchers from Wyoming, angry at the lack of a local hearing. There were 124,000 scoping comments posted online, and at least 16,000 of them were substantive. The period of public comment was extended to accommodate the surge.

In each the five current proposal processes, environmentalists’ goal is to have the Environmental Impact Statements include the cumulative impact of all five proposals. If each proposal gets to study only its own impact, no one is obliged to imagine what the air, water and climate will really be like in ten years. Establishing the scope of an EIS is often a skirmish between environmental advocates and developers. If local residents don’t catch wind of a proposal, the scope will be as narrow as suits the business interest. The most common EIS scoping anti-environmental argument (after straight-up denial) is that while climate change is real, this particular project shouldn’t be made into an example by being the first to have to include cumulative carbon as an environmental impact. A new directive from the White House Council on Environmental Quality ( to agencies specifies total greenhouse gas emissions as a factor to consider in approving new projects. This directive is not quantitative or binding, but could be a new weapon in this struggle, especially once a precedent is set in which this guideline helps block or alter a proposal.

Perhaps the Gateway Pacific Terminal could set the precedent: of the 16,000 substantive comments it received, at least 23 city officials, 14 county, 6 federal, 13 state, and 6 tribal agencies commented at great length, many of them demanding an area-wide, comprehensive, or cumulative greenhouse emission review. Some highlights included:

Lummi Indian Business Council– “If constructed, the proposed project will substantially increase the availability of coal on the global market, which can be expected to decrease the cost of coal. As the cost of coal decreases, economic incentives to develop alternative energy sources that have lower CO2 emissions also decrease, which will continue the reliance on an energy source that has relatively high levels of CO2 emissions.

The EIS should evaluate the impacts of the increased availability of coal to global competitors of the United States that would occur as a result of this project on the development and reliance on alternative energy sources, climate change, and particularly how climate change will affect sea level rise and coastal flooding on the Lummi Indian Reservation and the sustainability of glaciers in the Nooksack River watershed.”

Makah Tribal Council–“The MTC believes it is of vital importance that the EIS include analysis… of the impact of… burning of coal has on our Treaty protected resources.”
“The EIS should also evaluate climate related impacts such as ocean warming and acidification, which are already affecting our treaty resources. This scientific reality is compounded by the federal government’s difficulty in providing a coordinated response to these challenges while accounting for our Treaty Rights. When conducting the cost benefit analysis for this project there must be an appropriate accounting for the cost to the marine environment and those business[es], cultures and treaties dependent on an intact marine ecosystem. While we support efforts to develop a vibrant economy, it must not come at the cost of future generations.”

National Marine Fisheries Service– “The transportation of this coal facilitates the consumption of the products, which increases carbon emissions which may contribute to changes in weather patterns, warmer waters, or ocean acidification; all of which can have measurable effects on protected species or their habitat. The NMFS recognizes climate change as a threat to the health of our oceans and our marine living resources. For a complete analysis of the effects of the project to our protected species and habitats, please provide an estimate the carbon output of burning the maximum capacity of coal shipped overseas.”

National Park Service– “Given the potential for regional export of over 100 million tons of coal per year, NPS is concerned these projects – both individually and cumulatively- could have significant long-term consequences for the residents, visitors, environmental and cultural resources of the north Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest. Therefore, we believe the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as lead federal agency, is obligated to coordinate with all involved state and local agencies in preparing a programmatic EIS that rigorously addresses the cumulative effects of all five export terminal projects in the region. The EIS should fully evaluate all direct and indirect effects of the coal export process, including railroad shipment from the Powder River Basin, terminal operations, marine vessel shipment and resulting pollutants emitted from Asian power plants.”

Swinomish Indian Tribal Community– “It is critical that all environmental assessments be based not only on today’s existing climatic conditions, but also those expected to occur as a result of global climate change. The Corps of Engineers has a responsibility to evaluate these climate impacts as part of the EIS process. This analysis should be based on an in depth inventory of existing rail lines and their susceptibility due to age, construction, and likelihood of failure due to storm surges, landslides, and a higher incidence of extreme weather events.

Because of the enormous volume of comments, the Scoping Summary Report ( has just now been completed. Now the summary will be reviewed by the agencies who are leading the Environmental Impact Study: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington Department of Ecology, and Whatcom County.

In the meantime, election season is beginning, and in Whatcom county council (, 4 of 7 seats are up. Whoever is elected will be voting on at least two important land use permits. These permits are essential to the GPT proposal proceeding, so these council races are ones to watch.

On March 21st, Idle No More marched in Seattle to protest the proposal and its threat to Lummi livelihood and ancestral lands ( Since officially coming out against the proposal, the Lummi nation has been a source of the most outspoken, incisive critiques, comments, and public actions. There is a Lummi media event in the works for sometime in August, details are not yet public.

The Millennium Terminal

Millennium has hired a consultant, ICF International (, based in Virginia, to run the Longview scoping process, which promises to be at least as effervescent as the GPT. No official schedule of hearings or dates for comment have been announced, but the process is likely to begin as early as June of this year. One major issue has already come to light: if the Longview project were approved, the required rail upgrades would cost approximately $200 million, and that money is slated to be a publicly financed grant from a pot designated for high-speed rail. This externalized cost is, to put it lightly, a controversy. There will be run-up events in Longview and Bellingham once the timeline is established.


Morrow Pacific

The Morrow Pacific proposal ( is a barge project from eastern Oregon to the Port of St. Helen’s in the Columbia River Estuary, with a capacity of between 3.5 and 8 million tons a year. Ambre Energy is the heavy here, and when the Oregon Department of State Lands requested more information from them, in an unprecedented move Ambre refused to supply it. The request was renewed (serious this time!), and Ambre then requested a four month period to…conjure information? If the permit is denied, this project is over. Whether by chance or by intuition, environmental journalist Mark Drajem name-checks both Ambre and Morrow Pacific in a article ( on Obama’s National Environmental Policy Act directive, as an example of a project whose EIS might be made difficult by a cumulative scope.

Port Westward
Kinder-Morgan’s Port Westward ( is another proposal that would make use of the Port of St. Helen’s, this one by rail, and with a capacity of up to 30 million tons a year. The company already exports coal from other ports in the southeast, and has a long, blighted history of environmental abuses that includes illegal dumping, pipeline spillage, and coal pollution visible from space, that Sightline summarizes concisely in this document ( Their recent application for a sublease from Portland General Electric was rejected because GE didn’t want its gas plant next to a dirty coal plant ( This hilarious irony unfortunately doesn’t signal the end of the proposal. Now we turn to a municipal effort to rezone 900 acres at Port of St. Helen’s from agricultural to industrial, very likely in anticipation of housing the proposed Kinder-Morgan facility. The first two public hearings about this rezoning effort were cancelled.

According to the announcement on the County website the new date for this meeting is May 6th at or after 6:30 PM in the District Court Room, second floor of the Columbia County Courthouse. (

Coos Bay
The best news is last: Oregon’s Coos Bay proposal has allowed its negotiation contract expire, and all the partners (Mitsui, Korea Electric Power Corps, and finally Metro Ports) have withdrawn. The Port’s CEO, David Koch (no relation), says the port is expanding, but with no major investments it sounds more like chin-up business-speak than an increasing climate threat. The fact that the first two investors to pull out were members of the fabled Asian market is further counter-evidence to the pervasive claim that Asia is a coal-burning monolith, and if we don’t sell them our sub-bituminous coal, they’ll just burn something dirtier.


The Sierra Club, several Waterkeeper groups and local advocates announced on April 2nd that they’re suing Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroads for violating the Clean Water Act by allowing hundreds of tons of coal to enter Washington waterways( This suit could shine a light on the local environmental struggle, and anecdotally, local divers have found quite a lot of coal under Seattle’s Ballard Bridge

One direct action ( that is organized by Montana activists but is fun and appropriate anywhere Snickers is sold, is directed at Forrest Mars, Jr., heir to the M&M fortune and major investor in these proposed coal schemes. Stickers read “WARNING: THIS CANDY FINANCES DIRTY COAL ENERGY”, and are available through the website, for your discretionary use.


Washington’s new Governor, Jay Inslee, is a bold climate warrior. He wrote and championed a strong piece of legislation, SB5802 (, that passed the Republican-majority Senate with only minor tinkering, which establishes a working group to find and implement the best practices for statewide emissions reduction. He gave two hour-long testimonies in the House and Senate in support of his bill, and he will serve on the working group when it is active, which should be by August.

And in response to the Council on Environmental Quality’s greenhouse gas directive, on March 25, Inslee and Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber wrote a letter to Nancy Sutley (, the Chair of the CEQ, asking her to direct the agency’s focus toward coal. They addressed federal coal leasing and the specifics of US coal export proposals, but the letter was advocating that rare and precious thing, the cumulative view. They write:

Coal will inevitably play an important part in the global energy supply in the short term. However, before the United States and our trading partners make substantial new investments in coal generation and the infrastructure to transport coal, extending the world’s reliance on this fuel for decades, we need a full public airing of the consequences of such a path.

Some critics have complained that Inslee isn’t publicly condemning the export proposals, but if he’s not doing that here, I don’t know what this is about:

…we urge the CEQ in the strongest possible terms to undertake and complete a thorough examination of the greenhouse gas and other air quality effects of continued coal leasing and export before the US and its partners make irretrievable long-term investments in expanding this trade.


Some relatively ( mainstream ( voices ( are telling us that the Pacific Northwest coal fights are winding down. And still more mainstream voices ( are saying they’re just heating up: (, which may be exactly the kind of attention these conflicts need. We should celebrate our gains against climate change, and celebrate the attention that comes to our fight. But in celebrating these victories, we risk easing up when our consistent efforts are most needed, or forgetting that all environmental victories are temporary by nature. When we celebrated the end of a Gray’s Harbor coal export proposal in August, most of us didn’t expect a Gray’s Harbor crude oil export proposal ( to pop up quite so quickly. Residents of Olympia, Washington, have noticed ships carrying fracking materials moving through our ports on the way to Bakken and elsewhere. While this region has a well-earned reputation for environmentalism and efficiency, many of us make our livelihoods in trade and shipping, so we must be aware of and accountable for what passes through our hands and our gates. We’re taking important steps away from fossil fuels ourselves, but if we allow our unusable surplus to be passed on to other economies like so many hand-me-down clothes, we continue to bear that carbon’s responsibility and suffer that carbon’s cost. Let’s celebrate, and use that energy to weave the connections of this movement tighter, so that our bad ideas and moribund products don’t have a chance to slip through.

Vancouver mayor, port officials square off over coal shipments

VANCOUVER – Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson wants to ban coal exports from the city’s port based on health concerns, but officials with the port are calling his motion “meaningless” and “inaccurate.”

Robertson’s motion is to be heard at city council next week and would create a bylaw banning coal exporting activity on the grounds that train transport of coal to the Port of Metro Vancouver creates coal dust and diesel fumes. The motion notes the health impacts are relatively unknown.

Coun. Andrea Reimer said the city first became concerned when the port started to expand in Surrey and North Vancouver.

“We haven’t had any proposals for a long time and suddenly there’s two: one in Surrey and one in North Van,” said Reimer. “We would be the next logical place, because we are the port hubs in Vancouver, and we have the rail lines going through.”

The mayor’s motion also states the Port of Metro Vancouver has “no responsibility for impacts from port activities outside the port.”

Duncan Wilson, the Port of Metro Vancouver’s vice president of corporate social responsibility, said the motion is inaccurate.

“None of the coal trains come through the city of Vancouver. Anywhere,” said Wilson.

“What I’m concerned about is that the motion makes some statements that I believe are incorrect. If the city wants to take a position on coal, that’s one thing. But we do take very seriously the impact of our operations on local communities, and the motion suggests we don’t do that.”

Wilson said he believes many of the health impacts the city is concerned about have already been addressed, “but it would be interesting to have that dialogue with the health authorities,” he said.”I do know in terms of dust mitigation they spray down the coal so that it doesn’t create dust as it moves down the corridor. In terms of diesel exhaust, you’d have to speak to railways about that.”

Reimer said Vancouver is actually behind when it comes to considering the potential health impacts of coal exporting.

“Frankly we’re behind when you look at the west coast of North America which is where a lot of the coal is leaving the continent,” she said. “We are well behind Los Angeles and other major ports — Seattle, State of Oregon — in looking at health impacts and how it relates to coal exports.”

She said the Port of Metro Vancouver needs to be more accountable by giving the public the absolute right of access to information.

“Quite a few health professionals and health organizations have written to Port Metro Vancouver urging them to better involve health authorities because it’s in the Metro Vancouver region,” said Reimer.

But Wilson said he believes the motion has no effect on the Port, as there are no plans to put a coal facility on any land in Vancouver.

“I mean, I understand their interest in bigger issues around coal, but it seems to me that the motion is basically meaningless in terms of its impact.”

Vancouver Fraser Port Authority and Coal Exports

BC Lung Association and other health leaders to PMV: delay coal export decisions until health risks thoroughly evaluated — work with Local Governments, Health Authorities to assess health impacts of six additional coal train trips per day through local communities

For Immediate Release

December 17 2012

Vancouver — An open letter (attached) from the BC Lung Association, the Public Health Association of BC, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and individual health leaders was delivered today to Port Metro Vancouver, calling on it to delay decisions on two coal export expansion proposals until the cumulative health impacts of increased coal train traffic through Metro Vancouver communities can be properly evaluated.

The letter calls on the Port Authority to work with local governments, First Nations and regional health authorities to develop a transparent process for evaluating health impacts from increases in regional coal train traffic generated by these proposals.

Signatories note that they share concerns expressed in an earlier open letter to the Port Authority from climate scientists and others. “Why would we, in a province so rightfully proud of our clean energy, enable the delivery of these products that are globally toxic when used as intended?” said Dr Erica Frank, Canada Research Chair in Preventive Medicine and Population Health, UBC. “Not only are these coal exports a threat to the climate, we are concerned that they may be a threat to local health as well,” Frank said.

Plans currently before the Port Authority, if approved and built to capacity, would result in a minimum of 3 more return trips (6 one way trips) by coal trains through Metro Vancouver each day. This would be in addition to the 6 or more return coal train trips (12 one way) which currently pass through regional communities each day.

In the letter, health leaders point out that there are known health risks from exposure to diesel exhaust and coal dust and that approval of coal export plans would increase public exposure to both substances. No public agency is currently in a position to monitor or regulate cumulative increases in diesel exhaust from trains, and there are no regulations in Canada to control the release of coal dust from rail cars.

BNSF railway has stated that a coal train can lose over 100,000 kg of coal, much of it as dust, on its journey from mine to terminal. There should be a full accounting of the impact of these losses on public health prior to the approval of any coal export proposals.

There are more than 10 elementary and secondary schools, as well as a number of day care centres and seniors’ homes within 1 kilometre of the BNSF railway line which would serve the proposed Fraser Surrey Dock coal export terminal. On the north side of the Fraser River alone, there are more than 10 schools, a number of day care centres and a hospital within 1 kilometre of the CN line which would serve the proposed Neptune Terminals coal export expansion.

It is likely there will be continued pressure to increase coal exports out of Vancouver in the future:

Westshore Terminals has indicated that it could easily export an additional 20 million tonnes/year US coal, if it had the capacity;
Fraser Surrey Docks has indicated that it is seeking out other coal export customers in addition to BNSF;
if the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal near Bellingham Washington (projected to generate 18 return coal train trips per day) is not approved, there may be increased demand to export US coal through BC.

The potential for cumulative health impacts on local communities from increased exposure to diesel exhaust and coal dust should be thoroughly evaluated before the Port Authority approves any proposals for coal export expansion.

“If the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority truly aspires to be a good neighbour to Metro Vancouver communities, it should start by acknowledging that these coal export proposals have the potential to generate cumulative health impacts in areas outside their jurisdiction,” said Kevin Washbrook, Director with Voters Taking Action on Climate Change. “The Port Authority should put these decisions on hold, and work with regional communities and Health Authorities to assess the impacts and determine if these development proposals are in everyone’s best interests.”


1. For more information on the open letter: Kevin Washbrook, Director, Voters Taking Action on Climate Change 778-848-8278

2. For a summary of health concerns associated with exposure to diesel exhaust and coal dust, see the statement issued by the Whatcom Docs, a group of more than 200 Physicians in Whatcom County, Washington concerned about the proposed Gateway Pacific Coal Export Terminal near Bellingham Washington:

Note that the statement is a summary of all health concerns — including those from occupational exposure to coal dust by miners.
Appendix B examines the issues related to coal dust exposure along railway lines in more detail:

3. The BNSF statement about coal dust releases from coal trains has been removed from their web site. However, the web page has been archived by the Sightline Institute in Seattle and can be read here: BNSF currently will not make information on coal dust escapes from trains public. Eric de Place, Senior Researcher with the Sightline Institute, can provide more information on this issue. Contact: 206-447-1880 x105.

The archived BNSF web page indicates 500 lbs to one ton (2000 lbs) of coal can be lost from each rail car. At an average length of 125 cars, a train could lose up to 250,100 lbs/113,000 kgs of coal over the course of a journey. The impact of these losses on public health should be assessed prior to the approval of coal export proposals.