Vancouver mayor, port officials square off over coal shipments

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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.”