Nearly half of British Columbians oppose plans to increase U.S. coal shipments through BC ports: poll

A new poll is out that indicates the public doesn't back expanding coal exports from British Columbian ports.

With two proposals on the table in  Vancouver to expand coal exports through the city,  Justason Market Intelligence found that  British Columbians are largely unaware of plans to increase U.S. coal shipments through B.C. ports — yet, after hearing of these plans, nearly half of British Columbians (47 per cent) are opposed.

During the past two years, exports of U.S. coal through B.C. ports have increased by more than 300 per cent. The latest proposed facility (Fraser Surrey Docks) would ship four million tonnes of U.S. thermal coal each year to offshore markets, with the potential to increase that to eight million tonnes. Another proposal (Neptune Terminals) is also currently under review by the Port Authority. If both are approved, Vancouver would become the largest coal exporter in North America.

The poll, commissioned by Dogwood Initiative, a Victoria-based public interest advocacy group, showed that 64 per cent of respondents said they hadn’t heard of plans to increase U.S.coal shipments via B.C. ports, according to a press release from Dogwood Initiative.

Forty-seven per cent of respondents indicated they oppose allowing U.S. companies to export coal to Asia by way of B.C.’s ports, the press release said.  It went on to say that the polling illustrated a strong divide along gender lines, with 55 per cent of women indicating opposition, but just 39 per cent of men saying they’re opposed to the proposals. Overall, 28 per cent of respondents said they strongly oppose these plans, with less than half that number (12 per cent) strongly supporting the plans.

“It is clear there is substantial appetite for public debate on the issue of U.S. coal exports by way of B.C. ports,” said Barb Justason, president of Justason Market Intelligence. “While most British Columbians haven’t heard of the plans, when asked their opinion, a majority of them express opposition.”

Will Horter, executive director of Dogwood Initiative, said the opinion research indicates a need for more public consultation before approving any new coal export facilities.

“It’s very concerning that British Columbia has become a major cog in the global coal industry with very little discussion on the matter,” Horter said. “This expansion of ports would result in increased coal train traffic, with an accompanying increase in the dispersal of toxic coal dust, a major health risk to the region’s communities.” 

The mandate of the Port Authority states it is to “operate with broad public support in the best interests of Canadians.” 

Dogwood Initiative, along with 188 signatories, have  called on the Port Authority to delay its decision, create a transparent review process and explicitly consider global warming impacts in their review of this and other projects.

The City of Vancouver and New Westminster Councillor Bill Harper have also called for full public consultation before any decision is made.

B.C. coal exports have sky rocketed due to increased coal mining in Wyoming's Powder River Basin. There has been strong opposition to new coal export terminals on the U.S. West Coast. Burning coal has been singled out as the largest cause of global warming. 
 
A total of 539 adult residents were polled between Sept. 24 and October 1, 2012. The margin of error is +/- 4.2 percentage points 95 per cent of the time.

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