Is Port’s expansion of coal infrastructure a high-risk gamble?

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For example, on May 23, Barbara Joy-Kinsella at the Port sent a “quick FYI” to Nicola Lambrechts at NPR  that described a protest staged by Voters Taking Action On Climate Change and the media outlets present.

“Did Allan [Fryer, Coal Alliance spokesperson and NPR consultant] make it? Did he speak to media?” she asked.

“Please let me know if you have any questions and good luck tonight [at the Fraser Surrey Docks open house]! I look forward to hearing how it goes [smiley face emoticon].”

NPR/Coal Alliance and the Port also held hands as they confronted the scariest spectre of all, earnest, informed kids who want to discuss the impact of coal on their future. Naomi Horsford at the Port reassured Ms. Lambrechts at NPR that, “it was also agreed that the desired outcomes of such a forum was not to be a ‘bitch fest.’”

But NPR/Coal Alliance didn’t buy it, anticipating “another opportunity for misinformed rhetoric.” The Port pulled NPR/Coal Alliance back in for a few more rounds of discussion of a forum with Kids 4 Climate Action but ultimately NPR/Coal Alliance refused to face the kids in an independently facilitated public forum in which each side would present the experts who inform their respective viewpoints.

Belonging to the same organizations and serving on the same boards can certainly make for collegial relationships. The Port is a member of the Greater Vancouver Gateway Council, which Port CEO Robin Silvester chairs. The Gateway Council in turn belongs to the industry lobby group the Coal Alliance, which consists of entities who “support the mining and shipping industry of coal in British Columbia.”

The Port is also a member of the Coal Association of Canada, with a mission to “proactively support Association members in the development, growth and advancement of a safe, socially responsible and economically sustainable Canadian coal industry.” These associations make it look like the Port and the coal industry play on the same team.

Another explanation for the Port’s support for the Fraser Surrey Docks proposal is that it keeps it old friends afloat until the Massey tunnel is replaced with a bridge, which would allow passage by fully loaded oil tankers.

FSD CEO Jeff Scott stated for the Surrey Leader that Panamax-size vessels – the same size as the oil tankers that load at Kinder Morgan’s terminal on Burrard Inlet – can’t be fully loaded due to the tunnel. “You’ll see the same ships,” he said, “we could just load larger volume on them.” It’s uneconomical right now for shippers to pay twice to use two ships out of FSD when they can send one fully loaded one from a different terminal. 

Scott said that he had “heard no talk” of exporting Kinder Morgan bitumen, but it would explain why Fraser Surrey Dock’s lobbyists, National Public Relations, have made more visits to the federal government -- including the Prime Minister’s Office -- than a $15 million coal terminal might normally warrant. In addition, ATIP documents state that FSD is moving through the permit process for a “medium term export coal handling... project. This is an important first step [redacted].” 

What did the Port redact? What does it not want the public to know about the future steps of the Port and FSD?

Whether the Port anticipates an oil export terminal at Fraser Surrey Docks in the future, or some other, cleaner uses for the proposed infrastructure (in keeping with the Port 2050 “Great Transition” scenario), the public deserves to be informed and involved in decision-making and planning.

The Port’s new land use policies should avoid fossil fuel infrastructure due to its high risks

The Port needs a new best friend. Even if it won’t consider the ethical summons of climate change, the market risks inherent in coal provide a compelling reason to reject expansion of its coal export capacity. In Port 2050, the Port embraced a post-carbon economy. The land use plan builds on that report and should prohibit infrastructure that works in opposition to that goal. Sooner than experts previously anticipated, the increase in demand for coal is wavering and the price is collapsing. A big bet on a high priced supplier increasing exports no longer looks like a prudent choice. The "Great Transition" appears to be underway.

The Port website states that a full draft plan will be available for consultation at the end of 2013. You can subscribe for updates at the Port website. 

Federal legislation requires the Port of Metro Vancouver to hold a “public meeting” when it adopts a new land use plan. Public comment on the Port’s Land Use Plan will be solicited this November. Phase Four, finalization of the plan, will conclude early in 2014.

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