Vancouver City Council decision could affect coal industry

What seems a small amendment to a bylaw by the City of Vancouver could have an impact on the coal industry in B.C.

What seems a small amendment to a bylaw by the City of Vancouver could have an impact on the coal industry in B.C.

On July 23, the amended bylaw now reads, “A marine terminal or berth must not be used for the bulk and handling of coal and trans-shipment of coal.”

Even though the City of Vancouver does not have jurisdiction over the ports nor does it have any coal ports in its area, they wanted the message to be clear. Vancouver Council will not accept any applications to build a marine terminal to hold or transport coal.

The Vancouver vote is mostly symbolic, as they do not have any jurisdiction over the main coal export terminals, Neptune in North Van, and Roberts Bank in Tsawwassen/Surrey.

“It’s important to note that coal is not currently transported in the city of Vancouver but is transported through the city of North Vancouver and municipality of Delta,” said Chris Stannell, Teck senior communications specialist.

United Steel Workers union local 9346 president Alex Hanson believes that both Neptune and Roberts are in the process of expansion, which will eventually more than double export capacity. “There will be no need to use Vancouver city property for any coal exports and there are no plans that I’m aware of,” said Hanson. “Also, I believe the rail system is technically federal jurisdiction and I would be surprised if the city could even control what went past on the rails, so long as it is within Transport Canada guidelines.

“Climate change is a legitimate issue which must be addressed by society as a whole, including the consumers who drive climate change,” said Hanson. “But to throw metallurgical coal under the bus when we need it to make the products like wind turbines to generate electricity and rail systems to transport goods more efficiently, is totally ridiculous. This is simply political posturing and finger pointing. The same people protesting then get in their cars powered by gas and made of steel in order to get to their homes powered sometimes by coal. How about solutions rather than hypocrisy?”

Conservative MP David Wilks was at the council meeting to speak against the amendment stating the importance of the industry as it employs up to 90 per cent of the population of the Elk Valley. Vancouver Councillor Kerry Jang referred to a staff report stating the coal shipments from Vancouver would likely be transported on the BNSF railway close to schools in Vancouver neighbourhoods. “So you make all the money and my daughter gets cancer. Thank you.”

Dr. Patricia Daly, Vancouver Coastal Health’s Chief Medical Officer, also spoke to council stating that Port Metro Vancouver and coal companies have failed to implement industry-funded health impact assessments on proposed expansions to coal export terminals.

“The steelmaking coal we produce in the Elk Valley is vital to every day life and is used to build everything from schools to green initiatives like rapid transit in British Columbia and beyond,” said Stannell. “Teck is very proud to be part of an industry that contributes significantly to the local and provincial economy, creating more than 26,000 jobs throughout the supply chain, including more than 4,000 direct jobs at our steelmaking coal operations in the Elk Valley.

“Residents in communities across B.C, including Vancouver, can be proud that a product that is being produced and transported responsibly in our province is helping to strengthen communities and provide a better quality of life for people here and around the world.”

Fernie Mayor Mary Giuliano offered her concerns in a letter to the Vancouver Mayor and Council prior to their vote on the by-law stating that if the amendment were passed the economic impact to Fernie and the entire Elk Valley would be “enormous.”

“The coal mines in this Valley support over 4,000 direct employees as well as many supporting contractors,” said Giuliano in her letter to Vancouver City Council.

“The ripple effect of such a zoning bylaw amendment would negatively impact the entire province as it would not only affect employees and their families but also cause a possible loss of tax revenues to the potential decrease to coal shipments.”

Provincially, coal mining added $3.2 billion to the economy in 2011. The average annual salary in coal mining was $97,000 during the same year.

No responses were received by press time to enquiries for comments from Vancouver Councillor Kerry Jang, Kevin Washbrook, director of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, MLA Bill Bennett and MP David Wilks.

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