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City group opposes 'destructive direction'

New Westminster Environmental Partners is voicing health and environmental concerns about a proposal that would see coal exported from Fraser Surrey Docks.

New Westminster Environmental Partners is voicing health and environmental concerns about a proposal that would see coal exported from Fraser Surrey Docks.

Members of the local environmental group have held meetings with representatives from the Surrey Citizens Transportation Initiative to discuss Fraser Surrey Docks' proposal to Port Metro Vancouver to develop a direct transfer coal facility at the existing terminal in Surrey, which they say would handle up to four million metric tonnes of coal per year, with the potential to increase this volume to eight million metric tonnes.

According to New Westminster Environmental Partners, the groups identified health, economic, and environmental impacts as important areas requiring public response, not only for local residents of both municipalities, but also for people across the region and province. In addition to a coal expansion proposal at Fraser Surrey Docks, Neptune Terminals has submitted an application to Port Metro Vancouver to expand its coal export capacity at its North Vancouver facility.

"Decisions like this proposal that are based on economic activity around fossil fuels lock us into an outdated and destructive direction," said Andrew Murray, coal issue spokesperson for the New Westminster Environmental Partners.

The two groups are urging New Westminster and Surrey residents to communicate their concerns to the Port Metro Vancouver board and to ask it to: postpone the current approval process on the Fraser Surrey Docks coal export proposal; ask for a revised process that includes suitable and continuous public consultation and information on the type of coal, where it comes from, and how it will be used by the end user; and include climate change impacts in the decision-making process for all hydrocarbon export proposals in British Columbia.

According to Murray, if Port Metro's plans are realized, Vancouver would become the largest exporter of coal in North America. He wants people to understand that this is American coal and that American citizens stopped exporting it through Washington and Oregon ports.

"American citizens have already said 'no' to the risks associated with exporting this product," he said in a press release. "And now Canadians need to say 'no' to expanding coal exports that take us down the wrong path in our quest for a sustainable future for our children."

By transporting coal, members of both groups say Canada plays a role in contributing to climate change.

"Even though Canada isn't the one creating greenhouse gases by burning this fossil fuel, we are an accomplice in adding it to our atmosphere," said Steve Burke from Surrey Citizens Transportation initiative. "The key issue here is that it is low-grade coal. It is not the coal needed in steel manufacturing. It's the junk power that we need to eliminate from our energy diet as we move toward more sustainable energy."

The two groups share concerns about the health impacts to individuals, plants and animals living along the railway routes in case dust particles are dispersed from the uncovered open-top rail cars transporting the coal. They're worried about the effects of people breathing in the potentially toxic components of coal and are particularly concerned about the potential exposure to toxins for children and youth along rail transport routes.

According to the press release, trains pass near 17 public schools in North Delta before reaching Fraser Surrey Docks. Because the proposed transfer coal facility is located next to the Fraser River, members of both groups are concerned about contamination to salmon and other marine life from coal dust blown into the river.

New Westminster Environmental Partners and Surrey Citizens Transportation Initiatives are hoping other citizens will take a position on this issue.

"When the true cost of this project is understood, including the negative impacts to our environment and health that aren't even being considered in this proposal. Taxpayers will see that the costs of these negative impacts will exceed the economic benefits of expanding coal shipments through the Lower Mainland," Murray said.