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Gordienko, Hunt, Cochrane and Sigurdson: Environmentalists get facts wrong about coal

Oct 27, 2014

The Province
Mark Gordienko
Steve Hunt
Brian Cochrane
Tom Sigurdson
October 26, 2014

“I look at it from the perspective of the importance of coal…..in terms of employment, it’s huge here but I would remind city folk that it provides employment also for people in the Greater Vancouver area.”

— Sparwood Mayor Lois Halko

While there has been much attention and controversy surrounding a small, proposed coal terminal — Fraser Surrey Docks — the larger picture of how important coal mining and exports are to British Columbia’s economy is being missed.

Our unions’ members are the coal miners and workers who ship steelmaking coal from B.C. to markets overseas, where steel is made to produce everything from cellphones to wind turbines to subway cars to surgical equipment.

B.C.’s coal sector employs 26,000 people directly and indirectly, creates $3.2 billion in economic activity and generates $715 million in tax revenues for the province and B.C. cities and towns every year.

In other words, coal pays for hospitals, schools, roads and other public services.

Some object to coal based on misinformed health concerns — and yet all of our unions have members working closely with coal daily but do not see any negative health impacts.

How is it that workers — sometimes up to their knees in coal — mining, running coal trains and loading coal directly onto ships are all healthy for decades and yet “experts” tell the public to beware of the “dangers” of coal dust?

Our unions are responsible for our members’ health and safety — if coal caused illnesses, as claimed, we would know and would have acted long ago.

To be sure, in the early days of coal mining before modern equipment and precautions were introduced, it was a very dangerous job. Today it’s still tough and there are some risks but safety has improved incredibly.

Today’s coal industry in B.C. creates family-supporting jobs all over the province — including Metro Vancouver — and is a big part of our economy.

Surprising to many, Canada’s total coal mined is less than one per cent of world production.

And in B.C., the overwhelming majority of coal we produce is metallurgical or steelmaking coal, which most environmentalists understand is essential to making steel.

Our terminals also ship a much smaller amount of thermal coal to Asia, where it is used to generate electricity for heat and light.

Thermal coal power is more controversial because of its emissions in comparison to other sources of electrical generation. That’s why the new SaskPower coal-fired generating plant in Estevan, Saskatchewan, that opened in September is so exciting.

The Boundary Dam project is the world’s first large-scale coal plant to use carbon capture and storage technology to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions by 100 per cent and CO2 emissions by 90 per cent per year, cutting one million tonnes of greenhouse gas a year.

That the equivalent of taking 250,000 cars off the road!

And the plant produces 110 net megawatts of energy — enough to power 100,000 Saskatchewan homes.

The SaskPower plant is drawing international attention from China, Europe, the United States and elsewhere.

“Coal-fired power is very significant for Europe,” Graeme Sweeney, a European Commission adviser says. “In fact, over the last couple of years, the amount of coal-fired power usage has risen rather than fallen. I think we should see a lot of people from Europe want to come and see this.”

The new technology is expensive — the Boundary Dam project cost $1.4 billion to complete — but it is an extremely important first step.

In a world where coal provides a staggering 42 per cent of all electricity used today and non-hydro renewable energy accounts for less than five per cent, developing carbon capture systems is critical. It’s especially true given that the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates world energy consumption will rise by 56 per cent by 2040 and fossil fuels will continue supplying nearly 80 per cent of it.

Will we see a day where no coal is mined or shipped from B. C.? That is the goal of some well-meaning but misguided environmentalists who dismiss the negative impact on our members and our province if that were to occur.

Coal is critical today to the world economy. And in the future, with improving technology, it can become a cleaner fuel for producing both steel and energy.

For more information on B.C.’s coal industry, go to workingwithcoal.ca.

Mark Gordienko is president, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada; Steve Hunt is director, United Steel Workers District 3; Brian Cochrane is business manager, International Union of Operating Engineers  Local 115; and Tom Sigurdson is executive director, B.C. Building Trades.

Click here to see the original article in The Province.

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