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Opinion: There’s more than one story about coal

Apr 30, 2015

Vancouver Sun

April 30, 2015

The coal industry too often is gratuitously demonized by groups telling a one-sided story about a sector that is crucial to B.C.’s economy.

Criticism has gone into overdrive of late as Port Metro Vancouver considered then approved last August a controversial $15 million coal-loading facility at Fraser Surrey Docks.

Environmentalists, along with the Fraser Health Authority’s chief medical health officer and local citizens balked at dust and diesel fumes associated with the coal transport, specifically what they viewed as toxic dust blowing off rail cars.

This, despite a report from Golder Associates, a ground engineering and environmental consulting firm, which had found “no significant adverse environmental effects, including health effects,” that could not be mitigated.

Further, Westshore Terminals, the largest coal terminal on the continent’s west coast, has operated for 44 years without recording serious harmful effects, including on marine life around the coal operations.

And so, now, several B.C. union organizations are joining forces in response to attacks on their industry. A website, workingwithcoal.ca, has been created and union representatives are telling their side of the story to media outlets.

A prominent point they make, one hard to dismiss, is that they’ve witnessed no evidence of harm among their membership, either from the mining or transport of coal.

“Union members are working up to their knees in coal every day — mining, running coal trains and loading coal directly onto ships — with no negative health effects …

“If there were problems our unions would be the first to sound the alarm and demand changes to protect members,” they say. Any claims that coal dust kills Canadians or is harming children living nearby coal activities, they contend, are “nonsense.”

Coal plants do produce sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide emissions and the unions are hopeful new carbon capture and storage technologies being tested at a plant in Estevan, Sask. will be helpful in future.

It also should be remembered, nine out of the 10 B.C. mines produce metallurgical coal, cleaner than thermal coal and used in steel making. It makes possible goods like cellphones, surgical instruments and subway cars, even turbines used in windmills.

As for thermal coal, a good part of the world would go dark without it.

Coal has been good to this province, which produces 40 per cent of the Canadian supply of the commodity. More than 20 per cent of exports from Vancouver’s port involve coal shipments. The sector is responsible for 26,000 direct and indirect jobs in B.C.

The century-old sector creates $3.2 billion in economic activity annually in B.C., generating $715 million in tax revenues for the province and its municipalities.

Full consideration of all aspects of the coal story should be taken into account before strong opinions are formed.

Click here to see the original article on the Vancouver Sun website.

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