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Union leaders promote cleaner image for B.C. coal

Feb 4, 2015

The Province

Kent Spencer

January 30, 2015

Painting the tops of coal piles green and then putting them onto rail cars might get the public to think differently about B.C. coal.

That was among several messages which trade union leaders brought to a meeting of The Province editorial board on Thursday.

The leaders said they were stepping forward because the industry has been victimized by scare stories and they don’t feel the public realizes how much coal-related taxes contribute to schools and hospitals.

“People often say ‘That’s not coal there, that’s gold,’ “ said Mark Gordienko, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. “There are about 50,000 jobs in B.C. associated with coal and the average wage is about $90,000.”

Union leaders said discussions need to be held between environmentalists and the industry about the future of fossil fuels.

“We all know there is a balance here. We just haven’t figured out what it is yet,” said Stephen Hunt, western Canadian director for the United Steelworkers.

The tops of coal cars are currently covered with a clear acrylic coating, which serves to seal them shut during the journey to West Coast ports.

A colour change to green would help because the public would realize measures are in place to protect them from coal dust, they said.

The leaders said the most unfounded scare story was the one about coal dust killing children.

“Some environmentalists have made outrageous claims which have never been backed up,” said Tom Sigurdson, executive director of B.C. Building Trades. “The one about coal dust killing children was nonsense.”

The leaders say the questions about B.C. coal only make sense when the larger world is taken into account.

“I was in China recently and you couldn’t see across the street because of all the crud that was being burned,” said Sigurdson. “Our coal is many times cleaner. We’re not going to shut down China or India. The discussions we have will not include talk about our industry shutting down.

“We know we’re going to be using fossil fuels 50 or 60 years out. We’ve got to find ways to capture carbon,” said Sigurdson.

A representative of an environment group admitted that an industry-wide shutdown in B.C. would serve no one.

Kevin Washbrook, director of a non-profit called Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, said that B.C.’s steelmaking coal is cleaner-burning than the thermal coal which is used for power generation.

“We acknowledge right now that there are no alternatives here in B.C.,” said Washbrook.

“We need to get through the post fossil-fuel era. We’d like to see them take a more upfront role in acknowledging the problems,” he said.

Click here to see the original article, with video, on The Province website.

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