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Facts in short supply in the coal debate

Mar 14, 2013

By Alan Fryer
March 14, 2013

All of a sudden coal has become a hot topic in British Columbia as anti-development organizations ramp up their campaign to discredit the industry. And as is the case with most of these types of campaigns, facts are in short supply.

It’s one of the reasons we established the Coal Alliance — to make sure all voices in this discussion are heard and the facts about coal are shared. Through our membership, our Alliance represents thousands of British Columbians who are part of a long and proud history of coal mining in our province and a big part of our economy.

Let’s start with the human dimension — something our opponents often overlook or dismiss when describing their theoretical world without coal — whether it is here in resource-rich British Columbia or in developing countries trying to raise themselves out of poverty.

Pay a visit to small-town B.C. — communities like Elkford, Chetwynd or Sparwood — and you’ll find hard-working men and women producing coal safely and sustainably. They’re part of a much larger family of 26,000 British Columbians who depend on coal for their livelihood. These are men and women who are able to buy homes, put their kids through school and contribute to their communities through highly skilled, high paying jobs. We’re proud of the work we do and the many uses our products have.

The steelmaking coal produced in B.C. goes into countless products. It is used to build schools and hospitals and high-density housing. It goes into rapid transit projects and hybrid cars. It goes into building solar panels and wind turbines. It goes into refrigerators and toasters.

Steel can actually contribute to a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. For example, it goes into rapid transit projects like the Canada Line and the proposed east-west subway line to UBC that require huge amounts of steel and which have taken, and will continue to take, thousands of cars off the road. Another example? It takes 100 tonnes of steelmaking coal to produce the 185 tonnes of steel used in a typical wind turbine.

So we do know this: Any plan to reduce GHGs is going to involve steel and lots of it. And steel requires B.C. coal. This is something in which all British Columbians can take pride.

And when it comes to thermal coal that’s transported from our most important trading partner, the United States, to global markets, let’s not forget the 40 per cent of the world that depends on it to power their homes, schools, hospitals and businesses. Are we to say to them, “Sorry, we’re pulling the plug and taking you off the grid; we’ll be in touch when we’ve found something better?” To do so would be to sentence those people to the same grinding poverty endured by 1.3 billion people worldwide who have no access to electricity. A supply of affordable, secure and reliable electricity enables economic development, which is a prerequisite for alleviating poverty. Coal plays a central role in supporting global economic development, and is an essential resource to meeting the world’s energy needs.

It is important to remember that B.C. is a resource-based economy and coal has been a big part of that mix for decades. We’re also a port city and Port Metro Vancouver has been shipping coal responsibly for over 40 years; In terms of value, it accounts for 25 per cent of their business.

And despite what our opponents claim, coal can be produced and handled safely with the right precautions. Just ask the unions who represent the workers in the mines and at the terminals.

What opponents of coal exports don’t want to talk about is the fact that coal generates $3.2 billion in economic activity in B.C. Or that the hundreds of millions of dollars every year in taxes our industry and workers contribute to various levels of government, money that helps support schools, hospitals and homes for the homeless.

Or that coal is essential to supporting our modern lifestyle and to helping people around the world achieve a better quality of life.

So by all means, let’s have this discussion, but let’s make sure it is informed by facts.




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