Why Council should approve Robertson’s coal export expansion motion

My letter to the Mayor and Council, in support of a motion about coal export expansion.

Dear Mayor and Council,

Local municipalities, including the City of Vancouver, must urgently act to protect citizens and our environment from reckless plans to make Port Metro Vancouver the largest coal export terminal in North America.

I share the concerns about expanding coal exports through our region expressed by Mayor Gregor Robertson; elected officials and city staff in Delta, Surrey, White Rock, and New Westminster; and public health authorities and organizations from across the region. Increasing coal export capacity in our region and excusing the public health impacts of coal transport must be responsibly opposed by the City of Vancouver and I strongly urge you to support the coal export expansion motion at City Council on March 12, 2013.

The City of Vancouver must continuously confront local contributions to the rapid heating of our atmosphere, a crisis driven by the over-use of dangerous fossil fuels like coal. The public health impacts of the transportation, import and re-export of coal through our regional port network are extremely worrying and we must acknowledge the warnings from public health experts. No less, the local economic benefits paraded by coal export proponents are deadly false. The future of Vancouver’s economy is in cleaner energy, technology, services, resource management and food — not energy and materials systems from the 19th century. And if we fail to prevent runaway global warming — as looks increasingly likely — we must remember that there are “no jobs on a dead planet”.

Last year, our atmosphere was dangerously disrupted by the second-highest increase in heat-trapping carbon dioxide in half a century. New research shows global temperatures are at their warmest in 4000 years and that melting permafrost and other feedback loops will accelerate this warming. A rising chorus of citizens — and especially young people — will no longer tolerate half-measures and rhetoric on the most urgent crisis we face. I will fervently resist economic development schemes that damage the planet and threaten my friends and family — especially when Vancouver is so well-positioned to take advantage from safer alternatives. Indeed, we can take action on climate change and support jobs and economic activity that promote resilience and well-being.

Along with health authorities and physicians in Canada and the United States, I am very concerned about the not-well-understood environmental and health impacts of coal transportation, including:

– coal dust
– diesel exhaust
– congestion and collisions on our roads
– the risk of coal train derailment
– fires

This list does not include the public health and security impacts that arise from cooking our atmosphere, such as heatwave deaths like those endured by European families in 2003 or the catastrophic drought disasters currently afflicting the US and other major food producers. From a pure carbon standpoint, coal export expansion is today a more insidious problem than pipelines or the tar sands experiment, which also threaten our livelihoods and health and damage local economies. No isolated local economic benefits, however construed or measured, should come at the expense of local public health or the peace and survivability of our global community.

Simply put, the local economic benefits touted by coal export expansion proponents aren’t worth the damage to our environment and our bodies. Coal export terminals employ very few people. Coal rail traffic from the US would crowd out local rail-using commodities. Coal export leaves our waterfronts less appealing for tourism, recreation, and other commercial or community purposes. As the writer David Roberts puts it “coal companies would get the profits, Asia would get the coal, and the Northwest would get the pollution and disruption.”

The City of Vancouver must intervene to prevent future coal export terminal creation or expansion, introduce health impact assessments for all new coal export expansion proposals, and protect the health and security of Vancouverites. The March 12, 2013 Council motion on coal export expansion supports these objectives and I urge you to approve this motion.

– Mike Soron