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B.C. Thermal Coal Exports Lawsuit Hits Federal Court, Canada

Published: May 18, 2017 |

[Click image to enlarge]

A trial nearly three years in the making over a Lower Mainland company’s plans to export up to four million tonnes of U.S. thermal coal is set to hit federal court on Wednesday morning.

The controversial fossil fuel became a British Columbia election issue last month when Premier Christy Clark threatened to retaliate against U.S. softwood lumber tariffs by imposing a carbon tax on thermal coal.

The court case revolves around the federally appointed Port Metro Vancouver’s decision to approve Fraser Surrey Docks’ proposal to build a Fraser River coal-loading terminal in August 2014.

The terminal would receive trainloads of thermal coal mined in the United States, where several West Coast jurisdictions have voted to prevent the fossil fuel — considered one of the most polluting known, and one that’s sparked opposition from residents near coal train tracks — from being exported directly.

Originally planned to transfer the coal to barges, it was amended and approved in 2015 to directly load the coal into ocean-going ships.

“After four and a half years of advocacy and three years of legal prep, we go to court (Wednesday) over the Port Authority’s approval of the Fraser Surrey Docks U.S. thermal coal export terminal,” said Kevin Washbrook, with Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, in an email to Metro. “What started off as a fight against thermal coal exports — important enough in its own right because of the impact on our communities and the climate — has become a bigger debate over how our Port Authorities make decisions and how accountable they should be to the public.”

Opponents of the plan, including the environmental groups Communities and Coal Society and VTACC, filed an application for judicial review — in which a judge is asked to rule on whether the decision-making process was legally sound.

The port authority said it has a proven record on sustainability and addressing climate change, and cited being listed last month among Corporate Knights’ Future 40 Responsible Corporate Leaders in Canada, which looked at “carbon productivity,” safety records and tax contributions.

“Our vision is to be the world’s most sustainable port,” said CEO Robin Silvester, in an Apr. 10 press release. “We are proud of the work we are doing to ensure a secure and sustainable future for Canada’s largest port, balancing the growing demand for trade with the need to protect our environment and allow our neighbouring communities to thrive.”

On its website, the port said it “reviews all proposed projects and works on federal port lands, including a robust environmental review.

“Projects cannot proceed until the port authority is sure any potential impacts identified are eliminated or mitigated, and the activity will not harm fish, plants or wildlife,” the site stated.

According to lawyers with Ecojustice, an environmental law firm representing the plaintiffs, “the port was biased when it made its decision to issue the permit — based on a number of factors including a bonus compensation arrangement for some of the Port’s executives.”

Last Thursday and Friday, Fraser Surrey Docks submitted what’s known as a “book of authorities,” the relevant legal cases it plans to cite in its court argument.

And in late April, the Port of Vancouver filed its documents in the case, under its legal name Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. The cities of Surrey and New Westminster are also involved in the case, and both have opposed Fraser Surrey Docks’ proposal.

The port is also set to hold its annual general meeting on May 30.


Source: (May 16, 2017) Metro News


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