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On Tuesday, BC Liberal leader Christy Clark made an announcement that left climate activists and community organizers in the Pacific Northwest momentarily stunned.
After years of silence on the issue Ms. Clark, as Premier, called on Prime Minister Trudeau to enact a complete ban on all thermal coal exports from B.C. ports. If Trudeau doesn’t take action Christy Clark has said she would do all in her power to discourage the practice.
In her letter to the Prime Minister Premier Clark makes clear she understands coal is climate enemy number one and an energy source in permanent decline. It’s worth reading.
Christy Clark made the call to ban thermal coal exports in the midst of the latest softwood lumber dispute, but her arguments for ditching coal are solid: B.C. shouldn’t be shipping the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel. Her letter has changed the debate over coal in B.C. forever. You don’t walk back bold statements like this.
In fact, there would be no reason to expect her to backtrack – Ms. Clark’s call is the logical next step in the development of provincial and federal policies around thermal coal.
The Gordon Campbell government banned coal power in B.C. in 2007. Ontario weaned itself off coal power a few years ago, and Alberta is in the process of doing the same right now. Ottawa has called for the phase out of all coal use by 2030.
Christy Clark herself has, for years, pointed to the harmful impacts of coal burning in Asia as justification, dubious or otherwise, for LNG exports from B.C. How can we act on the harm coal brings to health and climate here at home, yet still export it overseas to be burned? We can’t, and Ms. Clark has called on the Prime Minister to end that contradiction.
Green Party leader Andrew Weaver has made clear that a thermal coal export ban has long had his party’s full support. That just leaves John Horgan and the BC NDP to state their position on the issue.
I’ve been troubled during this election campaign by the NDP’s ‘we’re not necessarily in support, but please don’t conclude we’re opposed’ posturing around a planned new coal port at Fraser Surrey Docks.
That project would see 4 million tonnes of US thermal coal exported down the Fraser River each year, after being shipped through our communities in open rail cars from mines, more than likely not unionized, in the US west.
I know this project intimately. For the past three years, along with Communities and Coal and Ecojustice, my organization has been preparing a Federal Court challenge of the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s approval of this new coal port.
Perhaps the BC NDP thinks the 25 or so jobs that this coal port would generate are worth the impacts on our communities and our climate, but it’s hard to understand how they could make that trade-off when the project is opposed by Metro Vancouver, numerous municipalities – two of which are intervening in our court challenge – and a host of health experts. I’m hoping that Christy Clark’s broadside against thermal coal will encourage the NDP to get off the fence on this issue.
Some people are asking why Christy Clark didn’t call for this ban four years ago, before the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority approved this new coal port on the Fraser River. Others point out that her government approved an expanded coal terminal on Texada Island to help facilitate the Fraser Surrey Docks thermal coal export project, and that Westshore Terminals has been exporting thermal coal for years without Ms. Clark raising protest.
None of that matters if Christy Clark can convince Prime Minister Trudeau to enact this ban on thermal coal exports, or if she can use the tools at her disposal to get the job done herself. With Washington, Oregon and California having already made similar moves, if B.C. bans thermal coal exports then the entire west coast will have taken a huge step towards keeping thermal coal in the ground forever. That is unambiguously good for the climate.
Our judicial review of the Fraser River coal port approval goes to Federal Court in Vancouver on May 17. It’s great news that another of B.C.’s major parties is now calling for an end to thermal coal exports, but the federal government still has final say the matter. Our legal challenge is important.
Should the Court rule in our favour, if Fraser Surrey Docks still wants to build a coal terminal they'll have to restart the permitting process with the Port. If that comes to pass we'll call on BC’s next Premier to fight the proposal with all the conviction expressed in Christy Clark’s letter.
I know we could count on a Premier Weaver or a Premier Clark take on this fight. I encourage the BC NDP to let us know if a Premier Horgan would do the same.
Kevin Washbrook is a Director with Voters Taking Action on Climate Change. Learn more about the coal export legal challenge here.