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Christy Clark calls for ban on thermal coal exports through B.C. after years of silence

27/04/17
Author: 
Charlie Smith
Last year, just over six million tonnes of U.S. coal passed through Vancouver ports. DAN PRAT

Today, [ April 26th, 2017] Premier Christy Clark wrote a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seeking a ban on thermal-coal exports through B.C. ports.

She's crafted this political response to the Trump administration's plan to impose countervailing duties on Canadian softwood lumber bound for the United States.

Clark's letter notes that 6.2 million tonnes of U.S. thermal coal were shipped through Vancouver ports in 2016.

It's unlikely to lead to any action.

• There's no direct revenue loss for the B.C. government from this measure. If this ban were imposed, the big losers would be railway companies and the federally controlled Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, a.k.a. Port Metro Vancouver.

• Trudeau is not likely to financially penalize a federal agency or Alberta thermal-coal producers. This means that Clark has, in effect, written a hollow letter that will go nowhere.

• This also means that the Jim Pattison-controlled Westshore Terminals, which is Canada's busiest coal-export terminal, is not going to lose any business as a result of Clark's correspondence. So Clark won't have to face the wrath of B.C.'s richest businessman for writing the letter. Pattison happens to be the largest shareholder in Canfor, which is one of the forest companies that are going to have to pay millions to the U.S. treasury for the pleasure of selling its lumber in the United States.

• The biggest shipper of U.S. coal through B.C. is Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, which is wholly owned by gazillionaire Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett and Donald Trump have been political adversaries because Buffett was a huge Hillary Clinton supporter.

Warren Buffett's railway company ships U.S. coal to B.C. ports.
WHITE HOUSE

Nobody, least of all Buffett or Pattison, will be quaking in their boots over Clark's letter.

They are likely far more concerned about the collapse of coal markets. Port Metro Vancouver, for instance, revealed in 2015 that no thermal coal bound for China passed through its facilities. There were also big reductions in thermal-coal shipments to South Korea and Japan.

But Clark's letter offers some political benefits.

She's been seen as a dreadfully weak premier on carbon emissions. West Coast Environmental Law, which is truly nonpartisan, gave the B.C. Liberals an "F" for their approach to complying with the province's legislated greenhouse gas targets.

The B.C. Liberals received a "D" for their policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Now, she's complaining about coal exports. This will likely get covered on tonight's TV newscasts without much, if any of the context about her government's record on climate change.

"Thermal coal is the most carbon dioxide-intensive form of conventional fossil fuel energy production and has an emissions intensity level that is nearly twice that of natural gas," Clark wrote in her letter to Trudeau. "Banning its transport through Canada would be consistent with the efforts of both British Columbia and Canada to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions."

It's a pitch to prevent disaffected B.C. Liberal voters with an environmental bent from voting Green. She's using the power of the premier's office to shore up her election chances.

The premier supports a 10-lane bridge to replace the George Massey Tunnel.

Clark's words don't match previous actions

Many environmentally committed British Columbians have waged a long battle to try to stop U.S. coal exports from leaving Lower Mainland ports.

Some of them, like SFU professor Mark Jaccard and ecologist Alejandro Frid, were even willing to be arrested.

Others, like former Kids for Climate Action activist Sam Harrison, have provided articulate and detailed explanations why Port Metro Vancouver should never have been allowed to expand its coal-export facilities.

During this long battle, which involved many engaged and climate-conscious citizens, the premier of the province remained silent. Utterly silent as the region was on a trajectory to become North America's largest coal exporter.

Now, less than two weeks before the election, Clark is throwing a Hail Mary pass to try to fool voters into thinking that the climate is one of her top-of-mind issues.

This is from a politician who has been hell-bent on building a 10-lane bridge to replace a three-lane tunnel, just so she could take back Delta South for the B.C. Liberals.

No wonder so many voters have difficulty trusting her.

[Top Photo: Last year, just over six million tonnes of U.S. coal passed through Vancouver ports.DAN PRAT]