Protest takes aim at coal exports

A Ladysmith man was among a group of 30 who took their coal concerns to the steps of the Legislature last week.

  • Jan. 31, 2011 6:00 p.m.
John T. Wilson

John T. Wilson

A Ladysmith man was among a group of 30 who took their coal concerns to the steps of the Legislature last week.

John T. Wilson, chair of the Ladysmith environmental commission, was on hand in Victoria when a bag of ‘dirty coal’ was dumped on the steps of the Legislature to protest the process of mining, exporting and using the mineral.

Wilson was pleased with the protest.

“It was small but effective,” said Wilson.

Wilson said the Stop Coal coalition went to the provincial capital with a distinct message: “We are going to take direct action on trying to stop coal from being burned anymore. It’s one of the dirtiest fuels.”

Wilson said the group is not focused solely on coal in B.C., but wants to see exportation of the fossil fuel halted as well.

The group wants exporting of coal to stop by 2015.

“We ship the coal to them, they burn it and sent us back all their pollutants.”

Wilson said society will need the coal in the future to help fuel greener solutions in the future.

“By that time we will figure out what to do with the coal ash, what to do with the pollutants that come out it.”

Wilson said it is still unsure if there is an environmentally responsible way to handle coal use.

“Right now, it’s just a bloody disaster,” said Wilson.

The group has not received any backlash from their Jan. 25 protest yet, but Wilson said some might surface.

“We know that money rules, but somewhere down the line, you have to say, ‘No,’ ” said Wilson.

Wilson said he favours a fair approach to situations, but doesn’t think there has been a balanced approach to coal use.

“We haven’t found it as far as coal yet.”

Protesters and onlookers heard from a Stop Coal spokesperson and protesters were invited up to give their names and pledge for action.

During the protest, a bag of coal was dumped onto a blanket and later cleaned up.

“Unlike the coal companies … they can’t clean up their mess behind them.”

Wilson said he was spurred into environmental action because of his new grandchildren.

“I didn’t want them turning to me somewhere down the road and saying ‘Why didn’t you do something?’ ” he said.

While the group was protesting its use government officials and companies are looking for ways to keep up with demand.

Federal and provincial officials are looking for ways to fast-track an expansion of Prince Rupert port facilities to keep up.

Demand for metallurgical coal and other minerals is rising globally, and what capacity was left at Ridley Terminals in Prince Rupert has been taken up by a contract announced last week with U.S. producer Arch Coal for shipments sent by rail from Wyoming.

Speaking to reporters from a mining conference in Vancouver Tuesday, B.C. Minister of State for Mines Randy Hawes said even without the U.S. coal shipments, the remaining capacity at Ridley wouldn’t be enough to keep up with demand that has now emerged.

Mines in the Tumbler Ridge area have reopened, new ones have been developed and Teck Resources is studying whether to reopen the Quintette coal mine that closed in 2000.

Ridley Terminals has indicated it could accelerate an expansion planned for 2015 to 2012, and federal Transport Minister Chuck Strahl is looking at ways to finance it, Hawes said.

The federally-owned Ridley port has been “swamped with demand” as commodity producers discover it is the shortest ocean route to Asia-Pacific markets, he said, and government marketing of the Pacific Gateway project has worked better than expected. As well as coal, Ridley is sending shipments of wood pellets and logs harvested by Coast Tsimshian communities in northwestern B.C.

— with files from Tom Fletcher