Press Release from Voters Taking Action on Climate Change
July 9 2014
— constitutional challenge to 2013 air discharge ticket has implications for proposed coal port development, long term plans for Surrey site
Vancouver — In a letter to Metro Vancouver, Fraser Surrey Docks has indicated it will dispute an October 2013 ticket for the discharge of an air contaminant during dock operations by challenging Metro Vancouver’s authority to regulate air quality and air emissions on federal lands managed by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. In the letter, Fraser Surrey Docks CEO Jeff Scott claims that his facility is not subject to the regional air quality management bylaw. (1)
Management of local air quality is primarily a provincial responsibility in Canada. British Columbia has delegated this authority to Metro Vancouver for the area under its jurisdiction. Fraser Surrey Docks is arguing that the province does not have authority to regulate air quality impacts arising from activities within the federal port. Metro Vancouver has applied to have the case moved from traffic/bylaw court to provincial court so it can be heard by a judge with the jurisdiction to consider this constitutional argument. An appearance to fix a date for a hearing is scheduled for July 17 2014.
This constitutional challenge has implications for the proposal to export US thermal coal from Fraser Surrey Docks. Metro Vancouver has expressed opposition to this project and has indicated that it intends to play a role in issuing an air quality permit for the facility if it is approved by the Port. Metro Vancouver has also expressed its support for a comprehensive health impact assessment of coal export expansion, conducted in collaboration with the health authorities, as well as public input into the permit application review process.
“Fraser Surrey Dock’s challenge of Metro Vancouver’s authority raises fundamental questions about development in our region,” said Kevin Washbrook, Director of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change. “Who will manage the cumulative impact of port land developments on air quality and public health? Who gets to decide what level of health risk is acceptable to our communities? Will it be our elected representatives, through our regional government, or an unaccountable, federally appointed Port Authority that thinks only in terms of ‘facilitating trade?'”
The two existing coal terminals in the region are regulated by Air Quality Permits issued by Metro Vancouver (2); however, in a letter to the Independent Interagency Review Committee (IIRC) (3) the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority has argued that it is unable to require Fraser Surrey Docks to apply for such a permit. In follow up, the IIRC has disputed the Port’s position on this matter.
If successful, the constitutional challenge may also have implications for regional management of health and environmental impacts arising from long term development plans at Australian-owned Fraser Surrey Docks, as well as other facilities within the federal port.
The currently proposed coal port has been described as a “short to medium term” facility and a “test case” for the movement of bulk goods on the river. Long term plans for the publicly owned port lands leased to Fraser Surrey Docks have been redacted from documents obtained from the Port through Access To Information requests, but frequent lobbying by the Fraser Surrey Docks in Ottawa suggests that something bigger than a 4 million tonne/year US coal port may be planned for the site once the Massey Tunnel is removed.