Ecojustice Case – Climate change Case Status: In Progress

Putting the brakes on expanding Canada’s coal exports through Canadian ports

Fraser ThomsonLawyer
Harry Wruck , Q.C.Lawyer
Coal train
Photo: iStock

Ecojustice lawyers are appealing a Federal Court decision that would have allowed a new coal transfer facility to be built on the Fraser River.

If built, the Fraser Surrey Docks project would have seen up to four million tonnes of thermal coal carried by open-car rail from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin through Vancouver’s Lower Mainland each year, ultimately bound for export to foreign markets. When burned in overseas facilities, the coal shipped through the project would have contributed nearly seven million tonnes of CO2 emissions each year to the grave threat of manmade climate change.

Fortunately, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority axed the permit for the facility in February 2019, making it highly unlikely that the project will ever be built.

Canada’s coal exports: Concerned citizens fight back

Ecojustice’s clients, Communities and Coal and local residents Paula Williams and Christine Dujmovich, launched their legal fight against the project because they had major concerns about the project’s human health and climate impacts.

Exposure to coal dust has also been linked to respiratory illnesses and diesel particulate matter emitted by trains carrying coal is associated with pulmonary inflammation, asthma, heart attacks and cancer risk.

In a hearing in November 2018, Ecojustice lawyers told the Federal Court of Appeal that the conduct of the Port and its officers gave rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias when it greenlighted the coal project — in part because the port’s employee bonus scheme offered significant financial incentives for executives to move the project forward despite concerns from local residents.

Ecojustice and its clients first brought a case against the Fraser Surrey Docks coal project in 2014. In February 2018, they announced plans to appeal an earlier Federal Court decision to dismiss the case.

While the decision to kill the permit makes it hard to see how this project can proceed, Ecojustice’s case and the concerns raised by our clients as to the Port’s decision making process remain before the court.

Why is Ecojustice involved?

Ecojustice’s clients don’t want to see their communities become conduits for dirty coal. They also deserve fair and impartial regulatory processes on decisions that impact their communities.

With doors firmly shut on coal export facilities in Washington State and Oregon, the need to find an export route along the west coast is prompting American companies to look north for ways to get their product to foreign markets. As Canada’s largest environmental law charity, it was important to us that help our clients go to court and fight to stop this dirty coal project in its tracks.

Allowing this project to go ahead without would have been yet another stain on Canada’s environmental record and further cement our reputation as a laggard on climate change.

What would a win mean?

The Port’s decision to axe the project permit was the latest blow to an extremely controversial project that’s faced opposition every step of the way. In light of this, it is difficult to see this project could possibly end up getting built. This is a win for the climate and for the local communities who have spent years tirelessly fighting this project.

A legal victory would help seal the fate of the project once and for all. It would also send a strong message that bias, or the appearance of bias, will not be tolerated in public authority decision-making.

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Thanks to the support of people like you, Ecojustice goes to court to protect what we value most — the air, land and water that sustains all life. Make your gift today and support bold litigation for a brighter environmental future.

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