Banning coal simplistic, unreasonable and unwise

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Opinion: Mineral is part of the fabric of our human existence

By David Brett, The Vancouver Sun,  September 05, 2013

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A train transports coal near Gillette, Wyo. Writer David Brett argues that Vancouver is being smug when it bans coal, even though it has none to ban. Photograph by: Nati Harnik , Vancouver Sun

Poor coal. It’s the mineral not even a mother could love. It’s the orphaned rock, dirty to burn and easy to hate. Vancouver was cheered recently for banning coal, even though it had no coal to ban. Oppose coal and you’re a rock star. Support coal and you’re booed offstage. Surely opposing West Coast coal exports to Asia is the smart, environmentally and morally right thing to do.

Or is it? A series of inconvenient realities suggest otherwise.

First, despite the current trend away from coal to cheap gas, China and other developing countries will need coal for the foreseeable future. The morality of denying them access to it is questionable. For hundreds of millions in China and elsewhere, consuming coal for electricity and heat is not a choice. Removing North American coal supplies from the market will not reduce consumption, but will likely increase prices. It will also encourage coal mining in less safe jurisdictions. Is it right for us to impose such hardships on our fellow human beings while presenting no current practical alternatives?

Second, the intelligence of actively choking off coal exports is suspect. The robust emerging economies of China, India and Southeast Asia are crucial to our own economic well-being. Stock markets tremble at even the hint of a slowdown in China. Consumer confidence here lives in simpatico with Asia. How smart is it to put our foot on the brakes of those economies by increasing their energy costs?

One way some pundits make such imprudence look clever is to style natural resource wealth as a handicap, as if knowledge-based sectors falter when resource extraction thrives. But this is a false argument because the extractive sectors are knowledge-based and already rich with intellectual capital. Just ask any geologist, engineer, or GIS software designer. Resource wealth drives innovation, not the opposite.

Another inconvenient reality is that poverty in the developing world will worsen if we manipulate energy supplies. Industrialization reduces poverty by releasing agrarian families from mere subsistence. It creates higher paying jobs, enabling increased education for children and autonomy for women. Over the long term, this results in a more affluent, service- and knowledge-based economy. The energy driving this gradual process is coal. Blocking North American coal supplies to Asia risks driving up the cost of living for the world’s poor.

Making life harder for the poor through our energy agenda is not something we in the West like to contemplate. Instead, we romanticize the notion of the noble peasant farmer, living off the land with a minimal environmental footprint. Subsistence farming is not poverty, we reason, it’s a cherished traditional lifestyle we should admire. Of course, most of us don’t live those ideals ourselves, choosing rather to educate our children for knowledge-based careers in the city. The dissonance is so real we pat ourselves on the back for paying a few cents extra for fair-trade coffee, as if that rights all the wrong we are doing.

Yes, the negative environmental, health and safety impacts of coal mining and use are significant. Poor countries are not oblivious to coal’s negative impact, but they need it at present to better the standard of living for their citizens. Why not provide these countries with North American coal that’s mined according to tough environmental and safety guidelines, creating well-paying jobs and prosperous communities on this side of the Pacific?

And why not encourage them to use the latest coal burning and scrubber technologies to reduce air pollutants?

The problem with public discourse on coal is that simplistic answers are preferred over holistic, well-reasoned and defensible solutions.

Coal adds to global warming and therefore we should ban it, they say. But the truth is we can’t ban coal. Australia will be more than happy to rake in the billions we will be leaving on the table for them.

Then there’s the “leadership” argument. If we “take a stand” and “send a message” that coal is bad, we do ourselves proud. But such hectoring from one of the world’s wealthiest cities is at best sanctimonious and at worst pure, selfish NIMBYism.

Coal is not just a much-loathed rock we can toss aside; it’s part of the fabric of our human existence. We have a complex relationship with coal built over millennia. We can’t rashly break it off over night. Coal needs a little love too.

A senior adviser to Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. (greenspiritstrategies.com), David Brett has spent much of his life in the natural resources sector.

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Why B.C. needs to ‘get to yes’ on major resource projects

Vancouver Sun

Opinion: A minority’s pushback is threatening our future

Written by: John Winter, Special to the Vancouver Sun August 16, 2013

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Douglas Channel, the proposed termination point for an oil pipeline in the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project, is pictured in an aerial view in Kitimat, B.C., on January 10, 2012.

Douglas Channel, the proposed termination point for an oil pipeline in the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project, is pictured in an aerial view in Kitimat, B.C., on January 10, 2012.

For a province awash in talent and natural assets, it’s disturbing to see how much British Columbian ingenuity is being channelled into our province’s alarming — and growing — “culture of no.”

Robyn Allan’s attack of Northern Gateway’s job numbers (Vancouver Sun, Issues and Ideas, Aug. 13) is yet another example of that — an intellectual exercise geared at undercutting one of B.C.’s most ambitious and promising job-creating projects to date.

And for what gain?

As British Columbians, we need to sit up and take heed of where the public discourse on resource projects has got to.

From our vantage point, as a network of more than 120 Chambers and 36,000 represented businesses in communities throughout all of B.C., here’s what we’re seeing: it’s a pretty frightening place.

In virtually every corner of the province, we’re seeing the same thing: Smart, highly environmentally responsible projects that can employ our children and keep our towns alive are being battered, paralyzed and stomped out.

By whom, you ask?

Not by most of you, that’s for sure. Broad-based polling consistently finds that the majority of British Columbians favour a “getting to yes” approach to resource projects. This approach calls for top-tier environmental and social practices but, critically, wants to see sound projects succeed.

So no — the pushback on projects isn’t broad-based but rather a minority position. However, that minority pushback, through effective organization and scathing rhetoric, is threatening B.C.’s future for all of us.

And that’s where, as British Columbians, we can’t sit back and watch the “culture of no” threaten our province’s economic future.

Take the Northern Gateway project.

With its $6.5-billion price tag, the project promises to be one of the largest private investments this province has ever seen.

And while critics such as Allan may attack specific job counts, here’s what’s clear: this project will create a vast quantity of high-paying jobs in northern B.C. That’s jobs that will help communities thrive and B.C.’s broader economy to grow. (As a side point, the real problem for B.C. won’t be how many jobs Northern Gateway can create, but just how we’ll fill them all.)

For all of us B.C. taxpayers, as we brace for aging demographics and escalating health care costs, Northern Gateway means $1.2 billion in projected tax revenue to support B.C. health care, education and social programs. That’s a substantial investment in maintaining and growing B.C.’s enviable standard of living.

For B.C. businesses, perhaps one of the most promising things about this project is Enbridge’s commitment to local procurement and local jobs. That’s a commitment to employ British Columbians and keeping spinoff economic activity in the province. That means that from Terrace to Tumbler Ridge, Prince George to Prince Rupert and Vancouver to Victoria, B.C. businesses will see very real benefits from this project.

This is a great gain for B.C. small businesses, which make up 98 per cent of our provincial business community. It also aligns directly with the B.C. government’s forward-looking Small Business Accord. This accord, which the B.C. Chamber had long sought and was implemented this year, will ensure that B.C.’s small businesses have a real shot at landing procurement deals for government projects and programs.

Principles of local procurement and local jobs will only heighten the gains for small business that, as we’ve seen time and time again in B.C., are triggered by large-scale infrastructure investments in our province.

Whether it’s the Port of Prince Rupert in the northwest, oil and gas development in the northeast or investments in Port Metro Vancouver and Vancouver International Airport, these investments have catalyzed the creation and development of countless B.C. businesses.

So there’s a lot at stake here. And frankly, what’s yet to be decided has nothing to do with project economics (which, Ms. Allan, are frankly settled), but rather how we balance economic value against other B.C. priorities, as the Joint Review Panel is assessing.

And with this project, as with any that proposes such substantial benefits for B.C., we hope that British Columbians will take a close look at what’s to gain here. We certainly don’t ask that environmental or community concerns be sidelined. But we’d ask that jobs and economic value not be sidelined as well. This is our future and our kids’ future.

And if you’ve been staying out of project debates in B.C. thus far, we’d urge you to lend your voice to shifting this “culture of no.”

Because if we can pool our B.C. ingenuity and focus on building our province, there’s no telling what we can accomplish.

John Winter is president and CEO of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce.

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Building oil pipelines to bring Canadian product to market is in many ways a no-brainer.

Counterpoint: Proposed pipeline a barrier or a benefit?

Vancouver Sun

Opinion: Challenged to get a ‘Yes’ in the West 

By Gerry Martin, Special to The Vancouver Sun July 3, 2013

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Bernie Gairdner

Bernie Gairdner works in Fort Nelson First Nation as a consultant with the oil and gas industry. Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline has become a litmus test for B.C.’s new relationship with First Nations communities.

It’s a key challenge many of us are working on. And while the solution isn’t simple, at least part of the answer seems to be in starting some conversations about how we want our economy and our communities to look.

By now, many political analysts have said the recent B.C. election gave Premier Christy Clark a clear mandate for economic growth and the jobs and stronger communities that come with it. And yet, moving forward with large projects in B.C. continues to look daunting to companies that have to justify their investments to ever-watchful shareholders.

Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project is a perfect example. From increased construction and maintenance jobs, to added financial and technical services, to increased consumer spending, the benefits of building a pipeline to the West Coast and shipping our energy products to Asian markets are clear.

Who will gain? Most everyone gains, from the companies involved, to their shareholders and pension funds, to local and provincial governments in B.C., Alberta and across the entire country. Through capacity-building and access to economic opportunities, First Nations will benefit. In fact, if you accept that prosperity has to be created before it can be shared, then the potential economic and social benefits of a project like this are self-evident.

So, is there a problem? Yes. In a word, the problem is risk. Some British Columbians value their landscape so much that they can’t imagine allowing a pipeline to be built across it. But as more people learn of the 60 years of safe pipelining experience from Alberta to the B.C. coast, that objection is blunted.

But it doesn’t disappear. To make matters worse, many have expressed genuine concern over the recent and notable exception to Enbridge’s safety record — the pipeline breech at Marshall, Michigan, where in 2010 an estimated 843,444 gallons leaked, some of which reached the Kalamazoo River.

Thinking that a reasonable way to advance my own understanding of the project and the company would be to participate in discussions with local residents who were most affected, I visited the spill site with an Enbridge-sponsored delegation of British Columbians recently. We met with officials from the local health authority, municipal administrators, wildlife experts, company officials and just plain folks.

I want to be very clear — nobody should minimize the very serious situation that occurred in Marshall when the pipeline breeched.

But I can tell you with confidence that we heard from agencies, academics and local onlookers. And in every case, we were told the company performed in an exemplary way in the spill’s aftermath, exceeded expectations and worked tirelessly with others as it brought the river back to health.

Still, while many of us were impressed with the commitment shown by Enbridge in addressing the spill head-on, the fact is we have an opportunity to push even harder so that all pipelines including Northern Gateway are built to the highest environmental and safety standards imaginable.

In other words, while Enbridge performed well in reacting to the Michigan situation, we want to prevent a similar spill from occurring in B.C. And why not teach others around the world about building and operating pipelines safely? We have the knowledge, technology and ability to set a world-class standard for pipeline operation and spill prevention.

Will we satisfy the segment of the population that opposes development by saying that no risk is ever acceptable? Clearly we won’t. But we certainly should talk about these projects with a view to real exchanges of information.

To put it in some perspective, I’m a longtime Terrace resident and businessman and, like many of my neighbours, I genuinely love our beautiful outdoor spaces in this part of the world. But I also recognize that society — ours as well as others around the world — still requires oil to power so much of its industry, its health care, its transportation and indeed its very way of life. In fact, a great deal of our standard of living is derived from revenues from the oil and gas industry.

So there’s a need for some honest, open discussion. Projects such as Northern Gateway are so important to communities, to provinces, to the nation and to the government programs we all rely on. I hope people continue engaging in the discussion of projects like Northern Gateway, and continue urging it be built and operated right. Because that’s how we’ll get to “Yes.”

Terrace resident Gerry Martin has been chairman of the B.C. Progress Board, a member of the Premier’s Technology Council, a governor and chairman of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce and a director of the University of Northern BC Foundation. Most recently he’s served as a member of the B.C. Agenda for Shared Prosperity, a joint initiative of the B.C. Business Council and the B.C. Chamber of Commerce.