Coal necessary, but not evil
For more than 40 years, Westshore Terminals has been Canada's chief coal export terminal on the West Coast.
And for just as long, there have been concerns over the coal dust generated by the operation.
For good reason, too. After all, who wants to wipe off a blanket of soot from their car every morning.
Thankfully, that's not the case. Metro Vancouver's strict air quality guidelines require Westshore to keep the coal dust at an absolute minimum.
Railcars are sprayed with a latex-water mix while roads around the terminal are sprayed with magnesium chloride. The company employs 77 ground level rain guns that will soon be replaced by 96 new units with valve control stations, a fog cannon, and six new "Big Bertha" water spray towers at the west end of the site.
The company is in the midst of a $7 million upgrade to further reduce coal dust.
It is up to the Corporation of Delta and Metro Vancouver to be vigilant in ensuring Westshore fulfills its obligations to keep coal dust down, but the science says their measures are working.
Thanks to Westshore's coal dust suppression efforts and the fact it's located four kilometres offshore, a 2005 UBC study found that coal dust from the terminal has no negative effect on the sensitive wildlife along the Roberts Bank foreshore.
But coal has a bad reputation. It's seen as dirty and harmful, despite being non-toxic, and it seems no one wants the coal trains to run through Delta. Some want to prevent all coal exports altogether.
But are we prepared to go without the many goods that coal is used to produce?
The high quality coal exported from Westshore Terminals is used largely to produce steel used by automobile manufacturers in Asia.
That Toyota Prius in your driveway? Coal help build that.
Then of course there's the 200 jobs the terminal directly provides, as well as other economic spinoffs.
The fact is, Westshore Terminals in a perfect location to export coal. Because it's in the middle of the Georgia Strait, there are no next door neighbours and poses little threat to the environment.
Comparatively, the proposed addition of a coal terminal at the Fraser Surrey Docks, which is surrounded by residential development and adjacent to the most important salmon-spawning river in the world, makes little sense socially or environmentally.