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

Communities and Coal Society, Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, Christine Dujmovich, and Paula Williams v. Attorney General of Canada, Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, and Fraser Surrey Docks Limited Partnership
Program area – Climate Status: Victory
Overview
Ecojustice’s position & impact
Meet the team
Get involved

The Fraser Surrey Docks coal project is dead, following a years-long Ecojustice legal challenge and the sustained opposition from determined, grassroots community organizations.

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 January 2019.

The decision to cancel the permit came midway through an Ecojustice appeal of a Federal Court decision that could have allowed the new coal transfer facility to go ahead. In the absence of a permit, however, the Federal Court of Appeal declared Ecojustice’s case moot on April 18, 2019, officially ending the years-long legal fight against the project.

Ecojustice’s clients, Communities and Coal and local residents Paula Williams and Christine Dujmovich, first launched their legal fight against the project back in 2014 because they had major concerns about the project’s human health and climate impacts. (Communities and Coal Society, Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, Christine Dujmovich, and Paula Williams v. Attorney General of Canada, Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, and Fraser Surrey Docks Limited Partnership, 2018 FC 35.)

Health experts have linked exposure to coal dust to respiratory illnesses. Diesel particulate matter emitted by trains carrying coal is also associated with pulmonary inflammation, asthma, heart attacks and cancer risk.

Unfortunately, in declaring the case moot, the court did not weigh and decide on important arguments that Ecojustice brought forward.

Ecojustice lawyers had argued that 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.

A ruling could have clarified whether or not a project can go ahead when the people charged with approving it are or appear to be biased. Without a ruling in this case, settling that question will have to wait for another day.

As Canada’s largest environmental law charity, it was important to Ecojustice to help its clients go to court and fight to stop this dirty coal project in its tracks.

With doors firmly shut on coal export facilities in Washington State and Oregon, the need to find an export route along the west coast has prompted American companies to look north for ways to get their product to foreign markets. If built, the Fraser Surrey Docks coal facility would have resulted in the transport of one of the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet right through neighbourhoods in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland.

Ecojustice’s clients didn’t want to see their communities become conduits for dirty coal. They also deserved a fair and impartial regulatory process for decisions that impact their communities.

Importantly, Ecojustice represented a community group and local residents in this case — clients that might not otherwise have had access to legal representation able to take on such a long and complicated case and appeal.

The death of the Fraser Surrey Docks coal project is a testament to what community members can achieve when they stand up and say no to dirty U.S. coal.

While the court’s decision to rule the case moot leaves unanswered questions around bias, or appearance of bias, in public authority decision making, this on the ground win is worth celebrating.

The Port’s decision to axe the project permit was a fatal blow to an extremely controversial project that faced community-led opposition every step of the way. That is a victory for the climate and for the local communities who have spent years tirelessly fighting this project.

Key developments

Blog

The power of community: How a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens felled a coal facility

There is a famous quotation often attributed to Margaret Mead that goes, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens...

June 27, 2019

Blog

A week of wins for the environment

In the span of a few days, Ecojustice scored three consecutive wins for the environment — including victories for the health of wild salmo...

February 5, 2019

Press release

Vancouver Fraser Port Authority axes permit for Fraser-Surrey coal facility, Ecojustice reacts

VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority has cancelled a permit for the Fraser Surrey Docks coal project, a proposed facility that ...

February 1, 2019

Blog

Fighting to protect communities from U.S. coal and keep project approvals impartial

Ecojustice lawyers were in court on Nov. 8 on behalf of Communities and Coal and two local residents who oppose the Fraser Surrey Docks coal...

November 16, 2018

Press release

Coal project opponents in court to argue Port approval was biased

VANCOUVER – Ecojustice lawyers are in court Thursday, representing Communities and Coal Society and two local residents in their fight aga...

November 8, 2018

Blog

We’re going back to court to help communities stand up against dirty coal

Ecojustice is committed to helping our clients shut the door on risky energy projects that increase Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions and ...

February 27, 2018

Press release

Community groups and local residents launch appeal of Fraser Surrey Docks coal decision

We remain committed to standing up for the climate and our communities in opposition to dirty U.S. thermal coal, groups say VANCOUVER —...

February 16, 2018

Press release

STATEMENT: Federal Court dismisses case to stop Surrey coal transfer facility, Ecojustice reacts

VANCOUVER —Ecojustice lawyer, Karen Campbell made the following statement in response to the Federal Court’s decision to dismiss a case ...

January 25, 2018

Blog

We’re in court to stop dirty coal in its tracks

Today, our clients finally get their day in court.  For the past three years, Ecojustice lawyers have been working with Paula Williams,...

May 17, 2017

Press release

Community groups, local residents in court to fight coal export project

Vancouver Fraser Port Authority demonstrated an apprehension of bias and lacked legal authority to approve coal project, groups say VANCO...

May 16, 2017

Blog

FAQ: Why we’re fighting to stop dirty coal in its tracks

For the past three years we have worked with Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, Communities and Coal, and two local residents to challe...

May 15, 2017

Press release

B.C. residents fighting coal port want day in court

VANCOUVER — Community groups are headed to court today to keep a legal challenge against the Fraser Surrey Docks coal port alive. The c...

April 19, 2016

Blog

We’re going to court to tackle the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel

Conversations about the urgent need to act on climate change will be on the international stage this week as the People’s Climate March an...

November 4, 2014

Press release

Community groups, local residents launch Federal Court challenge over coal transport

VANCOUVER — A Port Metro Vancouver-issued permit to build a coal transfer facility on the Fraser River must be quashed on grounds of proce...

September 19, 2014

Join our newsletter

Get updates on the most pressing environmental issues delivered straight to your inbox.