Representatives from the Coal Alliance — an industry group that promotes the coal industry in B.C. — asked Cranbrook council to publicly support the province’s coal industry.
At the Monday, April 13, city council meeting, Alan Fryer, who does communications work for the Coal Alliance, spoke to council about the alliance. Nic Milligan, from Teck Resources, Mike LoVecchio, Canadian Pacific and Troy Cook from the United Steelworkers, also involved in the Coal Alliance, were in attendance at the meeting.
Fryer said the alliance began in 2012, as the opposition to coal projects began to ramp up.
“It was interesting in terms of what we were seeing in opposition to coal coming together,” Fryer said. “It was loud, it was effective — rallying against proposed terminals in Oregon and Washington, and the movement kind of migrated across the border in 2012.”
He said the flashpoint was two things — Neptune Terminals on the North Shore in Vancouver applying for a upgrade permit to handle more coal, and Fraser Surrey Docks applied for a permit to become a coal transfer terminal and handle up to four million tonnes a year.
“This became the focus of the opposition movement in B.C.” he said. “And what we found, to put it bluntly, is the industry was getting clobbered in the media. Coverage was all one sided and frankly a lot of that was the industry’s fault, because no single member wanted to take ownership of the issue.”
So they formed the Coal Alliance as a means to speak on behalf of industry.
“What was happening with only one side of the story being told, there was an awful lot of information going around,” he said.
The Coal Alliance members include Teck, Westshore Terminals, Neptune Terminals, Fraser Surrey Docks, Canadian Pacific, Canadian National, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Mining Association of BC and Coal Association of Canada.
The alliance works closely with organized labour and others who support coal mining and shipping in B.C.
Fryer said he has a lot of respect for people in the environmental movement.
“I think industry is better because of them,” he said. “But there are also a lot of people in the anti-coal movement who I would not refer to as environmentalists, I would refer to them as anti-development groups, because their bottom line is that all fossil fuels, including metallurgic coal from B.C. should be left in the ground.”
Fryer said he’s seen a shift in the opposition. He said in Metro Vancouver, the movement is now focusing on blocking things like air quality permits and water discharge permits.
“So they’re really focusing their attention there,” he said. “And they’ve been focusing their attention on getting various motions and resolutions from different municipalities passed against the coal industry or against specific projects.”
The Coal Alliance made a video entitled Working with Coal to show the human side of the industry.
“The opposition likes to paint us as this kind of faceless, dark, Darth Vader-type entity,” he said. “What we wanted to do is get a voice and show the stories of the men and women who work in the industry either directly or indirectly.”
Fryer said the pushback by the Coal Alliance has helped to make the coverage of the coal industry more balanced then it was a few years ago.
“It really is pushing back with the facts and a lot of them are economic,” he said.
Nic Milligan, from Teck Resources, noted that the coal industry is a key economic driver and the transport of coal from the mine sites to terminals directly and indirectly employs 26,000 people.
“There are over 4,000 employees in the Elk Valley,” Milligan said. “The average wage of employees in the Elk Valley is $95,000 a year.”
The industry also accounts for $3.2 billion in economic activity and $715 million in tax revenues to all levels of government.
Milligan said Teck infuses over $1 billion into the B.C. economy per year and over $470 million into Metro Vancouver per year.
Troy Cook said that from the union’s perspective, concerns about jobs in the coal industry are at the top of the list.
“We’re getting behind the mule on this thing and helping out, because it’s super important to our membership,” Cook said, adding that’s why they are asking councils to support the alliance.