Fraser Surrey Docks operation on the Fraser River in Surrey could be exempt from regional air pollution regulations if it wins a court challenge of a ticket from Metro Vancouver.

Fraser Surrey Docks operation on the Fraser River in Surrey could be exempt from regional air pollution regulations if it wins a court challenge of a ticket from Metro Vancouver.

Metro air pollution authority contested in court

Provincial power may also be at stake on federal land, warns Green MLA Andrew Weaver

A court dispute between Fraser Surrey Docks and Metro Vancouver over the regional district’s power to regulate air quality could have far-reaching implications beyond a proposed coal export terminal in Surrey.

Fraser Surrey Docks already has port authority approval to build the coal-handling facility, which would bring U.S. coal by train through White Rock and South Surrey and load it onto ocean-going ships.

Construction hasn’t yet begun and Fraser Surrey Docks hasn’t yet applied to Metro for a required air quality permit.

Instead, it is challenging Metro’s jurisdiction, delegated by the provincial government through the Environmental Management Act, to regulate industrial air emissions, arguing that power has no force on federal port lands.

The case, which goes to trial in provincial court next month, will see Fraser Surrey Docks contest a $1,000 fine levied against it by Metro in 2013 for the discharge of soybean dust from its grain handling operations.

“The ramifications of a decision in favour of Fraser Surrey Docks would be profound,” Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver said.

Any new industry – not just the coal terminal – could open on federal lands without obeying Metro regulations to control air pollution, he said.

And Weaver suggested such a ruling might thwart the province’s power to control emissions on any federal lands in B.C., not just port land within Metro.

He said there are many proposed industrial port developments – from LNG terminals to oil refineries – that could end up on federal port lands and pollute airsheds as far north as Kitimat and Prince Rupert.

Weaver called on the province to take a stand.

“Why is this going to the court and why isn’t the province stepping up and playing a more outspoken role about what they believe the role of Metro Vancouver and their role is?”

Environment Minister Mary Polak was not available for an interview.

An emailed statement from her office said the province has an interest in the case but will wait for the court’s decision before commenting further.

“Sources of air pollution throughout B.C., including on federal lands, must be managed to appropriate levels,” it said.

The coal terminal proposal is the target of separate court challenges filed by project opponents.

Fraser Surrey Docks now intends to directly load the coal onto ships, rather than first to barges that would have had to be unloaded to ships at Texada Island.