Faith-based group supports keeping coal in ground
Parishes get involved in opposition effort to block coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest
BY ARMANDO MACHADO
A sign opposing shipments of coal from Washington ports was posted at the intersection of Lakeway Drive and Birch Street in Bellingham. Photo: Armando Machado
Jessie Dye notes that the last three popes — John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Francis — "have all been strong environmental advocates."
Dye, program and outreach director for Earth Ministry, a Seattle-based nonprofit with a mission to inspire and mobilize the Christian community to play a leadership role in building a just and sustainable future, said that one reason recent popes have been vocal on environmental issues is the connection between caring for creation and justice for the poor.
"The poorest people, the ones who live at subsistence, are the ones who most depend on a stable climate and clean water to survive," she said.
Dye is among those leading efforts to oppose proposals to site coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest to ship an estimated 150 million tons of coal from Montana and Wyoming each year to China.
"One of the biggest ports proposed is at Cherry Point north of Bellingham," Dye said.
Concerns about the proposals go beyond potential environmental effects, and opponents have noted potential negative impacts from the construction and development of the terminals, and questions about the effect on the region’s transportation system. Environmental advocates like Earth Ministry have urged an environmental impact study of all proposed sites in the Pacific Northwest.
Supporters of the proposal say that the proposed environmental impact statement on the project could raise costs for transporting all cargo and would reduce business investment and jobs and create a negative economic climate including a lost tax revenues for state and local governments.
In a telephone interview with The Progress, Dye noted that in-state support for the terminals comes from some local unions, who cite job creation. Dye contends that job gains could potentially be offset by crab-fishing job losses at Cherry Point if the port is dredged.
Dye was invited to speak at a Maryknoll Mission House presentation April 26 on the consequences of coal export from Northwest ports.
Maryknoll Mission House director Father Thomas Marti, who invited Dye to speak, said religious leadership is needed to keep coal in the ground.
"All people of faith should be concerned with care for the earth, for creation," he explained.
Father Marti also noted the proposal for transporting shipments of coal through the Northwest to China would have negative impacts on the health of people in here as well as in China and around the world.
"There are definite connections between the burning of coal and global warming," Father Marti added, noting that during the March 13 papal inauguration, Pope Francis made "a strong case for our call to protect the environment."
There also is some involvement at the parish level for a coal-free Washington, Dye said, including parishioners at Sacred Heart and Assumption in Bellingham, and Our Lady of Guadalupe in West Seattle.
"I am most concerned that coal exports would be at the expense of citizen health, particularly the elderly, the poor and the marginal populations," said Frank Handler, pastoral administrator at Our Lady of Guadalupe. "And as a former marine biologist I am very concerned about the long-term consequences of coal dust impacting our already fragile marine environment."
Local and global
Handler said the proposed coal shipments are both a local issue and a global issue because the burning of coal in other countries "just comes back to us as fine particulate matter blowing through the air — so we're not helping the environment at all, we're just promoting global warming."
Earth Ministry coordinators contend that humans hold the earth in trust for God — that we are tenants here, called to care for the creation for future generations and all species. They point to the words of Psalm 24 in support of their ministry: "The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it."
Earth Ministry coordinators say the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, a multistate compact created by federal law, has stated that society can move beyond coal and meet most of our energy needs through energy efficiency and renewable resources, including wind and solar.
May 9, 2013