A Legacy in Jeopardy
By Robin Everett
Washington State has a long history of environmental protection. We are consistently ranked as one of the greenest states in the nation. In 1970 Washington established the Department of Ecology. It was the first agency of its kind in the United States, even preceding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Seattle started the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement and sparked a grassroots effort that has spread across the country and garnered international attention. Washington is one of the first states in the nation to commit to phasing out its coal power plant in Centralia, and now over 150 coal plants are slated for closure in the U.S. We are truly a leader of the environmental movement. We are truly the Evergreen State.
However, that legacy is in jeopardy. In the dawn of a new era of sustainability, a future of clean, renewable energy, we are faced with a choice to lead this new era or retreat to a past tied to dirty energy.
Big Coal is hoping we pick the latter. Peabody Coal, Arch Coal and others seek to ship nearly 100 million tons of coal through our state every single year through proposed ports at Cherry Point and Longview. From mine to port, these projects threaten our green reputation by releasing toxic coal dust and diesel exhaust along the rail lines, clogging our railroads, ports, and highways, risking our families’ health, polluting our air and water, and stoking the climate crisis. In fact, Governor Jay Inslee, in his first press conference as governor, stated, “this is the largest decision we will be making as a state from a carbon pollution standpoint certainly during my lifetime, and nothing comes even close to it.”
PSARA couldn’t agree more. We have deemed climate change one of “the transcendent issues of this time in history.” Our mission is “uniting generations for a secure future.” Will future generations feel united with us if we sell out their future for short-term goals? So we choose to be a leader in this new era and reject proposals that short-change that vision for a better world for our children.
We are pleased to see that the Washington Department of Ecology (DOE) agrees with the public that there is a lot at stake in determining whether or not coal export is good for Washington State. Responding to more than 215,000 public comments, mostly supporting serious analysis of the impacts of mining, transporting and burning coal, they have decided that only a broad and sweeping review of all the risks will suffice. Ecology’s commitment will ensure we will have all the information we need to determine if these proposals cause harm to our health, environment and economy.
Unfortunately, the Army Corps of Engineers will hide under a rock and limit their scope to a study around the approximate site of the terminals.
Both projects are now in the study phase, which can last from 2-3 years. In the meantime, PSARA will continue to work with our allies to educate our members and the public about the connection between coal and climate change, with its tremendous human toll and economic cost. In the future, PSARA members will be asked to attend public events where the fate of coal exports through Washington will be considered.
Meanwhile, you can contact the WA Department of Ecology and thank them for their work to assess the impacts of these terminals: WA Dept. of Ecology, Director Maia Bellon, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robin Everett is an Organizing Representative for the Sierra Club and a PSARA member.