Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Moving Washington Beyond Coal

by LeeAnne Beres

In the last few months, Jessie and I have made several trips over to Spokane to host events educating and empowering faith communities to advocate for clean energy. We partnered in this work with Spokane's Faith & Environment Network. On one of our visits, FEN's Felicia Reilly interviewed me about the impact of coal as an energy source, the alternatives that lie before us, and opportunities for the faith community to be involved. Below is her blog, posted recently on the Faith & Environment Network's website:

Most of us realize that burning coal is not a clean or environmentally friendly way to produce energy. But many believe we need the energy coal produces at the cheap price it provides. I have to admit that until recently my knowledge on the subject was limited to the knee-jerk reaction of ‘Coal Bad, Renewable Energy Good’.

Then our friends at Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power & Light informed me that the coal plant in Centralia causes mercury pollution that is especially dangerous to pregnant women and babies! Being a mother of two beautiful boys this was outrageous to me. I was aware of the scary statistic that newborns are, on average, born with over 300 contaminants from pesticides to industrial contaminants but until now I was unaware that among those contaminants were pollutants from things like, you guessed it, coal-burning power plants.

Learning this prompted me to find out how I can help stop coal pollution from harming God’s amazing creation and our future generations. So, I asked LeeAnne Beres of Earth Ministry some questions and she gave me some very thoughtful and encouraging answers:

Q: What are the health impacts of burning coal?

A: Every step of the coal-fired process is dangerous to human health, from mining and processing to burning and storage of waste ash. Those most often impacted by these dangerous processes are the most vulnerable members of our communities: the poor, the elderly, and children.

The TransAlta plant in Centralia is Washington’s only coal plant, but it is our #1 source of mercury pollution, which is causes neurological damage and developmental delays in babies and children. It’s also the #1 source of nitrogen oxide pollution, which causes haze and worsens asthma. The National Park Service has identified TransAlta as one of the 3 worst plants in the entire country for damaging visibility in national parks and wilderness areas.

Last but not least, it’s #1 for global warming pollution – which flies in the face of the religious community’s call for immediate action on climate change. The TransAlta plant has been spewing out unregulated pollutants for nearly 40 years and it’s time to put the health of our children and communities before profits. We need to transition this coal plant to cleaner fuels by 2015.

Q: How can we replace the electricity generated by coal-fired power plants?

A: The Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which is a government agency responsible for planning and oversight of the region’s electrical systems, says that all 5,000 Megawatts of coal power in the entire Northwest can be replaced at minimal cost to consumers while delivering extensive public health and environmental benefits.

The NW Energy Coalition’s Bright Future report agrees: the Northwest has ample, affordable energy conservation and renewable energy resources (wind, solar, and geothermal power) to serve future power needs, slow climate change, and revive our economy. For negligible costs compared to continued reliance on dirty power sources, we can cover future electric demands, help salmon survive both climate change and the hydrosystem, shut down the highly polluting coal plants and meet state and regional greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Q: What is the religious community doing to help move Washington beyond coal?

A: Earth Ministry and the Faith & Environment Network are partnering on a statewide Beyond Coal campaign. Together, we are educating people of faith on both sides of the state about the danger of coal-fired plants and the need to transition to cleaner energy sources. We’re organizing meetings with elected officials to ensure that our values of stewardship, sustainability, and justice are incorporated into decision-making about the TransAlta plant. It’s important for Governor Gregoire and state legislators to hear that the faith community supports transitioning the TransAlta coal plant by 2015 and an end to the $5 million annual tax subsidy given to this Canadian corporation.

The religious community has historically spoken up for the “least of these” among us, and caring about creation and the health of our neighbors is an important part of putting our faith into action. Other organizations, such as the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Cool Mom are also involved in the Beyond Coal campaign.
LeeAnne’s responses encouraged me that change can happen but it will take all of us working together to get it done. So, write your representatives, Governor Gregoire, pray for a solution and speak of for the least of these among us. I for one know who I will be speaking up for my two little boys who I hope one day will be able to live in a world that is Beyond Coal.

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