The state of Washington is at a crossroads. Last year, the U.S. Senate failed to consider a national climate and energy bill, and there are now congressional attempts to repeal the Clean Air Act and curtail the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to protect our environment and public health. We can hope and pray for positive federal action, but we cannot count on it.
Given the lack of leadership in the “other Washington,” it is now more important than ever for Washington state to step up to the plate and develop real solutions to pollution and climate change. We have the opportunity to do just that by transitioning our state beyond dirty coal by 2015.
The truth is that the carbon emissions, toxic chemicals, and haze generated by the TransAlta coal plant in Centralia have far-reaching effects. Our reliance on fossil fuels hurts our economy locally and the climate globally. Last year, we witnessed the ongoing tragedies of the catastrophe in the Gulf, calamitous floods in Pakistan, and fires across Russia. This year, much of Queensland, Australia is underwater. Because of our burning of coal, the Earth’s weather is increasingly disrupted and produces extremes of heat, drought, storms and floods.
Our own national Episcopal Church speaks of the fragile interdependence of humanity and all of God’s good creation. As regional leaders of this denomination, we understand that the religious community must show prophetic leadership on climate change. Our diocese in Western Washington has joined the national Episcopal Church in the Genesis Covenant, a commitment to reduce the carbon footprints of all church-owned buildings by 50 percent within 10 years. This is a challenging goal and we take it seriously, because truly, no less than the future of humanity is at stake.
In the New Testament, Jesus told his followers to care for the poor and the least of these among us. Coal is a dirty and dangerous fuel source which poisons the air, water, and our own health. We as a country are guilty of using fossil fuels as if there were no consequences. We are not keeping our covenant with the Creator.
Legislation has been introduced in Olympia to cut toxic mercury pollution and reduce carbon emissions by transitioning Washington beyond coal. We call on our state legislators, from both parties and both chambers, to support the Coal-Free Future for Washington bill.
Strong standards needed
Haze from the TransAlta plant obscures Mount Rainier and our other wilderness treasures. Mercury from the plant is known to cause neurological disorders in infants and children. Particulates from burning coal have worsened our neighbors’ lung diseases. The TransAlta coal plant is also our state’s biggest contributor to climate change — eliminating the plant’s carbon emissions would be the yearly equivalent of taking every car off the road in King and Yakima counties combined. We must stop burning dirty coal and make the shift to cleaner, more sustainable fuels.
We must also care for our neighbors as ourselves. In addition to phasing out coal burning at the TransAlta plant, the Coal-Free Future for Washington bill will ensure cleanup of contaminated lands and preparation of the site for future economic development. Further support for the local community includes financial assistance from the Community Economic Revitalization Board and Public Works Board to ensure a fair and planned transition beyond coal.
Nationally, we need strong performance standards under the Clean Air Act for the oldest and dirtiest coal plants, which should not be exempt from health regulations for haze, greenhouse gasses, and mercury. These limits on dirty air should be enforced by a fully funded Environmental Protection Agency. Here in Washington state, we need to transition beyond coal and focus instead on investing in the local economy and a clean energy future. We owe it to ourselves and our children.
Time is short and much is at stake. We are confident that our leaders will be given the grace to make good choices.
Bishop Greg Rickel is Bishop of the Episcopal Church’s Diocese of Olympia, which encompasses all of Western Washington (www.ecww.org).
The Rev. Hunt Priest is Rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church on Mercer Island and a board member of Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power & Light (www.earthministry.org).