Earth Day, which we observe each year in April, is an opportunity to renew our commitment to being responsible stewards of our planet. Every year, we are reminded of the multiple concerns related to eco-justice that need attention. Among the issues is how U.S. consumerism affects lives all over the world because of demand for lower priced products such as radios, computers, and televisions. Climate change has finally come to the center of global attention as a key environmental justice issue. Numerous scientific reports have been released describing the urgency of taking action right now to stop the trajectory of the global warming, even though we can’t turn back the clock on damage already done.
Coal is the dirtiest of the fossil fuels producing toxic chemicals that include mercury. The damage caused by coal dust to humans as well as fish, wildlife, farmland, and water sources is well-documented, but many insist on ignoring this tragedy. Due to stricter U.S. environmental standards being imposed to reduce hazardous pollutants in this country, the use of coal energy has dropped by over 7% since utilities have used cleaner burning natural gas. Instead of taking steps to reduce the coal’s carbon footprint with alternative sources of energy, coal producing companies have resorted to exporting coal to countries all over the world, most recently to Asia in name of profit margins.
By encouraging and expanding worldwide coal use, not only will our global neighbors suffer similar negative health consequences just as we have, but more U.S. and international communities will be impacted by the transfer of products across land and sea. For example, coal producers have leased the rights to mine more than 2.1 billion tons of coal in the Powder River Basin, which stretches for more than 250 miles through Wyoming and southern Montana. Since the coal is mined so far inland, there is no choice but to transport coal across the western portion of the United States and Canada.
Trains carrying coal are already going across British Columbia. Now, Cloud Peak Mining Company has secured the rights to ship coal through Washington to terminals in Bellingham and Longview. As a coal train, up to 1½ miles long, moves down the tracks in uncovered cars, Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway managers confess that between 500 pounds of coal is lost, spreading a ton a coal dust on its way. While the coal industry benefits, thousands of human lives are in jeopardy and jobs are lost in tourism, small business, farming, fishing, and other sectors near the tracks and the loading terminals. Denis Hayes, chief executive of the Seattle-based Bullitt Foundation and the organizer of the first Earth Day said, “We don’t accomplish much if we export it to countries in Asia. The atmosphere is indifferent.”
We join major national organizations such as Earth Ministry and Sierra Club along with thousands of religious leaders, elected officials, community activists, environmental leaders to oppose to the further leasing of federal lands to pave the way for contaminating the whole earth in the interest of financial profit for a few. We must understand that air currents do not have borders. No matter what coal producers say, there is no such thing as clean coal.
The United Church of Christ has 5,194 churches throughout the United States. Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation. UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.