In an overture that is only one sentence long, the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is being asked to “affirm the decision of civil authorities to conduct a full, programmatic review and assessment of the impact of expanded coal export projects in Washington and Oregon on human health and the well-being of communities along the Northwest rail lines.”
Overture 15-03 from the Presbytery of Seattle will be considered by the General Assembly Committee on Immigration and Environmental Issues. Cascades Presbytery concurred with Seattle’s overture.
Stating that the burning of coal is harmful to public health, the overture’s rationale is that “The transport of more than 105 million tons of coal a year from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming through Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington to be burned in Asia would entail a significant number of trains on a 1,500-mile route and would affect many communities in the Synod of the Rocky Mountains and the Synod of Alaska-Northwest, including our own Presbytery of Seattle. Because these trains and barges must be uncovered, up to 500 pounds of coal dust per car, per trip, escape along the train track. Dramatically increased numbers of coal cars on these lines present health risks from additional coal dust and diesel exhaust, will clog traffic in local communities, stress the shipment of domestic products by rail, delay emergency vehicles, and require taxpayer support of all at-grade crossings and bridges.”
The rationale continues that communities along the proposed route have “opposed the significantly expanded shipment of coal, or asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to undertake a comprehensive review of the projects to include the impact on human health and on the global climate. Faith leaders have asked authorities to review the harmful effects on God’s creation of the whole lifecycle of coal for export, from mining to transport to burning.”
In the last decade in the United States, the rationale says that coal-fired power has decreased as the country has shifted to natural gas, increased conservation and renewable energy. “Local communities, including many faith voices, have prevented new coal-fired power plants from being built and set strict limits on air pollution from existing plants. Knowingly enabling pollution of the air that our global neighbors breathe is morally unacceptable. Additionally, air pollution in China contributes to pollution in our presbytery and across our synod, including mercury in local waters, melting glaciers, and disruptive weather patterns.”
The overture’s rationale ends by stating that “Further reliance on coal slows the transition to better stewardship of God’s creation through clean and renewable energy, conservation, and energy efficiency. Climate change is a serious threat to generational justice. Faith community leaders have the moral responsibility to ask civil authorities to consider all effects of the mining, transport and burning of coal on all of God’s children.”