We are incredibly blessed to live in such a beautiful and unique region. Whatcom County alone is home to Mount Baker and Lake Whatcom, Cherry Point's herring grounds, and Birch Bay's welcoming beaches. Those of us who live here value the quality of life our environment provides. Citizens of Bellingham, in particular, have long had a reputation for living sustainably - from making conscious choices about what resources are used, to the backyard gardens scattered through the city. Again, we are blessed.
Now, imagine coal dust on all of this. Coal dust in our waters. Coal dust on our trees. Coal dust on our mountains. Coal dust on fruits and vegetables grown in those backyard gardens. Imagine that same coal dust drifting in windows, resting on our skin and being inhaled in to our lungs. In the coming days, we will be deciding whether or not this will become the new reality for all those who live near the train tracks that lead to Bellingham's port. The warning horn that locomotives sound out will become a warning that coal dust may be blowing our way soon.
The good news is that this future is not inevitable. Whether to allow this coal to pollute our neighborhoods, our natural assets, and our bodies is a choice for all the citizens of Whatcom County.
This choice is also a moral one. We are pastors and part of our work - and in fact the work of all people of faith - is to remain centered on some straightforward ideas and actions, treat our neighbors as ourselves, seek out the common good for all God's people, be a good steward of our resources, and take actions that will have a positive outcome for as many people as possible.
Living into these simple messages sometimes require complex analysis but, in this case, it's just not that complex. Allowing these coal trains will mean profit for a few at the expense of children and families along the rail lines. Even if that doesn't affect us directly, it may affect those we consider to be our neighbors. Allowing coal to be shipped through our communities will cause so much harm, unhealthiness, and environmental degradation it would be immoral.
Yet it is true that society often struggles with inertia, denial and the status quo. It seems obvious to us now that smoking causes lung disease, but it took decades and massive commitment by public health activists to reduce the percentage of smokers in America. Today we know about the disease "black lung" and other respiratory diseases that coal miners have suffered since coal was first mined. Today we know that carbon pollution from coal causes climate disruption, heat waves, droughts, floods, fires, and that the worse is yet to come.
We know that, as people of faith, we are called by our faith to stand in protection of the health and future well-being of all God's children. The best choice we can make, as people of faith and as Washingtonians, is to stop these coal trains. We can and must say no to coal export and to the health problems, possible coal train derailments, traffic congestion, environmental degradation, and climate warming that coal and coal trains would bring to our communities.
We can do better. Let's leave this coal in the ground and develop clean and renewable energy instead. Today, wind and solar power create over twice as many jobs as fossil fuels and have been far more successful than anyone predicted in meeting America's energy needs.
Let's tell our county commissioners, the State of Washington, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to say "no" to coal export from Cherry Point. Protect this community, and communities across the region, from dirty coal and help hold Earth's climate intact for all God's children. It's the right choice. It's the best moral choice.
Rev. Mike Denton is conference minister of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ, pncucc.org, and Rev. Kent French is lead pastor of the First Congregational Church of Bellingham, fccb.net, a member congregation of the United Church of Christ. They are involved on coal export issues through the religious environmental organization Earth Ministry, earthministry.org.