Three years ago, Whatcom County residents were asked to either commit to an energy economy of the future or to double-down on an addiction to a dirty, outmoded 19th century fuel - coal. When faced with the proposal to build North America's largest coal export facility at Cherry Point thousands of community members asked critical questions about the impacts of coal on our environment, our lifestyles, and our economy. Doctors voiced concerns about the health impacts of coal dust. Business owners raised issues about the impacts of coal trains on our local economy. And hundreds of thousands of neighbors submitted a record-breaking 125,000 comments during the scoping period for the draft environmental impact statement.
Last year, when the students at Western Washington University learned that 5 percent of the Western Foundation's portfolio is invested in the fossil fuel industry, they worked to move the foundation toward less damaging investments. Last month, the student government voted unanimously to recommend the foundation sell off its coal and oil holdings.
Now our community is facing another question: Do we want to contribute ever more carbon to our atmosphere and oceans, furthering the risks to our society, economy and future; or shall we invest in a clean energy economy that will create thousands of well-paying jobs throughout our county and the state?
Few ratepayers are aware that 33 percent of Whatcom County's electricity comes directly from coal-fired power. This means that every time we turn on our lights, surf the internet, and plug in our electric cars, we are burdening other communities with the impacts of coal mining, transport and combustion.
However, right now we have the opportunity to take a big step toward clean electricity, climate protection, and 21st century jobs. Not only do we have thousands of local residents engaged and aware of the costs of coal, but our state government is increasingly committed to being part of the solution. Gov. Inslee has proposed an initiative to create new, family wage jobs in local energy development while eliminating our use of "coal by wire" - burning coal in other states for energy here in Washington.
State regulators have asked our local utility, Puget Sound Energy, to rethink its plans to continue operating the second-dirtiest coal plant west of the Mississippi - the Colstrip Generating Facility in Eastern Montana. They've asked PSE to assess closing the plant.
Add to this the fact that we have strong state incentives to build solar and wind energy capacity locally, and as a result, people here in Whatcom County and throughout the state are already finding good jobs in the clean energy economy that may well dominate our state's future.
On April 3, the Mount Baker Group of the Sierra Club, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, and Backcountry Essentials held a well-attended event highlighting a recent report that showed how a coal-free Washington is clearly within our grasp. Bolstered by an economic study confirming there are more jobs with clean energy than fossil fuels, this plan lays out the transition we can make from dangerous and increasingly expensive coal-based electricity to in-state clean energy production that will create thousands of new jobs for Washington.
But this won't happen unless we build the public insistence to demand action from our state legislators and PSE. Now is the time to tell them you'd like to see the risky, dirty Colstrip plant closed. Work with RE Sources and the Sierra Club to help PSE and our state make the right choice for our planet, our citizens, and the generations to come. We have the opportunity to do better than coal, and now is the time to seize it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Crina Hoyer is the executive director of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities in Bellingham. RE Sources promotes sustainable communities and the health of local people and ecosystems through science, education, advocacy and action. More information can be found online at re-sources.org.