Coal Terminal Victory

By Gary Payton | Presbyterian attendee of the Paris COP21 and active in regional and Presbyterian environmental concerns

In an historic decision on Monday, May 9, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied necessary permits for the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal, a coal export facility located at Cherry Point, Washington. The Army Corps agreed with the Lummi Nation that building a 48 million ton per year coal terminal would have adverse impacts upon the Lummi Nation’s fishing rights and way of life.  By denying permits for the largest proposed coal export terminal in North America, Army Corps upheld the Lummi Nation’s treaty rights and protected the Salish Sea for all people who call the Pacific Northwest home.  Had the terminal been approved, hundreds of communities in multiple presbyteries across Montana, Idaho, and Washington would have been at risk through expanded coal train shipments from the Powder River Basin. For more, read the Bellingham Herald news and the News Release.

Rev. Holly Hallman of Seattle Presbytery and I share this news with you recalling the modest, yet we believe important, role which the PC(USA) played in this decision.

The 221st GA (2014) passed Overture 15-03 on expanded coal export projects which had been brought forward by Seattle Presbytery and concurred in by the Presbyteries of Cascades and North Puget Sound.  An action called for in the overture was the communication by the Stated Clerk of the content of the overture to the Corps of Engineers.

Holly and I would like to extend a special thanks to the Office of Public Witness, Washington D.C., and PC(USA) Stated Clerk Rev Gradye Parsons for the letter PC(USA) sent to the Corps in 2015.  The letter blended the thrust of the overture with a call to respect the treaty rights of the Lummi Nation. With letter in hand, Holly read its content last May to an assembly of Northwest tribal leaders.  Her presentation on behalf of the PCUSA was the only voice at the gathering from the faith community.

Our Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has taken profound and historic positions on a host of social justice issues through the decades.  We do not always know if our faithful voice is heard in the halls of power.  Thus, when we can draw a connection, however modest, between the 221st General Assembly’s action, the denial of coal terminal permits, and the upholding of Native American treaty rights, it warrants a thankfully voiced “Alleluia!”

The power of the fossil fuel industry is great, and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at the upcoming 222nd General Assembly in Portland will again be asked to made decisions about the industry, our investments, climate change, and as voiced by Pope Francis, “the cry of earth and the cry of the poor.”

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