Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A statement by religious leaders in Iowa on the moral impacts of coal

From Iowa Interfaith Power & Light

As religious leaders representing diverse faith traditions, we feel compelled to speak out about the impacts of coal-fired power generation on this Earth Day 2013.

We do not speak as scientists or environmental experts, but as pastors and teachers who are concerned that the moral and ethical dimensions of this issue could be lost in the competing voices of economic and political pressures. Our scriptural traditions and religious teachings implore us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and indeed it is these very neighbors who suffer coal’s health and climate impacts.

Every step of coal-fired electricity generation is dangerous to human health, from mining and processing to burning and storage of waste ash. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, coal power is a major source of both sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, which are linked to premature deaths from heart and respiratory ailments. In addition, coal is the leading source of all mercury emissions--a potent neurotoxin that threatens fetal and infant brain development. According to a study by Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility, ninety-two percent of Iowans live within 30 miles of a coal plant, and 1 out of 3 children attend school in close proximity to a coal plant. The health impacts of coal are felt disproportionately by the most vulnerable members of our community: the poor, the elderly, and children, who may not have the resources or the ability to relocate. This is cause for deep concern.

In addition to the health impacts, burning coal is the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions--a leading cause of global climate change. Recently the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that 2012 was the warmest year on record in the United States, a year marked by climate disasters such as drought, wildfires, and super storms. This finding was confirmed by a statewide group of Iowa scientists who believe that Iowans should act now in order to reduce economic costs due to climate change. The impacts of global climate change are just beginning to be felt, and without drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions these impacts will only intensify. Once again, these impacts are felt disproportionately by the most vulnerable citizens in our state, our nation, and our world and who contribute the least to the problem. This is a matter of justice. 

Coal burning is poor stewardship, and cleaner alternatives already exist. We are blessed in Iowa with abundant wind energy, which, when combined with our potential for solar energy and energy efficiency measures, can significantly reduce our need for coal-fired electricity generation.

Every major faith tradition has a statement on caring for Earth. We live in fragile interdependence with all creation. Coal is a dirty fuel source that poisons the air, the water, and our own health. All of God’s children deserve safe air to breath, clean water to drink, and freedom from the fear of climate disasters. We must work together to find solutions to lower our dependence on coal-fired power generation. We urge all people of faith to take this responsibility seriously and work for justice while caring for the common good. 

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