MAH in TacomaThere are a handful of decisions that are going to be made in the U.S. this decade that will be pivotal in the fate of our climate. The six proposed coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest are among them. If these terminals are approved, they will unleash one of the biggest carbon sources on the planet, by creating a new pathway for Western U.S. coal to reach Asian markets, and it will be hard to put the genie back in the bottle.

That’s why I traveled to Tacoma, Washington, in late October for a public hearing against the proposed Longview coal export terminal. I was floored and inspired to see the sea of red shirts marking the hundreds upon hundreds of clean energy supporters attending and speaking out at the hearing. It’s an electrifying movement that has stopped three of the six proposed terminals to date – the climate pollution equivalent of stopping 35 new coal-fired power plants. When we stop all six projects, that will equal the carbon impact of stopping 105 new coal plants.

Washingtonians know that putting this carbon into the atmosphere would be catastrophic for our climate. A new study in the prestigious journal Nature found that by 2050, if we don’t reduce our carbon pollution, what are now our hottest years and hottest temperatures may become our coldest years and coldest temperatures.

In 2050, my three-year-old daughter Hazel will be the age I am today. Once our kids are adults, it will be too late to turn this around. We are the last generation of people who can stop climate change.

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A coal export terminal is proposed for Oregon as well, and opposition there is just as strong. What’s more, one of the companies  (Ambre Energy) proposing to build the Morrow Pacific terminal just had to delay its permit again because the state department of lands said the company still had not provided enough information for the agency to make a decision. This is the company’s SIXTH permit delay!

That’s just another example of a foreign company failing to do their homework so Pacific Northwest families know the full risk posed by exporting coal through their communities.

As a West Virginian, I testified at the Tacoma hearing about the realities of a “coal boom” to the people at that Longview hearing: The coal industry would just love to bring you a boom and bust economy, along with the asthma and heart attacks from coal pollution. The coal industry has been doing that in Appalachia for 100 years.

While I was in Tacoma, I also met with leaders from the Lummi Nation to thank them for their leadership in the opposition to the proposed Cherry Point terminal, which threatens their ancestral fishing and burial lands. It was an honor to meet Jewell James, a longtime Lummi leader who recently made headlines, including this USA Today story, when he led a powerful totem pole journey across sacred lands of the West that ended at the Cherry Point site. Here is how the organizers described it:

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The House of Tears carvers of the Lummi community has created a tradition of carving and delivering totem poles to areas struck by disaster or otherwise in need of hope and healing. Now it is Lummi Nation’s own sacred landscape, Xwe’chi’eXen, that needs hope, healing and protection. The most imminent threat to this sacred landscape and to treaty rights associated with Xwe’chi’eXen comes from a proposal to build North America’s largest coal port: the Gateway Pacific Terminal.

I’m inspired by the thousands of people – tribal members, parents, doctors, nurses, business owners, faith leaders, teachers, public officials, and more – who have spoken out against coal exports at all the recent hearings in Washington. More than 5,000 people have attended these hearings in recent months to express overwhelming opposition to these projects.

On top of that, hundreds also showed up for another hearing last week, Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s hearing on how the state can fight climate disruption. People are speaking out in droves for strong action on climate. And their leaders are listening – this week, the governors of Washington, Oregon, and California, along with the premier of British Columbia, signed an agreement to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate disruption.

This leadership in the Northwest is combining with the efforts nationwide that are making a difference. Over the past decade, communities have worked together to stop 182 new coal plants, and they’ve also won the retirement of 152 existing coal plants.

Join them – send a comment urging the rejection of the coal export terminals. We want our public officials to demonstrate the leadership on climate change that this nation and the world are desperate seeking.

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