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Environmental Justice team learns of options for state policy

By Meighan Pritchard - pastor of Prospect UCC in Seattle

On May 19, the PNC Environmental Justice (EJ) Team met via Zoom with Reed Schuler, senior policy advisor to Governor Jay Inslee. The Environmental Justice Team had just completed a focused push to help pass the Sustainable Farms and Fields Bill in the state legislature. The bill passed but still requires funding.

PNC environmental activists Leda Zarkarison, Meighan Pritchard and Rick Russell in February 2018 at legislature in Olympia.

Photo courtesy of Meighan Pritchard

In the wake of the coronavirus, the team consulted with Reed to figure out how and when environmental justice issues might regain attention, and how this team could help focus efforts on those issues.

For this meeting, the team invited LeeAnne Beres, executive director of Earth Ministry, who in turn invited past and present members of Earth Ministry’s board.

Reed acknowledged that most of the governor’s time these days has shifted to dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic devastation. Meeting participants asked whether, in rebuilding a resilient economy, there could be a push toward creating jobs in the sustainability sector. He said the governor has pushback from constituents who would perceive such a move as exploiting the pandemic situation for political ends.

However, participants see this moment as the perfect time to transform the economy in more sustainable ways and thought the EJ Team might be able to put forward such an idea.

“Why not exploit this moment?” one participant asked. “We can’t wait until people are ‘ready.’ We can’t react to fear by denial. Let’s react constructively.”

Reed discussed various climate-related topics.

The Department of Commerce is taking the lead on implementing recommendations from the State Energy Strategy. This document is a technical analysis of what must change long-term in order to move into compliance with new greenhouse gas emission limits.

The 2019 legislative session passed a 100 percent clean energy bill, which provides a broad path toward carbon emissions reduction. A broad and diverse coalition supports a clean fuel standard.

“It is important that groups such as this Environmental Justice Team and Earth Ministry keep pushing such long-term priorities as the Clean Fuels Standard. Let your legislators know that you still care about this. The intensity of your voices has to double,” Reed said.

LeeAnne said Earth Ministry could help locate churches in districts where legislators are obstructing passage of a Clean Fuels Standard and a transportation package to go with it. The EJ Team could then help those churches contact legislators.

Reed said legislation requiring new funds, such as the Sustainable Farms and Fields bill, are not likely to be funded as the state budget has taken a major hit from the coronavirus, but he expects the Clean Fuels Standard has a better chance to succeed.

Other areas that could move forward include efforts to shift commercial buildings and homes away from gas and toward electricity. Gas in buildings is a fast-increasing source of emissions.

Reed noted that Climate Solutions has been working on a beneficial electricity bill that would incentivize moving from gas to electric. When induction stoves come down in price, they will be better than gas stoves. He suggests asking utility companies to provide financial incentives for people to make this switch.

Several years ago, the governor, former governor Jerry Brown of California and Gov. Andy Cuomo of New York formed the Climate Alliance to support the Paris climate accord and national emissions targets.

Since then, the alliance has grown to include 25 governors. There’s a working group in the alliance focusing on electrifying buildings. The alliance coordinates on communications, so when the federal government tries to roll back fuel efficiency standards, the alliance can respond as a unified block. Alliance members attend international climate meetings to be a U.S. presence and to counteract the official U.S. stance of withdrawal from the Paris climate accords.

In addition, a regional group called the Pacific Coast Collaborative has been created with British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California.

EJ Team member Lin Hagedorn, a co-founder of 350 Eastside, has been trying to form a public utility company on the eastside of Lake Washington. Puget Sound Energy, the utility in that area, derives a significant portion of its energy from coal, and 350 Eastside wants to create an alternative that would draw from clean energy sources.

The coronavirus shutdown has hampered 350 Eastside from collecting the required 20,000 signatures to put this issue on the ballot. Lin appreciated connecting with Reed and will pursue options with him.

LeeAnne noted that the EJ Team could also rally churches to stand with the Quinault and Chehalis tribes in opposing a proposed dam on the Chehalis River. This dam has been put forward as a way to solve flooding issues, but it doesn’t appear to do that as well as alternative strategies would. It would also destroy prime spawning grounds for steelhead and salmon, both of which are in steep decline. The tribes have asked for community support, and University UCC has been urging members to register comments with the Department of Ecology regarding the draft Environmental Impact Statement for this dam.

This meeting started collaboration with government efforts toward a sustainable planet and with Earth Ministry’s campaigns.

The PNC Environmental Justice Team will keep looking for ways to involve the conference churches in this work.

For information, email pritchardmeighan(at)


Pacific NW Conference United Church News - Copyright © Summer 2020


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