Friday, February 27, 2015

Oil Transport by Rail Spells Disaster

Oil by Rail?
Submitted by Rev. Holly Hallman

Am I my brother’s keeper?  Gen 4:9

Let’s say you have a lot of oil and you want to sell it. To do that you have to get it from where you are to where the people are who will refine it so you can get your money. To move it you need a long tube-one that stretches from you to the market. The natural choice would be to connect sections of tube to each other and lay them end-to-end from here to there. The wrinkle comes when someone wants a lot of money for their right of way, or to a spot where something special happened and the land is sacred.  In frustration, you might just decide to take an old pipe and make it bigger. You might buy property outright for your tube. Or, you might look around and see that you can use short pieces of tubing set on wheels and roll your oil from A to Z. Boom, that’s it!  Brilliant!

There is something wrong with this idea of oil in a moveable tube!  Perhaps you had never heard of Lac Megantic where an oil train exploded and killed 47people. There are lots of small towns all across this country and Canada that I haven’t heard of that are endangered by this pipeline on wheels. 

Great Northern Tunnel in Seattle
Photo by Alex Garland
In Seattle, “The Great Northern Tunnel is a one mile double tracked railroad tunnel under downtown, completed by the Great Northern Railway in 1905, and now owned by the BNSF Railway.”[i] Not far from the northern portal of that tunnel is the Salmon Bay Bridge that was opened in 1914. It has a single track and carries all the rail traffic that moves up the coast to northern Washington and British Columbia. Those lines were built to carry passengers and freight but now carry all of the northbound coal and oil that comes from Montana, North Dakota and Alberta, BC.

Salmon Bay Bridge in Seattle

Don’t think for a moment that your town is exempt!  On Valentines weekend three trains had derailments, one in Alberta, one in Ontario and one in West Virginia. More and more, we are learning that where there are tracks there is potential for oil transport disasters.

West Virginia exploding oil train
When our great rail systems were built over 100 years ago they were intended to carry a much different cargo. Today the nation’s grain still moves by rail. Beside nearly every silo there is a train track. These long trains carrying crude are making insufferable delays for people and perishable foods.

Rail lines split towns and cities in two, often leaving the need for emergency services and those who supply them on the opposite sides of slow, mile to mile-and-a-half long oil (and coal) trains.

New documents, videos, and news stories pile up in email inboxes every single day. To enumerate all the wrongs that this “new” pipeline creates would be difficult, tedious and depressing work. Instead, let’s go back to the opening scripture. Am I my brother’s keeper?  The Bible/God’s answer is in the affirmative. Furthermore, we know our kinship extends to every species on our planet. Noah was commanded to bring pairs of all things to the ark so they could continue to flourish. Our brothers and sisters walk, swim, fly, creep, and more. Together we make up the whole. And, yes, we are caretakers!

PEC honors this caretaking of our brothers and sisters!  Whether the oil is coming through a pipeline or by rail, its use is desecrating God’s good earth, clear skies and sacred water. We are advocating on many fronts for discontinuing the extraction and use of fossil fuels, for stronger rail safety standards, for no new export terminals, and for clean air and water.  Not this (see below).  We hope you will join us!

Crude oil trains in North Dakota

Rev. Holly Hallman
PEC Vice Moderator and Co-chair Advocacy Committee

Prayer: Creator of all things bright and beautiful, guide us as we examine how our use of energy and our use of money might turn the tide away from the darkness that fossil fuels are spreading across your earth. Amen



Friday, February 13, 2015



Discerning PEC’s 2015-16 Advocacy Priorities

We believe that we owe it to our supporters to continually spotlight a range of concerns.  There are so many to choose from!  During the last General Assembly cycle our focus was on fossil fuels.  For the 2016 General Assembly in Portland, Oregon the emphasis will be on water.  Let there be no mistake!  Those of us who are charged with steering Presbyterians for Earth Care (PEC) do not think, for a moment, that any of the fossil fuel issues are resolved!

In September 2014 at a conference in Alaska we chose our current topic. The rising seas and the shift in ice patterns are destroying coastal villages.  The disappearance of the summer ice in the Arctic Ocean and the rush to drill, tour and colonize the area presents new challenges.  The Pebble Mine looms over Bristol Bay and the last natural salmon run on the planet.  There is a push to strip mine for coal in the Matanuska Valley, using water essential for the production of Alaska’s food.  We haven’t had to look very far to find the link between the fossil fuel issues of the last GA cycle and the new focus on water.  For example, strip mining takes huge amounts of water from pristine sources and returns it to the waterway poisoned, blackened and useless to fisheries, agriculture and the vital systems that make life sustainable for birds and beasts.  Many attending the Alaska conference brought stories from all over the USA that had similar, anecdotal, accounts with a devastating water component.

The next question is how do we, a volunteer group, research and publish issues we decide to highlight?    Our plan is to take an issue a month.  One person will present to the Advocacy committee the aspects of concern and support those with a theological base.  The Advocacy group will reflect and refine the work in order to publish it and promote it as a potential overture, resolution or resource.  It is our intention to add a paper to our Advocacy webpage each month.

The topics that we want to address in the immediate months are:
  • Oil by Rail: linking transport to water issues
  • Aquifer depletion in the center of our nation
  • Fracking and the immediate effects it has on water
  • Precautionary Principle-Moving an overture from the dusty shelf to center stage
  • Challenges to the Chesapeake Bay
  • Industrialized animal farming and the repercussions it has related to water
  • The Mississippi Delta: a disaster that keeps getting more devastating

It is our desire to find topics that grow into overtures as they are studied and held up for examination by the Advocacy arm of PEC.  To understand the importance of the new focus, watch Water:  Sacred and Profaned.

Further, we hope that we can capture the attention of people who want to bring an issue to the group for reflection and expansion.  As much as we want polished works for publication, we also want to build a process that takes our supporters from having a concern to having a useful tool for Advocacy.  If you would like to join this effort contact

Holly Hallman,
PEC Advocacy Committee Co-Chair and Vice Moderator

Prayer: Beloved creator, water heals and yet needs healing.  Open our eyes to see You within each drop, snowflake and cloud.  Open our hearts to seeing each as sacred.  Amen

Friday, January 30, 2015

Climate of Conflict in Peru

Dear Friends,

In December I participated in a Presbyterian Hunger Program Joining Hands reflection/action trip to Peru to learn about the effects of climate change and environmental degradation on this country which is the third most vulnerable country to climate change in the world. The trip was scheduled to coincide with the United Nations COP20 talks in Lima. We spent time with our Joining Hands partners in Peru, and learned how they are affected by and working to mitigate climate change and environmental degradation in their country. 

We saw; we acted.

We saw:
•   A glacier that lost 50% of its mass in 25 years. This glacier provides water for farming communities and ultimately for Lima. The people see a water crisis in 10-15 years.
•   Chinalco Mining, a Chinese company, introduced mountaintop removal, the effects of     which are already evident in less than a year.
•   Chinalco Mining wanted to place its processing facility where a town was located. They built a new town and negotiated the move with families one by one, instead of negotiating with the town. This has caused dissention in the town. The families who have moved do not receive title to their new homes.
•   Doe Run Peru, an American company, operated a lead smelter in La Oroya. The lead levels in the blood of at least 98% of the children is above recommendations of the World Health Organization. These lead levels cause health problems and difficulty in school.

•   Doe Run declared bankruptcy rather than perform an environmental cleanup. The environment has been laid waste in La Oroya. Doe Run sued Peru for $800 million. How? Under a clause in the trade agreement between Peru and the US that protects the rights of foreign investors. 

We acted:
   We prayed with our partners.
   We participated in the People’s Climate March
   We participated in a vigil at the Cathedral.

Click HERE to see the Climate of Conflict slide show.

I heard over and over again that climate change is our biggest and most important issue today. It was discouraging; I knew that when I got back to the US, climate change would not be considered our biggest and most important issue. I also realized that the Peruvians we talked with had a more holistic way of looking at justice issues. Climate change and the environment encompassed other issues: water, food, education, land grabs, unfair trade advantages. Here in the US we tend to look at justice issues in silos, and because we do, the environment generally has a lower priority on the list of issues we care about.

These insights have given me a new way to see the Creation stories. God created the earth, the sky and the waters first. If there is disruption in these first elements of creation, there will be disruption in all of the elements of creation that follow. We need to find ways to connect climate change and environmental degradation with the other justice issues we care about. It’s about reconciling with God and all of God’s creation.

What can we do to support the Joining Hands Network in Peru?
   Pray for our partners in Peru and all of those who work with them.
   Learn about and support the work of the mission co-workers who work with the network, Jenny Valle and Jed Hawkes Koball.   
   Learn about and support the Joining Hands Program.   
   Learn about the issues with the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and contact your representative. 

I am grateful for having had this opportunity to find new ways to see and talk about scripture.

Sue Smith
PEC Treasurer

Prayer: O Lord God. You created the earth and stretched out the heavens. We cause disruption to your creation by our lifestyles and through the practices of our corporations. Help us to see new ways to reconcile with your creation and with you. Inspire and sustain us in this work of reconciliation. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Sue Smith is a member of First Presbyterian of Rumson, NJ. She is the Treasurer of Presbyterians for Earth Care and a GreenFaith Fellow. She is currently a student at New Brunswick Theological Seminary.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Proposal Webinar

Dear Friends of PEC, 

PEC greatly appreciates our partners in Environmental Ministries/Presbyterian Hunger Program and the Office of Public Witness (OPW).  We bring to your attention the upcoming webinar from OPW on the importance of Fair Trade, which includes the consequences of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade proposal.

Sending our wishes for a healthy 2015 for God's beautiful Creation.

PEC Steering Committee 

Webinar: Building an Economy of Inclusion Through Fair Trade
Tuesday, January 20th, 3:00-4:00pm (EST)

Join the Office of Public Witness and the Interfaith Working Group on Trade and Investment for a webinar just hours before the President’s State of the Union Address to get a sneak peak at what President Obama will say about his 2015 trade agenda and what role the new Congress will play. Hear how corporate interests influence trade agreements and harm the lives of our partners on the ground in developing countries. Faith advocates will leave with ideas on how they can help build an economy of inclusion through education and action in 2015. 

Click here to register.

Past trade agreements carry unwanted consequences such as displacement of rural farmers in the Global South, the off-shoring of jobs from the U.S. in exchange for dangerous, low wage jobs abroad, and increased environmental degradation from mining and other extractive industries. With November’s elections behind us, our elected officials are poised to tackle trade issues with renewed fervor in the New Year. With several deals on the table, 2015 has the potential to shape the global economic landscape for years to come.

Register here to learn how to ensure trade justice for God’s people in 2015.

Lori Wallach- Public Citizen Global Trade Watch
Rev. Jed Koball - Presbyterian Hunger Program, Joining Hands in Peru 
Catherine Gordon – Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness (Moderator)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Reflection for Epiphany

Light Shining in the Darkness
By Sue Smith, PEC Treasurer and GreenFaith Fellow

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and
    the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
    and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
    and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 
(Isaiah 60:1-3)

We have ended our season of expectation – the anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ. His is the light now shining on our world. This year, as we enter this season of Epiphany, darkness is covering the earth. We continue to experience environmental degradation while the countries of the world do not negotiate a strong climate agreement. Greenhouse gases continue to be released into the air; the rivers are polluted; the seas are rising; there is drought; there are floods.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we need to shine
his light. We need nations to come to our
light and kings to the brightness of our dawn. This season of Epiphany is the season Jesus did his ministry. Our ministry is needed to bring nations and kings together and take climate change seriously. We started with the People’s Climate March in September. It was an exciting day in New York City. The faith community was shining a light and lending a voice. But our ministry does not end with the Climate March. We need to hold vigils; we need to worship; we need to provide education; we need to pray. We need to take action.

As individuals we can pray, we can write letters and we can sign the petition addressed to the world leaders. We can be in community with others to urge our leaders to develop a strong climate change treaty, and most importantly to take action on behalf of God’s creation.

Rulers and kings need to hear our moral voice. We need to use that voice to call out for the health and well-being of the creation. We need to use that voice in worship and in song. As this season of Epiphany begins, shine your light on the darkness.

Prayer: Dear Lord, Give us strength to shine our light on your creation. Give kings and rulers ears to hear and wisdom to work together to negotiate a strong climate treaty. You created creation good. Help us to keep creation good. Be in our midst as we worship and minister in your name. Amen.

Contributor: Sue Smith is a member of First Presbyterian of Rumson, NJ. She is the Treasurer of Presbyterians for Earth Care and a GreenFaith Fellow. She is currently a student at New Brunswick Theological Seminary.