Sunday, May 18, 2014

Community Leaders, Students Rally Against Coal and Oil Projects, Investments

Hundreds of students join forces with community leaders to highlight opposition to local coal and oil projects, climate change

Photo by Paul Anderson
A large crowd of students, alumni, and Bellingham residents rallied behind leaders of the Lummi Nation at Western Washington University (WWU) in a demonstration Saturday intended to protest the school’s approximately $2 million investments in fossil fuel companies. The demonstration followed a presentation by Bill McKibben at the WWU Performing Arts Center.

The unexpected turnout highlighted the diverse community opposition to fossil fuel projects, including recent expansions of local crude-by-rail facilities and the proposed Cherry Point coal terminal. Students collected over 500 pledges from alumni and community members to withhold donations from the WWU Foundation until it commits to ending its investments in the coal, oil, and gas companies pursuing these projects.

“Where the coal port is being proposed is on top of a sacred village of ours called Xwe’chi’eXen,” said Jay Julius, a member of the Lummi Indian Business Council and fisherman, addressing the crowd. “For us, we are at ground zero … Our fishing grounds are protected under the United States Constitution. As indigenous, fish is our main source of food.”

Julius focused his remarks on the impacts of coal terminal proposal, water quality concerns, and climate change. “The consequences that future generations are going to suffer are at least something we could’ve at least stood up to, put our fists up, and took a stand for the human rights for us today and future generations.” Julius said.

Tribal leader and fisherman Jay Julius addresses the crowd.
“It was obvious from hearing our local community that the impacts of fossil fuels go beyond climate change,” said Eddy Ury, a Western senior and member of the Students for Renewable Energy, a campus group that organized the event. “I hope the university will stand with community leaders who are speaking out against the proposed impacts of coal and oil trains.”

The WWU Foundation decided this week to take up the divestment proposal, which has previously secured support from WWU’s student government. The decision will be followed with a series of meetings in the coming weeks between students and administration officials to further consider the proposal to end fossil fuel investments. On June 3rd, WWU Foundation representatives will meet with students leading the campaign and begin planning for action at their summer retreat.

“It really shows how if you come together as a community, and demand your institutions stand with you, it can have a meaningful impact,” said Jenny Godwin, a Western student who also participated in the demonstration. “It just doesn’t make sense financially to double down on a business plan dependent on building coal terminals and causing climate change.”

The Power Past Coal program is part of a regional coalition working to oppose coal exports along the west coast. Power Past Coal is a program of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities , a local nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the health of northwestern Washington’s people and ecosystems through application of science, education, advocacy and action. 

Power Past Coal has been working with student organizers since 2013 to support their effort to end Western’s investments in coal and other fossil fuels, and to highlight the impact the projects funded by fossil fuel investments have on communities like ours.