A couple of weeks ago, an activist/writer friend prepared for hip replacement surgery. Just before she entered the hospital, she shared this insight:
“Today it occurred to me how important it is to me to STAND. To stand for something true and eternal. To stand up to lies and those who spread them. To stand with those who are being abused. Standing is deep in my language of integrity and courage and love. And I have not been able to physically stand for very long for quite a while! This is what my new hip will be for. Courage. And dancing.”
So far, both of my hips are strong and support me to stand without pain or fatigue. Earlier this week, I gave them a test as I joined Friends of the San Juans to lobby, rally, and stand for the Salish Sea at the Washington State capitol in Olympia.
The Salish Sea is 5500 square miles of inland waters that include Washington State’s Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the San Juan Islands, as well as British Columbia’s Gulf Islands and the Strait of Georgia. Those waters swirl around my home on Lopez Island. The name, adopted in 2009 by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, recognizes and pays tribute to the first inhabitants of the region, the Coast Salish.
While politically the Salish Sea is governed by the US and Canada, the international boundary separating the two countries is invisible to marine fish and wildlife. Species listed as threatened or endangered under the US Endangered Species Act or the Canadian Species at Risk Act include Southern Resident killer whales (orcas). Additionally, some ecologically significant species of Pacific salmon cross the boundary daily.
So. Why does the Salish Sea need us to stand? And why now?
Oil transport between the US and Canada poses health and environmental risks to the Salish Sea and surrounding communities. Canada has approved expansion of the Kinder Morgan transmountain pipeline, which would deliver “dil bit,” diluted bitumen (sticky tar sands oil mixed with volatile organic diluents, including benzene), from Alberta, Canada to Burnaby, near Vancouver, B.C. Now that the US government has lifted a ban on crude oil shipments, some of the oil will also be delivered via an existing spur pipeline to the BP refinery at Cherry Point, near Bellingham, Washington, where the oil will be loaded onto tankers for export.
Due to the pipeline expansion, it’s expected that crude oil tanker vessel traffic in these waters will increase sevenfold, with each tanker holding more than 25 million gallons of oil. With this rise in traffic, the likelihood of a spill will increase dramatically as well. A tar sands oil spill will be far worse than the Exxon Valdez or the Deepwater Horizon spills because diluted bitumen is a thick and viscous oil that sinks and thus cannot be cleaned up. Both the Coast Guard and the National Academy of Sciences have confirmed that oil spill response agencies lack the methods and technologies to adequately clean up tar sands oil and to protect first responders from toxic chemicals.
I’ve been on a steep learning curve about this issue, and the more I learn, the greater are my worries for public health/safety and environmental health. So worried I decided to stand up with 200 people (and a few whales and salmon) on the steps of the capitol.
And meet with legislators like my own state senator, Kevin Ranker, to urge support of SB 5462 concerning oil transportation safety. Both Kevin and the bill’s sponsor, Senator Reuven Carlyle, are champions for the Salish Sea, recognizing its importance for Washington’s maritime economy, the endangered orcas and salmon, and the inadequate requirements for financial responsibility of oil transporters. State Representatives like Kelly Lytton understand these risks, too, and are working to pass safety measures in HB 1611. It appears that the wide range of standing up activities helped; Substitute HB 1611 was accepted by the House Environment Committee and will now proceed to the full House of Representatives. The Senate Energy Committee is expected to act later this month.
Writer and Salish Sea resident Gail Kretchmer was also in Olympia this week and blogged about lobbying to protect what you love:
“The environment is my current hot topic, but whatever it is you love—whether it’s killer whales, justice for immigrants, freedom for all, or something else entirely—there’s no better time than now to call, write, and/or visit your legislative representatives to tell your story and ask for their help. Trust me: you’ll be glad you did.”
I am glad that I joined Gail and over 60 others from San Juan County for Salish Sea Stands. And I found it so invigorating and hope-building that I’ll return to Olympia next week for Quaker Lobby Day.
My friend with the new hip? She’s doing well; in between physical therapy and pain medication, she’s organizing and urging others to stand. For courage… and dancing.
*Salish Sea Stands photos by Katie Fleming, Friends of the San Juans