Although Mormons call Utah their promised land, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has rarely taken a stand in defense of its environment. Recently, however, the highest echelon of the church threw a protective arm around the state by opposing a nuclear waste storage site near Salt Lake City.
In a three-sentence statement issued in May, the church raised public health, safety and environmental concerns, rejected placing the burden for the nation’s nuclear waste on one area, and asked the government to find options for waste disposal.
The controversial storage site on the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation is awaiting final federal approval (HCN, 3/6/06: Wilderness: The new anti-nuclear weapon).
The only other time the church spoke out on an issue affecting the environment was 25 years ago, when it denounced the deployment of the MX nuclear missile in Utah. The church’s opposition is widely credited with helping to stop the planned nuclear base. Its 1981 statement expounded on the church’s role as steward of the earth. This time, in a much shorter declaration, church leaders did not elucidate their reasons for speaking out.
The church’s stance on environmental issues can dramatically change the quality of life in Utah, according to George Handley, a Brigham Young University professor who co-edited Stewardship and the Creation: LDS Perspectives on the Environment. Handley says he looks forward to the day when the church has a formal policy on environmental stewardship.
In 1998, the church assured its members that it was OK to be a Democrat; green-minded Mormons are still waiting to hear that it’s OK to be an environmentalist (HCN, 12/22/03: Being green in the land of the Saints).