Religious leaders and activists made an important impact on yesterday’s Democratic primary in Massachusetts for Secretary of State John Kerry’s Senate seat.
There was one major difference between candidates Rep. Stephen Lynch and Rep. Ed Markey – Lynch initially favored construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and Markey steadfastly opposed it.
In case you’re just joining us, the debate over the Keystone XL Pipeline has global consequences. If the pipeline is completed, vast Canadian reserves of dirty tar sands oil will hit the international market at a time when we need to be drastically reducing our use of fossil fuels in order to curb the most catastrophic effects of the climate change crisis. And that’s to say nothing of the inevitable toxic spills that will happen along the route from northern Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico.
Lynch’s early support for this disastrous project sparked a strong response from local and national faith leaders. The evangelical-led Good Steward Campaign joined forces with Catholics United, Sojourners, American Values Network, Interfaith Power and Light, 350.org and local nuns and activists to organize opposition, gather tens of thousands of petition signatures and publicly speak out against the pipeline. Lynch (who ultimately lost anyway) subsequently walked back his support for this environmentally catastrophic pipeline.
Keystone in particular, and climate in general, are flying somewhat under the radar right now but will take center stage sooner or later. The fact that faith leaders are gearing up and speaking out now bodes well as the debate goes forward.
As we’ve noted before, the faith community has been working for years to put an end to mountaintop removal coal mining, a destructive practice that wreaks havoc on the environment and public health in the Appalachian region.
In Tennessee, activists have pushed for the passage of the Scenic Vistas Protection Act to restrict mountaintop removal in the state. Although the bill passed Tennessee’s Senate Environment Committee, its language was amended to weaken the implementation of the mountaintop removal ban.
The Rev. Gradye Parsons – currently serving as the highest elected official in the Presbyterian Church (USA) – wrote an impassioned editorial in the Tennessean yesterday, advocating for the Scenic Vistas Protection Act in its original form from the perspective of his Christian faith. As he puts it, opposing mountaintop removal is a matter of deep moral urgency:
“As a son of Tennessee and as a Christian, protecting God’s Creation is not merely environmentalism to me. It is a matter of faith. The book of Genesis teaches us that when God looked out at the created world, God saw that ‘it was very good.’ Furthermore, the psalmist tells us ‘the earth is Lord’s and all that is in it.’ We are called by our faith to care responsibly for the world that our Creator has made, and to do justice for our neighbors. Mountaintop removal, by damaging God’s creation and the well-being of our brothers and sisters, runs contrary to our Christian obligation to each other and to our environment.”
Rev. Parsons points out that the Presbyterian Church (USA) formally condemned mountaintop removal in 2006. At least five other national Christian denominations have also passed resolutions against the practice. It’s encouraging to see the faith community unite on important environmental issues, especially when those issues are articulated in clear moral terms.
With an eye toward ending the cycle of devastation that has become all too familiar in the Gulf Coast, over 140 faith leaders (including FPL’s own Executive Director, Jennifer Butler) called on Senators Reid and McConnell to pass the RESTORE Act and return a sense of economic self-sufficiency to the people of the Gulf Coast
As faith leaders, almost two years after the largest oil spill in our nation’s history, we continue to lament lost jobs and food security, and the on-going physical and mental health challenges facing so many of our brothers and sisters across America’s Gulf Coast. God’s creation groans from the oil and chemical contaminants that still permeate the beaches, wetlands and waters upon which so many rely for survival. Now more than ever, we need the leadership of the U.S. Congress to ensure that Gulf Coast communities, economies and God’s creation do not undertake this recovery unaided. We are writing in support of the legislation before the U.S. Senate, the RESTORE Act, S. 1400, a bipartisan response which we believe is rooted in the values of peace, economic fairness, and stewardship of creation.
We urge you to do what is best for the Gulf Coast – and for all Americans – by working to guarantee that the oil spill response effort is comprehensive, effective, and just, meeting the needs of those suffering today while laying a foundation for long-term restoration and renewal.
While BP reached a settlement with for some individuals and businesses for economic losses and medical claims last Friday, there is still a need to hold BP responsible for the environmental destruction left in the wake of 4.9 million barrels of oil spilling into the Gulf. Although Clean Water Act fines are expected to total over $21 billion, that money can only be directed for ecosystem restoration if Congress passes the RESTORE Act.
This bill is a unique opportunity to empower state and regional agencies to restore the Gulf’s economy and ecosystem. No matter how much faith communities advocate for justice in the Gulf, without the passage of critical legislation struggling communities will once again be denied justice.
The Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) has been an outspoken and prophetic advocate for common-sense environmental regulations, especially measures that would curb toxic mercury emissions which can be extremely harmful to a developing fetus.
They’ve been running a major campaign to urge Members of Congress to support these regulations as a way of protecting both God’s creation and human lives. According to Alexei Laushkin of EEN, “We believe protecting the unborn from mercury poisoning is a consistent pro-life position.”
Unfortunately, some on the Religious Right would rather stand with partisans decrying “big government” than stand up for children and pregnant women when it comes to mercury emissions. According to The Hill, several dozen Religious Right organizations are challenging EEN’s campaign, saying “most environmental causes promoted as pro-life involve little threat to human life itself, and no intent to kill anyone.”
The article goes on to point out that “mercury harms the nervous systems of children exposed in the womb and can impair learning and early development, among other harms associated with emissions of the toxic substance, according to EPA.”
It’s sadly all too predictable to see Religious Right figures clamoring to defend conservative ideology and score partisan points, even at the expense of the lives they claim to defend. I’m glad to see EEN standing strong in the face of this cynical criticism.
Earlier this week, Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) spoke at the March for Life rally on the National Mall saying among other things “as a father of four and a grandfather of 5, I know how precious life is.” Then later that day, he blasted new Environmental Protection Agency regulations that for the first time require coal-fired plants to limit toxic mercury pollutants directly linked to fetal disease, death and serious illness in children.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops touted the new mercury and air toxic standards as “an important step forward to protect the health of all people, especially unborn babies and young children.” Bishop Stephen Blaire, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, noted that it’s just “good sense to want to have clean air for our children and families to breath and for future generations.”
Along with Catholic bishops, a diverse range of faith leaders – including more than 100 evangelical pastors and the president of the National Association of Evangelicals – pushed for reasonable controls on these deadly toxins.
But Rep. Johnson’s pro-life commitment apparently stops at the coal lobbyists’door. Here’s what he said on the floor of Congress:
Mr. Speaker, here’s the simple truth. The Obama administration is driven by a far-left liberal ideology rather than the facts. This administration says it wants to put America back to work, but through its policies is doing right the opposite.
For example, because of the EPA’s new train wreck of regulation, up to 160 direct jobs will be lost with the accelerated closure of Beverly, Ohio’s Muskingham coal-fired power plant. This train wreck of regulation is the most expensive regulation that the EPA has ever mandated. These costs will ultimately be passed on to hard-working families in the form of higher utility rates. This new disastrous regulation will also cost southern Ohio many indirect jobs related to the coal industry. No matter how you look at it, the president has declared war on the coal industry and the jobs that go with it.
It’s cynical politics and a false choice to ask Americans to choose between jobs and public health. Is our nation really incapable of growing our economy without harming pregnant women, infants and children? Rep. Johnson (who counts the mining and electric utilities industries as two of his top five campaign contributors) and other self-identified pro-life members of Congress should get off the soap box and ask what they are really doing to protect children and families. Soaring rhetoric at a rally isn’t enough.