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.
President Obama’s decision yesterday to reject a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline came as great news for progressives around the country who have been working to stop this dangerous project from getting started.
As we documented last year, people of faith have been a key, visible part of this coalition and were particularly excited about the news.
Rose Marie Berger, a Sojourners associate editor and organizer for the Tar Sands religious witness, who said:
“President Obama campaigned as a man who understood the crisis of global warming. He told us that he understood that climate change kills the poor first, as we’ve seen recently with the typhoon in the Philippines. Today he’s demonstrated that he can actually take substantive steps in leading America to meet that challenge. He pushed back on “too big to fail” oil and energy companies. He pushed back on foolish partisan bullying. He stood up as the leader that many elected him to be.
“The fight doesn’t end here – because abusive corporations don’t stop just because their permit was denied—but today we know that our president can also be our leader. We look forward to a future of job production that any American will be proud to be involved in—jobs in an industry that is producing clean energy and protects rather than poisons God’s good earth.”
Brian McLaren, Author and Speaker, who said:
“If Jesus were here today, I think he just might say something like, “humanity shall not live by oil alone.” Today, our president showed that there are values above corporate profits. Thanks to him and all who stood up for the common good beyond short-term oil money and towards a clean energy economy with sustainable jobs.”
In an important story that hasn’t gained much national attention yet, New York state is in the middle of a heated debate about whether to open up vast western areas of the state to hydrofracking for natural gas. Last week, the state Department of Environmental Conservation closed the public comment period on a study of the environmental impact of this destructive form of drilling, pushing the issue into local headlines.
A coalition of faith leaders from MICAH (Moving in Congregations Acting in Hope) and antipollution advocates affiliated with GDACC (Gas Drilling Awareness of Cortland County) contributed an important perspective by holding a press conference that lifted up the moral dimension of the issue and released a new poll showing a majority of residents oppose hydrofracking. Here’s some local coverage:
I spoke extensively last week with leaders of the movement to protect their communities from the soil, air and water contamination that hydrofracking causes. They were dedicated and well-informed, pointing out that the DEC’s study ignored many key aspects of hydrofracking’s impact (for example, it didn’t even explore public health impacts). These clergy and activists were also motivated by faith to insert a needed moral voice to the debate on an issue with serious health, environmental and economic consequences.
People of faith have been working for years to stop coal mining companies’ destructive practice of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia, which has caused environmental and public health disasters across the region. As the Tennessee legislative session begins, congregations across the state have joined together for 40 days of prayer to alert their elected officials to their concerns and prevent the mining of peaks above 2,000 feet.
Despite the uphill battle that Tennessee residents face against these powerful corporate special interests, the activists and local residents were stunningly clear in their conviction that their faith calls them to restore the pristine condition of the water and air quality in the region.
The way we love the creator of the universe is to love the creation,” said Pastor Ryan Bennett [who also] says the environment may not be the first thing you’d think [of] from a pew, but here it’s a grassroots issue firmly planted in faith. “It’s sort of like a David and Goliath sort of scenario. We’re volunteers. We don’t know what we’re doing, but we believe that God is with us.
Tennesseans are surely in a “David and Goliath” scenario with coal mining companies, but they have the support of a wide array of faith groups. At least six national Christian denominations have passed resolutions condemning mountaintop removal mining and are united in their efforts to raise awarenessof these exploitative practices among their congregations.
With local residents and the environment left defenseless in the face of mining companies that have virtually unlimited rights and minimal supervision of their environmental practices, mining laws must be updated to protect more than just the interests of powerful mining companies. Thanks to these Tennesseans and groups around the country, residents will not be left to fight these devastating consequences alone.