The Common Good

'Fiddling While the World Burns:' A Faithful Response to Partisan Gridlock

Last week, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million – nearly 15 percent over what many scientists estimate is a safe level. Amid this and other crises in creation, the Environmental Protection Agency needs a strong leader to navigate the complex policy and economic situation that governs environmental policy.

In March, In March, President Barack Obama nominated Gina McCarthy to lead the EPA. At the time, many regarded her as a shoo-in, as she has held top posts under Republican governors, was endorsed by many in the energy industry, and has acted as assistant administrator of the EPA under President Obama since 2009.

It was surprising, then, when all eight Republican members of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee decided to boycott McCarthy’s nomination hearing. This surprise decision, which effectively canceled the vote, was part of a longer-term pattern of obstruction and partisanship on once-routine matters.

In the face of such unprecedented risk to human health and well-being, many were surprised that senators tasked with studying issues of clean air, clean water, and similar issues put ideology ahead of fairness in obstructing the vote. Sen. David Vitter, the leader of the obstructionist group, said it best himself in 2005 when discussing judicial appointments: “I think that every nominee deserves a vote. It’s a matter of fairness.”

Many Sojourners readers sprang into action to call on the boycotting senators to attend the confirmation hearing. Calling on these members to end their political games and stop “fiddling while the world burns,” Sojourners joined with many other groups in calling for a fair hearing.

Thankfully, the eight members decided to end their boycott, and on Thursday, Gina McCarthy was approved by the committee. While we were sad to see that the conversation was not always civil and the Republican members exercised their right to vote “no,” at least the process will now move forward.  

Environmental stewardship should not fall victim to Washington’s ideological gridlock. The common good demands that members of Congress evaluate nominees based solely on their qualifications for their positions.

Thanks to people of faith who are watching and speaking up for the care of creation, Gina McCarthy’s nomination will now proceed to the entire Senate floor. By calling on Congress to work for the common good, we can help make sure that partisanship does not override protecting our environment and ensuring the health of future generations.

Janelle Tupper is Campaigns Assistant for Sojourners. Follow Sojourner Creation Care @SojoCreation.

Image: Gina McCarthy, Public Domain, U.S. Government via Wikimedia Commons

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