Faith Leaders Speak; the EPA Listens

By Joey Longley 11-08-2013
Joey Longley/Sojourners

EPA staff listening to faith leaders on carbon emission standards. Joey Longley/Sojourners

The Environmental Protection Agency held listening sessions Thursday to hear from the public about a forthcoming rule about carbon emissions from existing power plants. More than 20 faith leaders spoke on behalf of those Jesus called “the least of these.” In addition to such faith leaders as Rev. Dottie Yunger and Interfaith Power & Light’s Joelle Novey, other parties, from pro-coal Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and coal lobbyist Mike Carey to the Sierra Club’s Leslie Fields and League of Conservation Voters’ Gene Karpinski, were on hand to testify.  Those testifying had three minutes apiece to voice their views on what the new rule on emissions should look like. 

Prior to the testimonies, more than 20 faith leaders assembled outside of the EPA to pray that God’s creation would be restored. Organized by Creation Justice Ministries and Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light, the vigil featured songs of hallelujah and peace. Novey read a Jewish prayer for travelers, asking God to lead us into safety.

After the worship service, the faith leaders joined a diverse audience to testify to the EPA about the importance of battling climate change. I saw five faith leaders speak, reminding the agency that they not only have a technocratic responsibility to create a stringent rule limiting carbon emissions, but also a moral responsibility to do so. 

Marco Grimaldo of the Virginia Interfaith Center, connected the problems of climate change with the 22nd chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, which calls believers to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbors as themselves. Grimaldo said that if he is going to be faithful to God, he needs to care about his neighbors in Richmond who have the highest rate of asthma in the country, and he also needs to care about easing the burdens of a shifting economy when coal workers in Western Virginia lose their jobs. 

Grimaldo’s point is so easily lost in the noise of politics today. The climate debate has been centered on a false choice between retaining jobs and caring for the earth. What Grimaldo reminds us is that we need to care not only for the earth, but to be realistic in remembering that our economy will have to transition from a carbon-based economy to a green energy economy. This won’t be a perfect transition and, as Christians, we need to care for those who have worked in the coal industry their entire lives and advocate for job retraining programs, education, and continued benefits. 

Liz Schmitt, Sojourners Creation Care associate, also spoke about the effect that our own sin has on the environment and the people who live on Earth.  

“Climate change is one of the biggest moral challenges we face today; it is the destruction of God’s good creation by our own wastefulness,” Schmitt said. “As Christians, we are called to faithfully steward the creation and protect the wellbeing of our poor and vulnerable.”

Faith leaders were not only realistic about the dire situation that climate change presents, but also hopeful about the future and the opportunity that climate change presents to demonstrate the grace God offers us all. This moment is an opportunity for the EPA to be serious about the threat that climate change presents and be a global leader when it comes to power plant emission standards. 

Faith leaders also joined environmental activists at the National Press Club for Thursday’s press conference highlighting the need for a strong rule from the EPA.

With strong support in the faith community, the critical mass of people needed to create the political will to fix climate change is closer than ever. As the Apostle Paul says in Romans, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.”

May we act and pray to see God move to restore a groaning earth.  

Joey Longley is the Communications Assistant at Sojourners.


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