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By Christina Colón 10-31-2018

More than 100 faith groups sent a letter to President Trump on Tuesday denouncing the administration's rollbacks of environmental regulations.

“At the outset of this current administration, faith communities outlined to the Administration our shared principles of stewardship, sustainability, justice, and dialogue, as well as environmental policy recommendations that adhered to these principles,” the letter read. “Unfortunately, these principles and policy recommendations have not been heeded.”

Since taking office, Trump has been rapidly dismantling environmental protections established under President Obama. In the letter, the 132 faith organizations referenced the “senseless rollback of over 70 crucial environmental safeguards,” many of which protect vulnerable communities.

In August, the administration announced plans to move forward with its replacement of the Clean Power Plan — a 2015 rule produced by the Obama administration to curb the rampant release of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The proposed replacement, known as the Affordable Clean Energy proposal, was swiftly met with criticism from environmentalists, community organizers, and faith leaders.

“Why not just go back to using whale oil?” Bill McKibben, author and founder of the climate group 350.org, told Sojourners at the time of the announcement. “If the Trump administration had tried to come up with a more unjust and backward way to deal with climate change, I doubt they could have.”

Now with the 60-day comment window on the proposal coming to a close, faith leaders are raising their voices — and pens — to ensure the administration knows that it will be held accountable.

“With each environmental safeguard that is unraveled, our moral standing as a nation is diminished,” the groups state in the letter. “The result is direct harm to the environment and vulnerable communities — communities that we serve and of which we are members.”

Rev. Susan Hendershot, president of Interfaith Power & Light, understands the rollbacks to be a matter of justice that demands the use of “prophetic voice to protect those who are most vulnerable.”

“When we love God and neighbor, we advocate for solutions to climate change, solutions such as those included in these EPA standards,” she said referencing Matthew 22. “Ultimately that is why we chose to sign on to this letter. It’s about continuing to stand up for work for the kind of world in which we want to live.”

For Shantha Ready Alonso, executive director of Creation Care Ministries, the decision to sign the letter was not only an effort to protect impacted communities, but also a matter of adhering to the gospel.

“The gospel call to care for the most vulnerable is clear,” Alonso said. “Yet children, communities of color, and people living in poverty get hit first and worst by loss of protections for water, land, and air … When looking through the eyes of the Almighty Creator who intends abundance for all, policies that put profits above basic health and safety for people are scandal.”

The letter was clear in outlining the impending impact of the administration’s rollbacks — even going so far as to quote the administration’s own data, which projects 13,900 premature deaths and a rise in heart attacks, asthma, and allergies. The organizations also pointed to the increasing threat of climate change and extreme weather, citing hurricanes, rising sea levels, and desertification.

“These decisions are profound and their consequences will be felt for years to come, burdening future generations that we have a moral responsibility to provide for,” the letter stated.

Joan Brown, a Catholic Franciscan sister and executive director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, said that in New Mexico they are already bearing the brunt of climate change.

“Our ‘sister’ water is being disregarded by polluting industries [and] our ‘brother’ air is being violated with methane pollution waste from the oil and gas industry,” she said. “The multiple disregards of human and earth life are taking a toll on the health of our children.”

Brown added that climate change has driven many immigrants and refugees to New Mexico, fleeing countries where changing terrains and weather patterns have led to an inability to grow food.

“Our common home requires us to speak out,” Brown concluded. “We must shed light upon these atrocities against life. People of faith and conscience coming from a deep spiritual place can make a difference together.”

Mirele Goldsmith of the Jewish Climate Action Network also sees her organization’s response as a faithful one.

“Jews are taught that ‘anyone who destroys a life is considered by scripture to have destroyed an entire world; and anyone who saves a life is as if he saved an entire world,’” she said. “Regulatory rollbacks that are predicted to lead to thousands of preventable deaths and, in the case of climate change, will undermine the natural systems that sustain the entire world, are an affront to our Jewish beliefs.”

The letter concluded with one demand: reverse the rollbacks.

Emily Wirzba of The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), a Quaker lobbying group in Washington, D.C., said that members of Congress “have a moral obligation to promote good stewardship of our resources and protect the ecosystems upon which we rely.” She added that that in signing the letter, FCNL is “both urging leaders to change course and illustrating to [their] network the human impact of these regulatory rollbacks.”

While the demand is clear, Hendershot sees the letter not as the end, but as a continuation of faithful advocacy.

“I wish I could say that I hope that the EPA administrator will have a change of heart, and withdraw the proposed rules that roll back these safeguards,” she said. “More realistically, my hope is that our faith-based organizations will continue to stand by one another as we use our prophetic voices to inspire and equip people of faith to take action.”

Christina Colón (@CJaneColon) is an Assistant Web Editor at Sojourners.

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