Think Nothing Is Happening in Washington? It’s Decision Time on Climate

By Joey Longley 2-19-2014
Photo by Joey Longley / Sojourners
California Rep. Henry Waxman speaks in front of protestors. Photo by Joey Longley / Sojourners

Don’t let the media tell you that nothing is going to happen in Washington this year. Sure, Congress may be gridlocked on major legislation as we approach midterm elections, but key decisions are set to be made that will define President Barack Obama’s legacy on climate change. In the coming months, the Environmental Protection Agency is finalizing carbon pollution standards for both new and existing power plants, and the Obama administration will make a final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.

Because the impacts of climate change, such as drought, more severe weather, flooding, and crop devastation, are more harmful to the world’s poor, these decisions will affect the lives of vulnerable people everywhere. As a Christian, I cannot sit idly by while God’s children are suffering from the devastating effects of irresponsible environmental degradation. I am joining with other people of faith in articulating the moral urgency of caring for God’s creation.

The EPA’s rule for carbon emissions from new power plants was published in the Federal Register on Jan. 8. The EPA is accepting public comments on the rule, and they also held a public hearing at their headquarters, to which hundreds came to testify.

Nick Mullins, a coal miner from Berea, Ky., gave first-hand testimony of his experience in the coal industry at a news conference on the day of the testimony.

“The cost of the coal industry was higher than battered bodies and dirty lungs,” said Mullins. “We drank poisoned water and we eviscerated mountains. We need change in Appalachia.”

In addition to the new EPA standards, the Obama administration will make a decision in the coming months on the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline stretches from the tar sands of Hardisty, Alberta in Canada to the Gulf Coast in the United States. The extraction of the tar sands for energy is much more damaging to the environment than the already dirty extraction of conventional oil. Large areas of toxic waste will replace the beautiful ecosystem currently in Canada, in addition to more greenhouse gases polluting the atmosphere.

The climate crisis is a morally urgent issue. A growing number of faith leaders are lifting up their voices in response to the growing challenges they see in their community because of climate change. On Feb. 6, 20 people of faith testified at the EPA in response to the agency’s new carbon standard for new power plants. On Feb. 3, Rev. Lennox Yearwood emceed a 200-person protest of the Keystone XL pipeline outside the White House, one of about 300 protests happening nationwide. The leaders raising their voices on these issues underscore the growth of the “environmental” movement in the last several years. Those fighting climate change include growing numbers of African-Americans, Latinos, and faith leaders from all traditions.

The reason that the climate movement has grown beyond your typical environmentalists lies beyond the science of climate change. People of faith and other nontraditional voices are getting involved because climate change hurts God’s children.

More than 80,000 tons of coal ash has been spilled into the Dan River in North Carolina, leaving the river with dangerously high levels of arsenic and lead. That hurts God’s children.

Climate change and air pollution have been linked to the 17 percent increase in asthma cases in the United States since 2001. That hurts God’s children.

The construction of the Keystone XL pipeline will likely lead to toxic spills in the communities that surround the pipeline. That hurts God’s children.

President Obama and his administration are going to make crucial decisions in the next months that will affect generations to come. I’m proud to be one of the people of faith speaking out against the injustice of unchecked climate pollution. You can join us by adding your comment on the EPA’s rule here.

Joey Longley is Communications Assistant for Sojourners.

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