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Christian Leaders Chastise President Bush's
'Clean Air' Policy as Immoral
Campaign Launches with Letter to President Bush from US Christian Leaders
April 22, Washington, D.C. - With a major mobilization of its base, U.S. Christian leaders are using their clout to call attention to the Bush Administration’s "clean air" policy that they say goes against Christian principles of stewardship and care for God’s creation and God’s children.
In a letter sent today to President Bush, nearly 100 national and state Christian leaders in the country, representing millions of congregants, expressed grave moral concern and dismay over the President’s stewardship of America’s environment and the implications for Americans’ health - particularly for children, women and the elderly.
“Ever since taking office, the Administration has weakened critical health standards, especially the Clean Air Act,” said Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, whose 36 member denominations count 45 million adherents in more than 100,000 congregations nationwide.
Edgar, one of the faith leaders who signed the letter to the President, added that President Bush “says that moral values are a cornerstone in this Administration, but this Administration is failing the call to protect God’s children. As our Bible teaches us, whatever one fails to do to the humblest of our brothers and sisters, one fails to do to God (Matthew 25:45).”
Citing passages from the Bible such as “defend the poor and the orphan; do justice to the afflicted and the needy” (Psalm 82:3), the letter highlights Christian values of protecting God’s creation, caring for one’s neighbor, and protecting the least fortunate among us. Other signatures include those of Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, Ecumenical Officer, Council of Bishops, The United Methodist Church and the Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley, General Secretary of the American Baptist Churches (U.S.A.)
Their concerns also are reflected in a national advertisement set to run in The New York Times, calling on President Bush to stop dismantling the New Source Review (NSR) provisions of the Clean Air Act and to vigorously enforce the integrity of the Act, to protect public health against mercury pollution, and to include carbon among the pollutants regulated from power plant emissions.
Religious Americans from across the country have joined national religious leaders in a growing concern over the quality of the air they breathe. Over 100,000 congregations have received a resource titled “Life-giving Breath of God: Protecting the Sacred Gift of Air” (available on-line at www.nccecojustice.org), resulting in a coordinated national congregational effort to celebrate Earth Day Sunday on April 25.
Sunday services will include liturgy praising the “Creator God, the ruler of the sky,” and study pieces on the state of air quality that includes ideas for personal and congregational actions. Congregants will also be called to pressure the president to strengthen air quality standards. In addition to congregational efforts, nearly 4,000 local religious leaders have signed “A Call for Power Plant Cleanup” that applies moral principles of justice and stewardship and concludes with: “Cleaning up dirty power plants that cause harmful pollution must therefore be a policy priority.”
“These are moral values shared by millions of people across America,” Edgar added. “Yet the Bush Administration continues to prioritize the interests of polluting energy corporations over the health and well-being of God’s children.”
According to information recently released by the Environmental Protection Agency, more than half of Americans live in or around areas where air pollution levels exceed clean air standards. Most of them are minority groups from low-income families who often lack the means to relocate to cleaner, environmentally safer neighborhoods and have limited access to health care.
President Bush’s record on the environment has repeatedly come under fire not only from environmentalists, but from leading scientists as well as other Republicans. In February, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a statement signed by dozens of scientists, medical experts, and Nobel laureates questioning the integrity of the scientific research behind administration environment policies, and leading U.S. Senators sent a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Leavitt asking him not to stall expected implementation of mercury protections from dirty power plants.
Following is the full text of the April 22 letter to President Bush:
* * * *
In a spirit of shared faith and respect, we feel called to express grave moral concern about your “Clear Skies” initiative --- which we believe is The Administration’s continuous effort to weaken critical environmental standards that protect God’s creation. Our concern over the “Clear Skies” initiative follows our strong disapproval over your Administration’s decision to change federal air pollution rules that weaken "New Source Review" provisions of the Clean Air Act -- allowing some of the country's biggest polluting facilities to avoid installing air pollution-control equipment when they significantly increase polluting emissions.
We do not come to these positions casually, nor are we alone in our views. A growing number of religious Americans have come to recognize a solemn obligation to measure environmental policies against biblically mandated standards for stewardship and justice.
Respected scientific estimates, some by the federal government itself, cause us to question whether this “Clear Skies” proposal meets fundamental moral responsibilities as set out by the Bible.
The book of Genesis records that God beholds creation as “very good” (Genesis 3:1) and commands us to “till and tend the garden” (Genesis 2:15).
Protection of the global climate is an essential requirement for faithful human stewardship of God’s creation on Earth. Our own National Academy of Sciences --- joining an overwhelming scientific consensus --- concluded in 2001 that carbon emissions from power plants are significantly contributing to the increase in global warming. Yet, your initiative pointedly does not set mandatory standards of reduction for these emissions. A multi-pollutant approach must address all significant emissions from power plants, including carbon emissions.
Clean air is as essential to life as a stable climate. Yet the Environmental Protection Agency reports that millions of Americans live in areas that have been deemed unhealthy to breathe. Power plants are the single greatest source of industrial air pollution in the nation. The American Lung Association asserts that the attainment of reductions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury that would take effect under the existing Clean Air Act will be delayed for years if “Clear Skies” is adopted by Congress.
Our Bible sets forth a paramount obligation to “defend the poor and the orphan; do justice to the afflicted and the needy” (Psalms 82:3) and calls us to “satisfy the needs of the afflicted, [and] then your light shall rise in the darkness” (Isaiah 58: 10).
Poor people, who have limited access to health care; senior citizens, who may have compromised immune systems; and children, who pound for pound breathe 50 percent more air pollution than adults, are disproportionately hurt by air pollution. Epidemiological studies from leading health scientists have shown that air pollution from power plants increases respiratory distress, asthma attacks, visits to the emergency room and even premature death. Again, Mr. President, we question the rationale of delaying power plant pollution reductions by the enactment of your “Clear Skies” initiative, as the American Lung Association has pointed out, rather than simply enforcing the reduction attainments of the Clean Air Act. This means more trips to the emergency room, more asthma attacks, more chronic bronchitis and more premature death, with the greatest impact falling on those least able to defend themselves: the poor, the elderly, and our children.
We are reminded that “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1). And we are also reminded that a nation is judged for its transgressions “because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals” (Amos 6:2).
The private use of creation’s bounty must serve the needs of all God’s children. Yet we are concerned that powerful corporate interests have had disproportionate influence in shaping and reaping benefits from a clean air program which should serve the common good.
Finally, we have a solemn duty to the future well-being of Earth and all life within it, “the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature for perpetual generations…” (Genesis 9:12).
Yet we believe that the Administration’s energy, clean air and climate change programs prolong our dependence on fossil fuels, which are depleting Earth’s resources, poisoning its climate, punishing the poor, constricting sustainable economic growth, and jeopardizing global security and peace.
We represent broad perspectives from communities of faith. We do not seek confrontation. But we believe there are reasonable and prudent alternatives to the course you have set. And, in light of fundamental mandates of scripture, we believe we must bring forward our perspectives to members of our respective communities and denominations.
We have written previously to you voicing our concerns on these important issues. We now request an opportunity to meet with you in person to discuss our concerns.
Related NCC News Story: NCC Earth Day Sunday 2004.
Download the NCC Earth Day Sunday 2004 Resource.
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