Monthly Archives: January 2014

“Job-Killing” Environmental Regulation? (Part 2)

Yesterday, I took a close look at Speaker John Boehner’s answer to the call for better regulation of polluters, after Freedom Industries’ disastrous chemical spill in West Virginia. Boehner declared that we already have enough laws to protect Americans from pollution, and that those regulations kill American jobs. I borrowed heavily from the work of Christians for the Mountains and their response to the spill that contaminated the drinking water for 300,000 West Virginians.

In the end, we saw that there was little, if any, regulation of the infamous West Virginia polluter, due partly to inadequate laws, and partly to the Congressional de-funding of regulators. And we showed that there are many ways to kill jobs and depress the economy, including poisoning the environment.

I thought I had pretty much exhausted the links between Freedom Industries and cynical claims about “job-killing regulation.” That was until Allen Johnson, leader of Christians for the Mountains, sent me a couple of pictures that he snapped while driving by Freedom Industries the other day. Here’s the first:

obamanojobszonewestvaplanetgore91912Nothing too unusual about this. The coal industry plasters highway billboards all over Appalachia bewailing efforts to develop renewable energy or to make them pay some of the costs of their pollution. Since coal is no longer competitive with natural gas or wind for electric power generation – regardless of regulation – it’s not surprising that they would be looking for someone to blame for their diminished status. The President and the EPA are easy targets.

But let’s pan the picture out a bit:

Picture2Recognize those white tanks in the background? That’s Freedom Industries! Those are the guys who contaminated the Elk River, poisoned the drinking water for 300,000 people, and virtually shut down the largest city in West Virginia! And this sign, accusing the EPA of killing jobs, sits smack on their property.

I wonder if anyone has begun counting the cost of Freedom Industries’ unregulated chemical spill. How deeply West Virginia’s economy has been harmed? How many jobs have been destroyed? How many small businesses – restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries and such – will shut their doors for good? How many people and businesses are cancelling plans to move to Charleston? And in the future, how many people will lose their health due to the lasting impact of these toxins in the environment?

We all know that every business would be better off – in the near term – if someone else would pick up the tab, or quietly suffer the consequences of their messes. But that’s no way to run a just economy. And when we pray “Thy kingdom come … on earth …” we’re praying – at a bare minimum – for a just economy.

J. Elwood

“Job-Killing” Environmental Regulations: Faith or Fact?

West Virginian Allen Johnson just wrote a fabulous – if disturbing – piece on the toxic chemical spill that contaminated drinking water for 300,000 people living in his state. The now-toxic Elk River, West Virginia’s previously last remaining unpolluted waterway, flows through the heart of Charleston, and eventually empties into the Ohio, where millions more await the chemical onslaught downstream. Johnson, on behalf of Christians for the Mountains, details the almost total lack of regulation of coal-related toxic chemicals in the Mountain State, and the GOP’s current “anti-poverty bill” that would further weaken enforcement of the Clean Water Act.

Allen Johnson, Christians for the Mountains

Allen Johnson, Christians for the Mountains

With so many Americans suffering the loss of clean drinking water, and the prospect of yet another toxic river, we’ve heard many voices calling for stricter regulation of toxic chemicals in storage near waterways. But House Speaker John Boehner doesn’t think this is such a good idea.

“We have enough regulations on the books,” said Boehner last week. “Why wasn’t this plant inspected since 1991? I am entirely confident that there are ample regulations already on the books to protect the health and safety of the American people. What we try to do is look at those regulations that we think are cumbersome, are over the top, and that are costing the economy jobs. That’s where our focus continues to be.”

So there you have it in a nutshell. Enough regulation already! In fact, we’re rolling back “cumbersome” regulations that are costing jobs. Those job-killing regulations.

Okay, we’ve heard this theme before. But have we really given much thought to the assumptions the Speaker is making? The first is clear: existing regulations are good enough to protect our water and our citizens. And the second: Cumbersome regulations kill American jobs. But do these hold water? Let’s take a closer look.

Are Existing Regulations Really Good Enough?

You’d think that a facility storing huge vats of toxic chemicals just upstream of a public utility’s water intake would be subject to all kinds of inspections and oversight, wouldn’t you? But the Elk River facility hadn’t been inspected by either state or federal authorities since 1991, when it was used by a former owner for other purposes. So, who was sleeping on the job? Well, it appears that no one was. Existing law, and handcuffs on regulators, created the perfect storm that was unleashed on West Virginians: Continue reading

Genesis 9: The Forgotten Covenant

by Howard Snyder

Howard Snyder

Howard Snyder

Ignoring Genesis 9 in covenant theology is like ignoring John 1 in Jesus theology. Skipping God’s earth covenant in soteriology is like skipping the incarnation in Christology.

Yet as I noted in my January 3 blog, “14 Favorites Ways to Twist the Gospel,” covenant theology usually bypasses the Genesis 9 earth covenant and begins with Abraham. Strange, since the first explicit biblical covenant is in Genesis 9, where God establishes his “covenant between me and the earth” (Gen. 9:13).

God’s Covenant with the Earth

The human race is sadly and lethally alienated from the land. Sin separates us from the land as well as from God. So it is significant that one of the first things God does in the history of salvation is to make covenant with the land.

God brings salvation through a series of covenants, climaxing in the new covenant through the blood of Jesus (Luke 22:20; Heb 12:24). These covenants are key markers in the biblical narrative. They are all linked, all essential in the ecology of the story. We won’t fully understand the later story if we miss the significance of this first covenant. This “everlasting covenant” with the earth is beautifully and powerfully pictured in Genesis 9:8–17.

God says to Noah after the flood, “I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark” (Gen 9:9–10). All covenants have a “sign,” and the sign of this one is the rainbow.

Three things stand out as we examine the Genesis 9 covenant God.

Three-Dimensional Covenant

First: It is a three-dimensional covenant. It is multidimensional, ecological. The covenant includes not only God and Noah’s family, but “every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth” (Gen 9:16).

DSCN0863 (2)It’s fascinating to see whom God includes in this covenant. God is the initiator: “I am establishing my covenant” (Gen 9:9). God both establishes and sustains this covenant, the rainbow the sign. So the covenant is first of all God’s, not ours.

The second party is Noah and his family—that is humankind, all the human family that descends from Noah. Not just Noah’s immediate family, but “your descendants after you, . . .for all future generations” (Gen 9:9, 12). Note the generational theme.

The background here is Genesis 1–2, with its emphasis on the good earth and all the creatures God made. Now, after fall and flood, Genesis 9 marks a new beginning. The plan of salvation really begins here, not with Abraham. This covenant is important in specifying the post-fall relationship between God and all humanity. God is the sovereign Creator and Sustainer; humans are his creation and his stewards of the earth.

The text emphasizes the earthly dimensions of this covenant. All earth’s creatures are included. Genesis 9 is surprisingly comprehensive here, repeating the phrases “every living creature,” “every animal,” “all flesh” on earth. The references become increasingly broad and inclusive. Then in verse 13 God says, “the covenant between me and the earth”!

Why this stress on “every living creature”? This echoes the full variety of creatures God made at the beginning, as well as God’s words to Noah to take “every kind” of creature into the ark (Gen 7:2). The “every creature” emphasis is also practical and ecological, a matter of human sustenance, because robust human health requires an abundance of creatures in wide variety, all in relative ecological balance. It reminds us too of God’s care and concern for all creatures for all generations. Most amazingly, the “every creature” emphasis signals God’s concern for all his creatures, showing that he himself has a covenant with every creature, with every species. So Jesus’ says of sparrows, “not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight” (Luke 12:16).

The Genesis 9 covenant is thus a three-dimensional covenant, not narrowly between God and humans only. It is a covenant between God, all people, and all the earth. Continue reading

Why American Evangelicals Don’t Go For Creation Care

I know, I know. It makes no sense whatsoever. These are the people who believe that “the earth is the Lord’s;” who sing the glories of “my Father’s world;” and who have been made “agents of reconciliation” of all things. But when an evangelical scientist or conservationist dares to speak up in a Christian publication, the readers’ comments tell a nearly incredible story. This sort of backlash assures that their preachers will almost never mention creation stewardship. And politicians devoted to killing environmental protections can generally count on their solid support.

I’ve struggled to understand this myself, and then to explain it to others. But sometimes, the unedited words of our critics tell the story better than we ever could. A couple of days ago, this comment came into Beloved Planet from an evidently sincere young Christian in Pittsburgh:

“The great commission that Christians are to fulfill is to make disciples of all nations – I don’t see why conservation should trump that. The earth, the spectacularly complex beautiful creation of God that it is, has only been around for 6,000 years and it will not be around much longer. Christ promised that he will return and engulf the entire planet in flames (2 Peter 3:10-13). Don’t get me wrong – we should not be polluting our air and water unnecessarily – but if Christ is our example, we should be spending our limited days spreading the gospel instead of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

There you have it, in a polite but thoroughly unvarnished nutshell. The Earth – with all of its millions of created species, and indeed, all of the billions of galaxies God has made with their trillions of stars – will have an unimaginably short lifespan from the time of creation, ending in fire. Everything that was made is merely a stage setting for a few generations of humans on this tiny galactic outpost to pray the sinner’s prayer, and get ready for the everlasting post-apocalyptic world of the spirit. We will blissfully look down upon the utter destruction of everything God made – no matter that He called it “good,” and promised to renew and reconcile it to Himself.

The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it... Ps. 24

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it… Ps. 24

It may be “good,” but it’s the Titanic, destined to rust forever in the frigid darkness. No unnecessary graffiti on the gunwales, please, but why bother retooling the engines?

Now, if you’re a Christian, I doubt that you appreciate my straw-man tactics: trotting out the most facile arguments and implicitly assigning them to all of us. And you are surely correct, to a degree. But something has to explain the otherwise incomprehensible opposition of white American evangelicals to serious efforts to care for the Creation. And the seeds of that opposition are all evident in this little manifesto. Here are a few of the themes you may have noticed:

The Creation is for us. You missed that? Here it is: The only thing in the world that is important is fulfilling something called “the great commission” to humans, not obeying our Creator with respect to his entire Word. But we learn in the Bible that “the Earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.” It’s not ours at all. In fact, the Bible’s creation story tells us at the very beginning what mankind’s purpose was: “to tend and keep” the garden. The Hebrew words are “avad” and “shamar.” And together they mean to serve, preserve, love and bless. The Creation is not ours; it is entrusted to us as loving servants and stewards. Continue reading