Evangelical Leader on EPA Carbon Standards: Do It

Religious leaders came out in force to the EPA early this month to speak from their scriptures and teachings on the call to protect God’s creation from climate injustice. Among them was evangelical leader Rev. Richard Cizik. Here is his testimony:

Rev. Richard Cizik EPA Testimony

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  I speak here today in my capacity as the President of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good; as an ordained Evangelical minister, having served as the Vice President for Governmental Affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals for ten years; and as a citizen activist from the Commonwealth of Virginia on behalf of all Americans who want action to address the devastating health and climate impacts of industrial carbon pollution.

Cizik outside EPA offices, with Sojourners' Liz Schmitt

Richard Cizik outside EPA offices, with Sojourners’ Liz Schmitt

More importantly, though, I speak as a father and parent of a teenage son.  John, now twenty years of age, is a 6’5″ healthy young man with a bright future ahead of him.  Eight years ago, however, he was diagnosed with serious asthma.  On one occasion, before we really understood what was happening, he woke up in the morning unable to breathe.   It’s the kind of frightening experience a parent never forgets.  Fortunately, we got him to a doctor’s office and an exam that would both diagnose his actual condition and prescribe the medicine and inhaler that he still needs to carry with him.

Incidentally, I was attacked later for wanting EPA action based on my son’s asthma alone.  At the time, it struck me as somewhat “sick,” as if no one else gets asthma.  As someone who served as a member of the Virginia Climate Commission, it’s relevant to state that the air quality in the Commonwealth is not the best, and carbon pollution aggravates air pollution, producing thousands of cases of asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

At that time, I was well aware intellectually of the dangers of industrial pollutants in the air, but unaware of their personal impacts on my own health.  When asked by the Environmental Working Group, I consented to be a participant in the “Human Toxome Project.”   In so doing, according to the Project’s Final Report, I had become “one of only a small number of people in the world to know a portion of [my] personal body burden of industrial chemicals, called the human toxome.”

The result is that I can testify to the many industrial chemicals, plasticizers, flame-retardants, Teflon chemicals, and heavy metals that are present in my body.  In fact, I have varying levels of 39 of the 84 industrial compounds, pollutants and other chemicals tested, including chemicals linked to reproductive health.  (My wife and I were infertile for many years.)

I was tested for total mercury and methyl mercury.  Total mercury is the sum of all forms of mercury, including methyl mercury.  My levels of mercury in the blood, 2.2ppb is ‘relatively high to national studies’ (87 percentile nationally, which means only 13% of the public has higher exposure).  Methyl mercury levels were 1.7ppb, lower than the federal safety standard of 5.8ppb set for pregnant or nursing women and young children to protect against damage to a developing brain, but high enough, according to the National Academy of Sciences, for mercury-driven risks for immune disorders and cardiovascular diseases.

Scientists are only beginning to study the health effects of chronic exposures to chemical mixtures. While studies strongly demonstrate the role chemicals play in a host of health problems, risks to an individual are largely unknown.  Genetics, timing, and dose all play a role.

One reality is very clear.  The EPA’s first-ever national industrial Carbon Pollution Standard for power plants is absolutely essential to reduce the impacts of climate change that worsen smog and trigger asthma attacks and other health consequences.  This standard will clean up the coal plant industry that creates the lion’s share of the nation’s carbon pollution and will also help prevent life-threatening air pollutants like dirty soot, toxic mercury, and the smog that triggers asthma attacks.

We all know that our nation’s air can be cleaned up.  No industry that pollutes it with toxic chemicals or carbon emissions should be permitted to profit at the expense of public health.

Let me be very direct.  More and more children, the elderly, and others with respiratory problems will experience increasing life-threatening illnesses, if those in Congress who only care about protecting the special interests who fill their campaign coffers stymie the EPA’s regulatory efforts.

I have been called by God to speak out on these issues and it seems abundantly clear to me that the Carbon Rule being proposed is both needed and a necessary tool to fulfill our social responsibility to carry out what is a biblical call to be stewards of creation.

Please, for the sake of families such as mine, and all others who are at risk, take this needed action.   Do it, and don’t be deterred. Thank you.

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