Yesterday, the EPA held its final day of hearings in Washington on its proposed new rules restricting the amount of CO2 that may be emitted by new power plants — per megawatt-hour of electricity generated. Of course, the “clean coal” people were there, as were executives of various utilities, arguing against the standards. On the other side there were the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and other enviros.
But dwarfing them both, by my count, were faith leaders. Evangelicals, Protestants, Catholics, Unitarians, interfaith groups and many others showed up to support the EPA’s standards, and to advocate care for God’s creation. They spoke of the injustice of climate pollution, of the impact on marginalized and poor communities, of the mandate to protect all of God’s creation for His own sake, for other species, for the poor, and for our children. Repeatedly, we heard the themes: The earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness; the sea is his, he made it; God placed the Man in the garden to serve and keep it; the whole creation groans; love your neighbor as yourself….
In the next few days, I’ll post the comments of a number of leaders from various faith communities. Today, I’ll start with mine.
Testimony of John Elwood
My name is John Elwood. I am speaking to you today as an elder and Sunday school teacher in the Presbyterian Church; as editor of the website BelovedPlanet.com; and as a participant in the Environmental Stewardship initiative of the Christian Reformed Church. My farm, in Andover, New Jersey, provides produce for more than 700 families.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify in support of the EPA’s standards on carbon emissions from new power plants.
An important question for Christians, and for all people of goodwill, is this: How much carbon pollution should power plants be permitted to dump into the atmosphere – for others to pay for in health, and in climate disruption costs?
From the Evangelical and Reformed Christian perspective, it’s clearly wrong for a buyer and a seller to enjoy all the benefits of a transaction, and then leave a substantial part of the cost for someone else to pick up – the external costs.
The scriptures of the Old and New Testaments don’t speak of “external costs” by that name. But God pronounces judgment on dishonest scales, skimping on the measure, and mixing in the sweepings with the wheat. “The Lord has sworn by himself,” says the prophet Amos: “‘I will never forget anything they have done…. I will spare them no longer.’”
Until recently, we didn’t really know the scale of the external costs of coal burning. But as you know, in 2010, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences quantified these costs in their study titled The Hidden Cost of Energy. Its findings were shocking. Coal burned in a single year by U.S. power plants costs everyone else on the planet another $200 to 300 billion in unpriced external costs. That’s a tax of about $40 levied on every single human on Earth. Only for U.S. coal. Only for one single year. Borne by men and women, by adults and children, by both the rich and by those earning less than $1 per day.
During these hearings, you’ve heard testimony from people engaged in the coal industry, and you’ve been asked to consider the toll they will bear if new power plants are made to limit their carbon pollution. Christians of all traditions take their plight seriously, and our society must find ways to help affected communities recover. But I would like to ask you to consider the plight of totally innocent communities – both in our country and around the world – which have never had an ounce of benefit from the burning of coal.
Last year, the Christian Reformed Church sent me, and a delegation of other leaders, to Kenya to hear firsthand from people who have borne the brunt of the external costs of carbon pollution. We met with hundreds of small farmers and community leaders. Everywhere, the story was the same. Two reliable growing seasons in years past have shrunk to a single season. And even that single season is now unreliable. Crop yields have plummeted. Water is more scarce than ever.
We also visited with Reverend Peter Karanja, the General Secretary of the Kenyan Council of Churches. Please, listen to what this good man told us:
“We are very concerned,” he said, “especially about America. They are the most obstinate country when it comes to climate change. You have a responsibility to reduce your greenhouse gases which are harming the rest of the world.
“Long after your life is over,” he told us, “your actions will have consequences on us. Many of them will be harmful consequences.”
On behalf of all people who bear the cost of carbon pollution from American power plants – our citizens, our children, the people of Kenya plus many more – I urge the EPA to finally implement standards aimed at reducing carbon emissions by new power plants.
Thank you, and may God bless you for your efforts.