Environmental issues are on the table at convention

July 13, 2009

Climate change, global warming, economic and environmental justice, creation care, renewable energy and nuclear energy and weaponry are among the cadre of environment-related resolutions under consideration by General Convention.

The Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations (OGR), based in Washington, D.C., lobbies Congress and the president in response to legislation passed at General Convention. The legislation also sets the agenda for the church's Advocacy Center, which includes OGR, the Episcopal Public Policy Network, Native American/Indigenous Ministries and environmental and domestic affairs.

As the church has become more involved in environmental issues, and as the science has matured, the church has taken a more detailed approach to its official policies, which if proposed resolutions pass will, in some cases, make the advocacy staff's work easier, said DeWayne Davis, domestic policy analyst in OGR.

"If these resolutions pass we won't have to do as much interpreting. For instance C011 [Governmental Policies for Environmental Stewardship] specifically addresses renewable energy standards. We've already been working on it in a limited way under the auspices of creation care and global warming."

That resolution, passed by the House of Deputies but pending before the House of Bishops, encourages the U.S. government to adopt "equitable subsidies for renewable energy (such as solar and wind turbine power, and research into new technologies) … along with balancing its current subsidies for non-renewable energy sources (oil, gas, coal)…" It also supports the adoption of a federal renewable energy standard that would require power plants to produce 20 percent of their electricity through renewable sources.

The original resolution didn't require the 20 percent specification; the church's 20 percent standard matches the standard set by the U.S. House of Representatives in its recently passed climate bill. The U.S. Senate has set a 12 percent reduction standard in its version of the bill that falls short of requiring states to adopt renewable energy technologies. The Senate bill is still under discussion. By setting the 20 percent standard, it allows us to be "more forceful with our approach" with the Senate, Davis said.

In 2003, General Convention passed a resolution aimed at stopping mountaintop removal, a surface coal mining practice that involves mining the mountain ridges and summits. The practice has caused environmental destruction and devastated communities in West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and east Tennessee, said Mike Maloney, interim coordinator of Episcopal Appalachian Ministries.

"It's not only destroying the mountains ... the water table, the streams, the life in streams," Maloney said. "In some cases rocks have fallen on people's homes."

(In June, President Barack Obama's Administration said it would review existing mining laws and provide tighter oversight by federal agencies regulating mining.)

By passing the resolution, General Convention authorized the Episcopal Public Policy Network to track federal legislation involving mountaintop mining and send Action Alerts to Episcopalians asking them to contact their elected officials in support of the church's position.

Maloney said he couldn't contribute anything tangible as a result of the 2003 resolution, but added that for the last eight years George W. Bush's Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency weakened the Clean Water Act, the major tool in fighting mountain top removal.

There are ways, however, that General Convention resolutions have produced tangible results. Working as a part of the National Council of Churches of Christ's Eco-Justice Network and on behalf of the Millennium Development Goals, an addition was made to the climate bill providing a small amount of money for developing countries, which are affected most by global warming, Davis said.

Another resolution pending in the House of Deputies, C070, Memorializing the Genesis Covenant, would commit the Episcopal Church to a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the facilities it maintains by 2019.

The Diocese of Olympia's Genesis Covenant task force has created a six-parish pilot program aimed at developing a workable, cost-effective plan to accomplish this goal, said Michael Schut, associate program officer for economic and environmental affairs in the church's Advocacy Center.

The resolution also "gives a nod" to work done on the federal economic recovery package, which made grant money available for nonprofit organizations, including churches, in their efforts to go green, Davis said.

"The current climate bill will allow some of those monies to go for greening and retrofitting in the future," Davis said, adding that his office is monitoring the climate bill to determine how the process will work.

Pam Moffat, of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, testified in the National and International Concerns committee in favor of Resolution D060, Reject Nuclear Options, because she fears that a move toward nuclear power plants to meet the United States' energy needs is dangerous and untruthful.

"We are being convinced that nuclear power is a way out [of the current energy crisis] and that we don't need to change our ways and our lifestyle of addiction," Moffat said.

Two resolutions, C034 and D001, have been filed that would establish a liturgical creation cycle during Pentecost from St. Francis' Day to Advent, "for the purpose of affirming the sacredness of God's creation, of spreading hope about God's reconciling work in creation and an understanding of environmental stewardship and ecological justice."

Such a resolution as implemented by churches and expressed through the actions of individuals and congregations could have profound effects.

"There is both an implicit and explicit curriculum when you walk into a church and the liturgy really is some of both, both spoken word, but it's also embodied," Schut said. "And in the Episcopal Church it is one of the most important realities, practices, mechanisms that define world views and say to people, 'this is important.' I think strongly encouraging a creation cycle regularly in the calendar year would be a particularly powerful way for the church to begin in its thinking and feeling to move in a direction that would get expressed eventually in actions."