Faith leaders push for climate, energy legislation in the Senate

May 5, 2010

Lately, when the Rev. Canon Sally Bingham, president and founder of Interfaith Power and Light, preaches a sermon about the United States' dependence on fossil fuels and the possible shift toward renewable energy sources she turns to Luke chapter 5 and the metaphor that Jesus used when talking to the frustrated fishermen on the Sea of Galilee.

"When it's not working, put your nets on the other side of the boat," Bingham, also an Episcopal priest, said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., where Interfaith Power & Light, a national organization with 35 state affiliates aimed at mobilizing a religious response to global warming, is having its annual meeting.

"After a hundred years' of fossil fuels, it's time to look to alternatives. Put the nets on the other side of the boat. Wind, sun, geothermal … just like oil, gas and coal, they are God-given resources. What Jesus was saying was, when something isn't working, try something else."

Bingham and 70 faith leaders representing diverse religious perspectives -- Bahá'ís, Episcopalians and protestants of all denominations, Roman Catholics, Buddhists and Jews -- planned to visit with U.S. senators and their staffs May 5 to advocate for strong climate and energy legislation, including removing offshore drilling from the climate bill.

"We've never been happy with the part of the bill that called for more offshore drilling; we are going to say take that off the bill," Bingham said, adding that the April 20 oil rig explosion that left a well spewing an estimated 210,000 gallons of crude oil a day in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrated the environmental and economic hazards offshore drilling can trigger. "It is a really powerful example of the risks that we are taking."

For the last five years, Interfaith Power & Light has held its annual meeting in Washington, D.C., taking advantage of an opportunity to meet with elected officials serving in its affiliate states.

"There is a wide variation of attitudes toward climate legislation on [Capitol] Hill; we are undoubtedly the most divided country on this issue," Bingham said, adding that the U.S. is falling behind other nations in advances in renewable and clean technologies. "Contrary to what some say, alternatives create jobs, not lose jobs. And you have to ask, how many more jobs can we lose?"

The faith community, Bingham added, is also pushing senators to include funds in the legislation for international and domestic adaptation of the climate bill to protect vulnerable populations from the worst effects of climate change.

"This is a justice issue … the faith community is standing up for global implementation."

(The faith community, including the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations, working as part of the National Council of Church's Eco-Justice Network, was in some part successful in getting the House of Representatives to add a small amount of money for developing countries to its version of the climate bill, confirmed Dewayne Davis, ORG's domestic policy analyst.)

Democrats in the House of Representatives passed a climate and energy bill in June 2009 that sought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through "cap and trade." A Senate "cap and trade" bill died in March.

In addition to advocating for the removal of offshore drilling and to including funding for the poor in the climate bill, faith leaders planned to push for a strong carbon cap, preservation of the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions; and the Energy Efficiency Resource Standard to reduce cumulative electricity usage by at least 15 percent.

In July, the Episcopal Church's General Convention considered and passed a number of environmental resolutions aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, advocating for renewable energy and addressing social and environmental justice issues.