A Faithful Vision for Action: National Council of Churches Priorities for the New Administration

November 21, 2008

As members of the faith community, we are concerned about the well being of God’s Creation and God’s people. We are called to be good stewards of God’s good earth and work for justice for all of God’s people, particularly the most vulnerable among us.

We are concerned for the future of this planet and believe we must work to achieve a true interconnectedness with Creation. For too long, we have consumed and destroyed the beauty around us from the mountains to the oceans and everything in between. It is time to recognize the value and importance of God’s gifts and shift our policies to reflect the true value of God’s Creation.

In this spirit, we offer the following priorities as our collective vision for action the next several years and urge you to provide leadership on these important issues.

1. Implement National Climate Legislation
Global warming has become one the top priorities for the Council’s denominations as it threatens the health and well being of God’s Creation as well as God’s people. In addition, it affects efforts to address poverty and peace – two other issues that unite our denominations, congregations and communities. The United States and your administration must make global climate change a top priority upon assuming office and press for action in the first 100 days.

The faith community has developed four main principles guiding our response to global climate change: justice, stewardship, sustainability and sufficiency. In addition, the faith community has identified three main policies that must be included in national legislation to ensure that climate legislation promotes justice for all and stewardship of God’s Creation. We believe that legislation must:
• Follow scientific recommendations to ensure that the average temperature does not rise more than 2 degrees Celsius

  • Protect those living in poverty from the impacts of climate change and climate legislation through focused resources to low income people living in the US

  • Increase international adaptation assistance to those in the most vulnerable developing nations to help them adapt to the impacts of climate change

As the new President, it is imperative that you provide leadership both domestically and internationally to help us deal with this moral crisis. We have lost valuable time and credibility as a result of our unconscionable silence over the last eight years. We urge you to propose legislation reflecting the aforementioned policies and calling for US leadership in response to the global climate crisis. In addition, the United States must re-engage in international talks on global warming and ensure full participation by the US in the development and implementation of any new agreements.

2. Development of a Sustainable Energy Policy
Energy sustainability, though intricately linked to global climate change, is an important issue in and of itself. The United States must shift its energy portfolio to clean and renewable sources that protect God’s Creation and have little impact on the health of God’s people. Current energy sources such as coal, oil, and gas are not only finite and expensive but their extraction results in major changes to God’s Creation that is devastating God’s Earth. We urge you to support research for and investment in clean and renewable energy sources that will benefit God’s Creation and God’s people. These can be achieved with the following:

  • Adopt policies that encourage energy conservation in the federal government, and in American homes, communities, national transportation and distribution systems and commercial enterprises.

  • Re-direct valuable research dollars from “clean coal” technology to renewable sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass; and from corn-based to cellulosic ethanol. New sources of energy present an important opportunity for investment and jobs; this is a particularly critical goal in light of our struggling economy.

  • Ensure that at least 20% of the United States energy comes from renewable sources by 2025. As a country, we must seek new solutions to the growing energy challenges that we are facing. By setting benchmarks, we can ensure that we are reducing our dependence on fossil fuels as well as air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

3. Commitment to Environmental Health
A growing body of scientific literature suggests that chemicals found in the products we use may contribute to a wide array of health problems. By fixing our chemical regulatory system and giving authority to pertinent agencies such as the EPA and the FDA to ban and regulate chemicals of concern, we can ensure that vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, children, communities of color, workers, and those living in poverty are protected. We urge you to do this in two key ways. First, we call for reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 that would test the more than 82,000 chemicals registered for use. Second, we call on you to strengthen the cosmetics section of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act to give the FDA authority to regulate ingredients in personal care products and ensure that the harmful chemicals found in fragrance and flavor must be made public knowledge.

Overall, by ensuring that the chemicals in products are safe before the American public is exposed to them, we can improve public health and the health of all Creation. Specifically, we call on you to support legislation that:

  • Grants authority to the EPA and the FDA to regulate chemicals in products and places the burden of proof on companies that produce and supply chemicals.

  • Bans carcinogens, mutagens, reproductive toxins as well as harmful chemicals found in cord blood

  • Phases out chemicals that persist and bioaccumulate up the food chain and are found to be harmful to human health and God’s Creation. These chemicals should be replaced with safer alternatives that have been put through rigorous safety substantiation.

  • Ensures that any new chemicals are rigorously tested for safety.

  • Listens to the new science linking low dose exposure to various health problems

  • Ensures that the public is informed about harmful chemicals and that products and chemicals found unsafe are not exported abroad or dumped in low income communities

  • Promotes incentives for the development of a non-toxic, green economy that will allow all of God’s Creation to flourish

4. Protection for Public Lands
Land stewardship is a matter of morality, faith, and ethics and not simply one of property rights and resources. We urge you to support the expansion of the National Landscape Conservation System and funding for its operation.

People of faith are also working throughout the country with local place based campaigns to urge wilderness designation and working to help protect and maintain our National Parks, Wildlife Refuges, and the rest of the system of public lands that has made our country the world’s leader in the protection of land for present and future generations. In recent years, our peerless system of public lands has suffered from a lack of funding and attention, and we call on you to take a comprehensive look at the needs of the system in order to ensure that it will endure for our children and grandchildren.

5. Increase Enforcement and Funding for Environmental Programs
For the last eight years, funding and enforcement of many US environmental regulations have been lacking. This has limited our ability as a nation to advance a clean, sustainable and just future for all of God’s Creation. To ensure that we, as a country, refocus our efforts on environmental protection and environmental justice, funding and enforcement must be restored. In particular, the following issues areas have suffered greatly in the recent past.

  • Environmental justice and racism
    For decades, the environmental and health impacts of many of our unsustainable practices have been placed onto communities of color, children, women and the elderly. Despite decades of working to prevent these injustices, the recent release of Toxic Waste and Race by the United Church of Christ highlights that we have made little progress in the last 20 years. In particular, it is important for you to recommit to Executive Order 12898 which addresses “environmental justice in minority populations and low income populations” as called for by the Office of the General Inspector.

  • The Border Fence
    With the critical problems facing our border communities in the Southwest and the serious environmental problems that have been and are being created with the construction of the border wall, the NCC urgently calls you and Congress to ensure that the waiving of environmental rules under the guise of “national security” is no longer used as a means of justifying controversial projects. We must honor and enforce the environmental regulations that have been established to protect God’s ecosystems and communities. We urge your administration to consider ways to reverse the damage done as a result of the construction of the border wall, particularly in critical habitats, National Wildlife Refuges, and native communities.

  • Endangered Species Act
    We are alarmed by the continued threats against the Endangered Species Act, which provides guidance for living in peace with the rest of God’s Creation. The recent proposed rule changes from the Bush Administration and the Department of the Interior and Commerce seek to undermine species protection that has been in place since the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973. We urge you to restore the standards set by the Endangered Species Act and ensure that God’s Creation is protected, particularly as new threats emerge such as climate change and excessive pollution in our water sources.

  • Water
    Water is the sustaining element of all plants, animals and humans, making it the world’s most precious resource. . A recent status report on clean water found that 45 percent of rivers, 47 percent of lakes, and 91 percent of Great Lakes shorelines fail to meet federal standards. To respond to these growing concerns we ask you to recommit to fulfilling both the letter and the spirit of the Clean Water Act and the Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005. In order to defend our nation’s supply of clean water we also urge you to extend protections to all water bodies that have been historically covered by the Clean Water Act by supporting the Clean Water Restoration Act.