Affirming the U.S. Senate's action to add funding for global HIV/AIDS and malaria relief, but noting that the lawmakers' action is not the last word on Arctic drilling, the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations today said grassroots advocacy with a House-Senate conference committee could help protect pristine lands from fossil-fuel exploration.
Full text of a statement from the Office of Government Relations follows here. The office is active in responding to a range of issues including the Bush Administration's proposed 2006 federal budget, which faith leaders have challenged as "unjust" concerning the poor and vulnerable (see related article at http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_59751_ENG_HTM.htm).
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Statement from the Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations on Legislative Action in the United States Senate March 16-17, 2005
WASHINGTON, DC: Commenting on action taken by the U.S. Senate as it considers the 'FY 06 Budget Resolution, Maureen Shea, Director of the Episcopal Government Relations Office said today: "In votes this week, the United States Senate stood up to the Bush Administration by adding additional funding to fight the global AIDS pandemic in the federal budget but failed to stop the Administration's bid to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling."
Voting 49 against and 51 for, senators supported the Bush Administration's resolve to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. In a statement Monday, the House of Bishops voiced full support for protecting the Arctic, land that is sacred space to the Gwich'in Nation - 90 percent of whom are Episcopalians. Bishop Mark MacDonald of Alaska spent Tuesday talking with Senators and staff about the Arctic and appeared at a press conference to denounce the proposed drilling. MacDonald emphasized protecting the Arctic not only as a matter of stewardship of creation but also as a matter of justice for the rights of the Gwich'in people.
"Proponents of drilling have far from won," said Bishop MacDonald. "This is only one vote in a complicated legislative process." Bishop MacDonald also said, "Once again, the United States has failed to honor the basic requirements of justice for aboriginal people. The Senate voted not to accord this very special issue even the basic protections offered to other concerns and groups. By including this item in the budget, they have taken away the right of the Gwich'in to have a fair hearing of their concerns and a fair hearing of the concerns of the refuge. This is, of course, a dangerous matter for the rights and protections of all the people of the country, a majority of whom support protection of the refuge. It is much more dangerous when such a small group is not afforded the basic right of fairness in the legislative process."
In a positive development, the Senate last night voted to more-than-double the U.S. contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. President Bush's FY'06 budget proposal slashed funding for this critical multi-national program -- which is active in more than 120 nations worldwide -- to its lowest level in three years. The amendment passed by
the Senate, which had the bipartisan sponsorship of Sens. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), boosts funding from $300 million to $800 million, allowing the Global Fund to continue its vital work around the world. It passed on a voice vote.
The Senate then passed its version of the FY'06 Budget Resolution, meaning that action on both the Arctic and global AIDS will now move to a House-Senate conference committee. The House did not consider either measure in its version of the budget. Therefore it is possible for the conference to drop drilling in the Arctic and keep the Senate's figures on the Global Fund. To do so, however, will require strong grassroots advocacy opposing drilling and supporting the additional funding for the Global Fund. Congress will leave town this week for the Easter-Passover recess, an important time for Episcopalians and all people of faith to contact their elected representatives demanding that they pass a budget that reflects our nation's values of compassion for the poor, serving the human family at home and abroad, and serving the common good. Shea concluded her statement saying: "We urge Episcopalians to join our grassroots network
(http://www.episcopalchurch.org/eppn) and be active on these important issues."