Why American people of faith support the EPA

Marta Cook and Annelisa Steeber, in A CAP cross-post.

“As a person of faith, I stand in support of God’s creation and the Environmental Protection Agency’s actions to protect it.” If this statement sounds surprising, it shouldn’t. It was issued in February from United Methodist Women as they urged Congress not to cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and to support legal protections against pollution. Many religious groups across the country share their concern and are connecting their faith to action in support of the EPA.

Many faith communities have found a calling over the past few decades to become better stewards of God’s creation in both their houses of worship and broader communities. This commitment to stewardship crosses theological lines to include Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups as well as other faith traditions. Together, faith groups are working to make their churches, synagogues, and mosques more energy efficient, build community gardens, and teach their children about the importance of being good stewards of God’s creation.

But faith groups are doing more than conservation and education. They are also strong policy advocates, urging elected leaders to reduce pollution, protect public health, and promote environmental justice. Faith group activists worked hard to defeat Proposition 23 in California last year, which would have effectively repealed the nation’s most comprehensive clean energy and climate protection laws. Clean air and clean water are part of God’s creation and essential to human health. Though “regulation” might be a dirty word in some circles, it is crucial for keeping our global home clean.

Unfortunately, faith community voices seem to be falling on the deaf ears of many conservative members of Congress who have voted to cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency. These representatives should know that many of their religious constituents back home support legal protection of natural resources, and an empowered, vigilant EPA.

And with good reason. Over its 40-year history, the EPA has made significant advances in environmental protection and safeguarding public health, including removing lead from gasoline and the air, drastically reducing acid rain, and creating systems for dealing with industrial waste and toxins. In addition, an EPA study found that between 1970 and 1990, the Clean Air Act created $21.4 trillion in health and environmental benefits, including drastically reduced cases of heart disease, asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, and stroke. The creation of the EPA has led to significant financial benefits for consumers, too. In 2008 alone, the EPA helped consumers save more than $55 million in water and sewer bills through WaterSense-labeled products, a label that denotes a product is water efficient.

Faith groups protecting their communities by supporting the EPA

Last December 56 faith organizations nationwide called on Congress to protect the EPA’s authority to regulate pollutants, including greenhouse gases and smog. They wrote, “We believe that the United States must take all appropriate and available actions to prevent the worst impacts of climate change; we therefore urge you to oppose any efforts to undermine the authority of the Clean Air Act (CAA) to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. We urge you to protect the Clean Air Act and allow the EPA to use the full strength of the law to ensure that God’s Creation and God’s children remain healthy.”

The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, which represents 29 national Jewish organizations, considers itself the environmental voice of the American Jewish community. They too support more aggressive regulation and incentive structures to encourage investments in renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency, and public transit. COEJL also advocates for “aggressive climate change legislation.”

In fact, people of faith even support expanding the EPA’s capacity and jurisdiction in order to better protect public health, especially vulnerable populations. Many faith leaders have seen the ravaging effects of air and water pollution in their communities. Statistics show that there are 80,000 unregulated chemicals produced commercially in the United States on which regulators have virtually no information. Some of these chemicals have been linked to asthma and childhood cancers, as well as other serious and debilitating diseases.

At the state and local level, congregations and faith groups are actively involved in regulation advocacy campaigns because they are seeing the dire consequences of unregulated industry in their cities and towns. For example, North Carolina Interfaith Power and Light organized a grassroots letter writing campaign and speakers at a public hearing regarding the dangers of coal ash in North Carolina, where ponds with higher than accepted levels of arsenic and zinc (found in coal ash) are connected to cancer and other diseases.

In Appalachia, a coalition of 28 Christian groups is fighting against mountain-top removal by coal companies. More than 470 mountains have been destroyed and over 2,000 miles of streams have been filled in and polluted with waste products. As a result, the National Council of Churches notes that drinking water is polluted, flooding has increased, homes and the landscape have been damaged, and people’s health has suffered.

In the wake of the Gulf Coast oil disaster, people of faith in the New Orleans area and across the country are working together for stricter regulation of deep-water oil drilling and swifter clean-up. And they are challenging their communities to higher standards of green living.

The EPA’s commitment to working with faith communities

The EPA itself has shown a demonstrated commitment to working with faith communities, both in words and deeds. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is a Christian herself and has spoken of the “moral reasons” to be “good stewards of our environment.” She has helped people realize that faith communities and the EPA have more common ground than one might think, since both are called to protect the most vulnerable. In November Jackson addressed the National Council of Churches, saying, “The effort to help communities that are overburdened by environmental and economic challenges is surely consistent with calls…to help the least of these…” (Matthew 25:45).

In her speech, Jackson also said, “We must strengthen our collaboration on critical environmental issues: cleaning up our air, land, and water…and safeguarding the creation that has been given to us to steward.” More tangibly, the EPA has built relationships with houses of worship through its Energy Star program, which helps churches, mosques, and synagogues cut energy usage. For Earth Day in 2008, the EPA collaborated with Interfaith Earth Healing Initiative and Native Americans to complete over 100 earth care projects across eight states in the Great Lakes region.

Conservatives in Congress and their crusade to undermine the EPA

Despite such a broad-based faith commitment to the EPA, conservatives in Congress are making a concerted effort to weaken or destroy the agency. If they aren’t calling to abolish it completely, they are voting to cripple it by removing funding. Last month the House of Representatives voted on a continuing resolution that would cut the EPA’s budget by nearly a third. The resolution would also thwart the enactment of carbon emission regulation, mercury emission, and offshore drilling regulation. In addition, conservatives have voted to stifle efforts by the EPA to protect water (under the Clean Water Act) in Appalachian coal mining projects and to regulate coal ash, both areas where faith groups have called for greater regulation.

Of course, people of faith, like all Americans, understand that we need to be wise and careful in our spending priorities in order to reduce the deficit and national debt. But shouldn’t one of our highest and most sacred priorities be the health of our communities and the people who live in them? Faith communities’ answer to that question is a resounding yes.

Marta Cook is a Fellows Assistant and Annelisa Steeber is an Intern with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at American Progress.

14 Responses to Why American people of faith support the EPA

  1. catman306 says:

    Excellent! I hope we’ll be reading more from Marta Cook.

    God, Nature, Gaia, the Environment, whatever or Whoever, is in charge. Not humans.

  2. MapleLeaf says:

    This is encouraging. Pity that Roy Spencer et al. appear not to feel the same way, despite claiming to be people of ‘faith’.

    We are the stewards of this planet, yet the GOP who claim to be men and women of faith are determined to push policy that will do more harm than good to the planet and its inhabitants, and in some cases simply harm. The “conservatives” are anything but “conservative” when it comes to the environment and some social issues, so it really irks me when they claim to be interested in “family values” etc.

    I just do not get why people would vote for a kleptocracy.

  3. catman306 says:

    I thought I knew what a kleptocracy was. (Kind of like God, it’s everywhere.)

    “Kleptocracy, alternatively cleptocracy or kleptarchy, from Ancient Greek: κλέπτης (thief) and κράτος (rule), is a term applied to a government subject to control fraud that takes advantage of governmental corruption to extend the personal wealth and political power of government officials and the ruling class (collectively, kleptocrats), via the embezzlement of state funds at the expense of the wider population, sometimes without even the pretense of honest service. The term means “rule by thieves”. Not an “official” form of government (such as democracy, republic, monarchy, theocracy) the term is a pejorative for governments perceived to have a particularly severe and systemic problem with the selfish misappropriation of public funds by those in power.”

    It’s a ‘quasi-official’ form of government today. People will do anything if the TV tells them to enough times in enough different, but supporting, ways.

  4. beesaman says:

    I feel a lot of people will be very concerned to see rational scientific research into the World’s climate being replaced by a religious voice, no matter how sincere.

  5. Solar Jim says:



    RE: “conservatives in Congress are making a concerted effort to weaken or destroy the agency.” You can not propose a solution unless you understand the problem. Since you identify these agents of corporatism as “conservative” you are engaging in foolishness or obfuscation.

    I am quite tired of the surprised moralizing statements of the disappointed who have little understanding of the agendas at work in the halls of governance. Of course they are weakening public protections for unbridled corporatism. That is how a corporate plutocracy works. And the environment is but one sphere of expanding influence.

    If you are religious, then pray for American democracy. If you think that domestic and foreign monied lobbyists and political campaigns “is democracy,” then you are part of the problem.

  6. Edward says:

    “to help the least of these” There is the problem. Trying to save everybody during a population crash can only result in making things worse.

  7. Joan Savage says:

    It is interesting to see a range of faith communities speaking up for the future of the environment. I find it refreshing when faith-based conversations lead to revelation of the personal assumptions that people have about our place in the universe. This topic is usually taboo in scientific conversation.

    Does someone believe that he or she has been given a responsibility or prerogative from an almighty power to watch over and control other species or natural entities like water or minerals or air?

    Or, does someone believe that he or she is a humble part of a larger reality, and is in a highly-reciprocal, negotiated relationship with other species and natural entities of water and minerals and gases?

    From moment to moment an individual might feel more one way or more the other. Getting in touch with the operative underlying assumptions is really important.

  8. DavidCOG says:

    While it’s good to see different social groups supporting climate action, I hope we don’t see too many of these self-congratulating articles from the religious on CP.

    Faith-based thinking plays an enormous part in why there are so many deniers – they have been raised to believe that accepting things on faith is a virtue – even when those beliefs are contradicted by reality (or lack of it) – rather than a flaw, which it is.

    Climate change is about science, politics and morality. The first of those is the antithesis of religion. The last is most certainly not monopolised by religion. We don’t need to save the planet’s climate for the benefit of a deity that is conspicuous by its absence – we need to do it for us and future generations. That message should not be weakened.

    There are plenty of places on the ‘net to debate the value – or otherwise – of religion and belief in gods, hopefully it won’t be replicated on CP to distract from the conversation we need to be having.

  9. Snapple says:

    Some of the denialists try to claim that denialism is some sort of religious test. That is a lie.

    There are virtual “religious” groups on the Internet that deny global warming, but you have to look at what the denominations really say. The so-called “Cornwall Alliance” claims to be an association of Evangelicals, but really Monckton is involved.

    There is a virtual so-called “Catholic” organization that calls themselves the CIA (Catholic Investigative Agency) that denies global warming even though the Pontifical Academy of Sciences says there is global warming and one of their members is the famous climate change expert VEERABHADRAN RAMANATHAN.

    The Pontifical Academy is non-sectarian. The scientists pick the other scientists. The head of the Academy is a Protestant. They give science advice to the Vatican to help them make decisions on social issues.

    The Vatican has supported science for 100s of years. Like all institutions, they aren’t perfect, but they do support science.

    Perhaps the Pontifical Academy will invite some more climate scientists to become members.

    Here are the members. I recognize the Russian Roald Sagdeev. He denounced the KGB lie that US Pentagon scientists made AIDS to kill blacks. All of these scientists are very famous. Dr. Sagdeev is also a member of the US Academy of sciences and signed that letter defending the climate scientists.

  10. Snapple says:

    Shopworn Soviet propaganda by “scientific” Marxist-Leninists claims that religion and science are opposed. It seems that some commenters on this post and some religious fundamentalists seem to believe this propaganda from the pseudoscientific communists.

    Many scientists have been religious people, and sometimes scientists aren’t very scientific.

    There is the famous case of Galileo’s persecution by the Catholic Church, but even Galileo was a devout Catholic. If you read about his conflict with the Church, you will see that scientists also disagreed with him and that he wrote an impolitic book that mocked the Pope as a simpleton.

    If memory serves me, the Russian expert on the permafrost, Sergei Kirpotin, may have Buddhist leanings. There is a long tradition of some scientists being Buddhists in Russia. I can’t find the article about this Kirpotin wrote in “Science and Religion” (now called Modern Science).

    Dr. Kirpotin is the only Russian scientist (in Russia) who said that Climategate was a “provocation” to ruin the Copenhagen meeting.

    The scientist Ray Waymann, of the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, spoke in a Methodist Church about climate change.

    Arrhenius, who is rightly famous for his ideas about the greenhouse effect, kept Mendeleev from getting the Nobel Prize and was also a “scientific” recist.

    For many educated people, religion is about morality, not magic. People don’t take all those fairy tales literally, but they do reveal moral truths.

    Both scientists and religious people are curious about creation.

  11. Snapple says:

    I have to really question why some commenters belittle support from religious organizatons and “ignorant” religious people. Comments that belittle religion only convince less- educated religious people that science threatens their values.

    It seems to me that climate scientists should make the help they get from religious people known. Why should they let the denialists claim that denialism is the religious viewpoint?

    Religious people and scientists are all focused on the great mysteries of creation and the universe.

    I think the Catholic Church has had a tradition of scientific advisers that goes back hundreds of years:

    “The Pontifical Academy of Sciences has its roots in the Academy of the Lynxes (Accademia dei Lincei) which was founded in Rome in 1603 as the first exclusively scientific academy in the world. The Accademia dei Lincei achieved international recognition, but did not survive the death of its founder, Federico Cesi.
    In 1847 Pope Pius IX reestablished the Academy as the Pontifical Academy of the New Lynxes. Pope Pius XI renewed and reconstituted the Academy in 1936, and gave it its present name.
    Since 1936 the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has grown increasingly international in character. While continuing to further the work of the separate sciences, it stresses the growing importance of interdisciplinary cooperation.
    Today the Academy’s activities range from a traditional interest in pure research to a concern with the ethical and environmental responsibility of the scientific community.”

    “Choose life” is not just about abortion.

  12. Snapple says:

    I am an expert on Soviet persecution and manipulation of religion. The Soviet regime tried to destroy religion and substitute so-called “scientific” Marxism-Leninism.

    Still, the regime fully appreciated the power of religion; so they sometimes found it useful to coopt religion—even as they persecuted Christians—to advance the regime’s political agenda. For example, when Hitler attacked Russia, Stalin put the Patriarch of the much-persecuted Russian Orthodox Church on the radio; and the Patriarch called on the people to fight for Russia.

    These days, pseudo-scientific global warming denialists denigrate Christians who accept the science of man-made global warming. The denialists also create fake “religious” organizations that depict global warming as a scientific hoax.

    The denialists’ tactics in the service of pseudo-scientific global warming denialism remind me a lot of how the communist regime denigrated Christians and tried to replace Christian beliefs with so-called “scientific” Marxism-Leninism.

    There is a fake religious site called “Real Catholic TV” that tries to make it appear that “real Catholics” don’t believe in global warming, although the Vatican says officially that there is global warming.

    The “Real Catholic” site is nothing to do with the Vatican and even confuses people with a big logo that says CIA at the top. The site exploits the Central Intelligence Agency acronym by calling themselves the Catholic Investigative Agency (CIA), though they have a tiny disclaimer at the bottom saying they aren’t the real CIA.

    They aren’t the real Catholics, either.

    The Vatican says there is global warming. Children and college students learn about global warming in Catholic schools. Global warming is viewed as a social justice issue that needs to be addressed by real science, not swept under the rug by energy industry propaganda. The Vatican supports the UN report on climate change, so that’s the real Catholic position.

    There is another fake organization that claims to be made of Evangelicals—the Cornwall Alliance. The stupidities of the British religious bigot and global warming denialist Lord Christopher Monckton, who disparaged the Catholic University of St. Thomas as an ignorant “Bible college” are posted on this so-called “Evangelical” site.

    One of the religious leaders of the Cornwall Alliance, Dr. James Tonkowich, also denigrates Christians who believe in global warming when he makes this bigoted, anti-religious allegation:

    “Global warming is the central tenet of this new belief system in much the same way that the Resurrection is the central tenet of Christianity. Al Gore has taken a role corresponding to that of St Paul in proselytizing the new faith …. My skepticism about [anthropogenic global warming] arises from the fact that as a physicist who has worked in closely related areas, I know how poor the underlying science is. In effect the scientific method has been abandoned in this field.”

    If you only read the home page, it seems that Dr. Tonkowich is claiming that he said these words and that he is a trained physicist, but if you click on the link, Dr. Tonkowich is actually quoting another person: “So wrote Atmospheric Physicist Dr. John Reid, quoted in a new report on more than a thousand scientists who dissent over the claims about man-made global warming.”

    That seems a very deceptive to me. Also, these one thousand scientists do not represent the scientific consensus. Almost all climate scientists say there is global warming. The National Academy of Science says that global warming is happening.

    It is hard to believe that this dishonest clergyman was once a leader of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. Dr. Kent Hill, who led the IRD in the 1980s, would never have misrepresented himself like Dr. Tonkowich does.

    Christians who believe in global warming are not cultists who have embraced a “new belief system;” rather, many Christians are educated people who read what our scientists and our religious leaders are learning about global warming. Educated Christians follow the discoveries of modern science and don’t swallow the stupid lies of the denialist “scientific” and “religious” organizations. We know they are often just the mouthpieces of the fossil-fuel industry.

    In my opinion, the Cornwall Alliance is really a bigoted, anti-religious site that shamelessly disparages Christians who are concerned about global warming by comparing them to the members of a cult who have replaced the central tenet of Christianity with the belief in global warming.

    Characterizing Christians as extremist members of a cult is a tactic the communists used to denigrate and persecute Christians. Since Dr. James Tonkowich used to work at the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), he should know that. It is hard to understand how this Dr. Tonkowich was able to work for an organization that used to defend Soviet and East European Christians from religious bigotry.

    It should be obvious that if religious organizations were really against global warming, the denialists would not need to make up FAKE religious organizations that deny global warming.

    These denialist organizations that masquerade as religious organizations slander both scientists and Christians. They seem to have forgotten what the Ten Commandments says about bearing false witness.

    Plenty of religious people look to religion for moral guidance while also maintaining a scientific outlook. Global warming is a moral issue, and educated Christians look to great scientists for guidance about how to solve this problem. I don’t think that the great scientists who are researching global warming are trying to “trick” people. I think that the fossil fuel industry, politicians who take their money, and the Russian petrostate are trying to trick people.

  13. J Bowers says:

    Snapple — “I have to really question why some commenters belittle support from religious organizatons and “ignorant” religious people. Comments that belittle religion only convince less- educated religious people that science threatens their values.”

    Hansen and Curry, amongst others, have shared the podium when presenting to religious groups.

  14. Snapple says:

    I am glad that some really great scientists see how important it is to reach out to religious organizations because of shared human values. Religion is an extremely powerful force–sometimes for good and sometimes for bad (when people are ignorant or misled). It’s really important not to let the denialists claim that denialism is the “Christian” view.

    Sometimes, people make disparaging remarks about religion. It’s not religious people who are spreading denialism, tho’ they are being targeted by denialist propaganda.

    Disparaging generalizations about the intelligence/education of religious people will not help get out the message about climate change.

    Articles like this one are good because they show a more truthful picture. People will listen to articles like this one.