Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Presbyterians and the Environment

My presbytery, Holston, sent an overture to the General Assembly regarding the ministry, Living Waters for the World. The GA approved it on a voice vote.

The Presbytery of Holston overtures the 218th General Assembly (2008) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to celebrate with us the life-changing impact of “Living Waters for the World” as a clear, proven example of the shared future of mission as described in “An Invitation to Expanding Partnership in God’s Mission,” and respectfully requests that the video, Clean Water for All of God’s Children, or a portion thereof, be shown to the assembled body of commissioners.

I am very pleased that our presbytery is involved with Living Waters for the World and that other congregations in the PC(USA) can get involved as well. Click here for the video.

The General Assembly approved on a voice vote to re-establish The Office of Environmental Justice.

The Presbytery of Heartland overtures the 218th General Assembly (2008) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to direct the Executive Director of the General Assembly Council to reinstate the Office of Environmental Justice in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as a vital and integral part of the ministry and mission of the church to help protect and save God’s creation.
Thanks to Heartland Presbytery for putting that through. The Ethical Issues and Human Needs Committee of my presbytery tried to get our presbytery to concur with that overture, but they didn't go for it. I am pleased the GA approved it in spite of us!

The General Assembly passed a thorough energy and environmental statement, The Power to Change: U.S. Energy Policy and Global Warming. It is rather lengthy, but I feel worth the blogspace to post below. According to the Presbyterian News Service, this is "the first document to address the Presbyterian Church’s energy policy since 1981."

I am excited that our congregation has take steps to become a green congregation and is making efforts to educate ourselves regarding energy conservation and of Earth friendly practices. This statement may be helpful to congregations who want to go green.

Final Text:

That the 218th General Assembly (2008):

1. Approve the study and recommendations, entitled, “The Power to Change: U.S. Energy Policy and Global Warming,”to revise existing energy policy, “The Power to Speak Truth to Power”(hereinafter, referred to as the “1981 Energy Policy”). [The 1981 Energy Policy was jointly adopted by the 121st General Assembly (1981) of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (Minutes, Presbyterian Church in the United States, 1981, Part I, pp. 122, 413-25), and the 193rd General Assembly (1981) of The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (Minutes, The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, 1981, Part I, pp. 42, 86, 293-306).]

2. Urge individuals and families in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to do the following:

a. Pray, asking for God’s forgiveness and for the power and guidance to enjoy and care for creation in new ways.

b. Study energy sources, their advantages and disadvantages, and the impacts they have on human communities, all species, and the ecological systems that support life on Earth.

c. Practice energy conservation as a form of thanksgiving and sharing by adjusting thermostats, walking, biking, carpooling, using mass transit, turning off lights and appliances, recycling, minimizing the use of plastic water bottles and other wasteful packaging, etc.

d. Purchase energy-efficient appliances and fuel-efficient vehicles for use at home and at work.

e. Purchase sustainably grown food and other products from local producers in order to reduce the energy associated with producing, and shipping goods.

f. Reduce consumption of meat because the production of grain fed to most livestock is fossil fuel-intensive and their waste emits methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas.

g. Purchase Green-e certified energy and/or carbon offsets in the pursuit of a carbon-neutral lifestyle. Green-e certification ensures these payments result in additional installations of renewable energy generation capacity as well as verifiable and permanent environmental benefits.

h. Invest personal funds in the renewable energy industry and also in companies that demonstrate concern for the well-being of their workers, their communities, and the environment.

i. Advocate for change and leadership within the church and in all forms of government regarding energy policy and global climate change.

3. With regard to the councils[, governing bodies,] and agencies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the 218th General Assembly (2008):

a. Urges synods and presbyteries to become models of energy-efficient institutions and proponents of renewable energy by

(1) stocking resource centers with information about energy issues;

(2) working with the New Church Development Committee to ensure that all new and remodeled churches meet high-efficiency standards;

(3) strengthening support for Stewardship of Creation Enablers, inviting them to provide workshops on energy and related concerns, and consulting with them to provide carbon-neutral meeting sites and transportation plans whenever possible;

(4) advocating before local, state, and federal governments for public policies that encourage energy efficiency and renewable energy generation; and

(5) adopting environmental education and energy conservation as high priorities at all Presbyterian camps and conference centers.

b. Urges the “Restoring Creation” program to establish a Presbyterian Green Energy Fund, which would help congregations and other organizations in our church reduce their carbon footprint through investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy production, and Green-e certified carbon offsets.

c. Urges the Office of the General Assembly to make future meetings as carbon neutral as possible (considering climate, travel requirements, amenities, and energy conservation efforts by hotels, conference centers, and academic institutions).

d. Urges the General Assembly Council, the Presbyterian Foundation, and the Board of Pensions to continue to improve the energy efficiency of the Louisville, Jeffersonville, Philadelphia, and other national agency offices.

e. Urges the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) to expand efforts to engage businesses on energy efficiency and conservation in manufacturing, transport, and product design; to work with companies on appropriate technology applications, including co-generation, wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and low-head hydroelectric; to support solutions to the problem of nuclear waste; and to advocate that utilities establish incentives to reduce electricity, oil, and gas usage while also eliminating barriers for small power producers to interconnect with the power grid.

f. Urges the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program, Inc., to continue to encourage energy efficiency, renewable energy technologies, and new and mixed uses such as adding generating capacity or housing to underused city facilities.

g. Urges presidents of Presbyterian-related colleges and universities to consider becoming a signatory of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, which obligates these schools to become carbon neutral in the future and to integrate sustainability into the curriculum.

h. Urges Presbyterian-related seminaries and conference centers to make environmental education on global climate change and energy a part of their curricula; to take measures to reduce energy consumption; and to encourage holistic thinking about the relationships between technology and nature.

i. Urges the Stated Clerk and other people representing the PC(USA) in ecumenical programs and initiatives to explore and develop whenever possible joint statements and studies on energy policy with other communions or councils of communions, and the General Assembly agencies to join in appropriate coalitions with non-church bodies to reinforce these measures of practical discipleship.

4. Concerning the church’s social responsibility regarding U.S. energy policy, the 218th General Assembly (2008):

a. Endorses and approves the following principles and stances that will guide our church’s advocacy work regarding policy discussions and legislative proposals to revise energy policy in the context of global climate change:

With our Lord, we will stand with “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40) and advocate for the poor and oppressed in present and future generations who are often the victims of environmental injustice and who are least able to mitigate the impact of global warming that will fall disproportionately upon them.

As citizens of the United States, which has historically produced more greenhouse gases than any other country, and which is currently responsible for over a fifth of the world’s annual emissions, we implore our nation to accept its moral responsibility to address global warming.

In agreement with four prior General Assemblies (202nd, 210th, 211th, and 215th) that have called on the U.S. government to ratify the Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, we ask the U.S. government to do nothing less than repent of its efforts to block consensus and to work with the international community as it develops a binding agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012.

As advocates for justice, we reject the claim that all nations should shoulder an equal measure of the burden associated with mitigating climate change. Industrialized nations like the United States that have produced most of the emissions over the last three centuries deserve to shoulder the majority of the burden. Rapidly industrializing nations like China and India with very low per capita rates of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions should not be expected to bear an equal share of the burden. Our church challenges all nations to embrace their common but different responsibilities with regard to dealing with climate change.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) supports comprehensive, mandatory, and aggressive emission reductions that aim to limit the increase in Earth’s temperature to 2 degrees Celsius or less from pre-industrial levels. Legislation should focus on the short-term goal of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, and 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.

In order to achieve these targets, we support legislative and policy proposals that:

(1) Internalize the social and environmental costs related to greenhouse gas emissions in the prices of fossil fuels. A preferred way to capture these costs would be through an initial auction and continued trade of a fixed number of emissions allowances in a “cap and trade” approach applied to all sectors of the economy. Affirming “the polluter pays” principle, emissions allowances should be sold because giving them away simply rewards the largest polluters. While the initial price may need to be low at the outset to avoid adverse economic repercussions, price caps defeat the purpose of harnessing the market to achieve this social and ecological good. A separate tax based on the carbon content of fossil fuels could compliment a cap and trade approach, but it should not replace it because a carbon tax lacks a guaranteed cap on total emissions. Revenues generated from either or both approaches should be utilized nationally to redress the regressive impact of higher energy prices on people who are poor, to increase funds for public transportation, to increase research and development as well as investment in renewable energy, and to encourage the purchase of energy efficient appliances and vehicles. Internationally, the United States needs to contribute funds to help poorer nations adapt to the social dislocation and ecological devastation caused by global climate change.

(2) Shift subsidies and financial incentives toward industries specializing in renewable energy and energy efficiency and away from the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries. One vital step would be to extend for ten years the federal tax credit for production of electricity from wind, solar, geothermal, closed-loop and open-loop biomass, landfill gas, and small irrigation power facilities. Similar incentives at the state and county level should be reauthorized and expanded. Subsidies can also influence personal consumption decisions. For example, “feebates” require purchasers of fuel-inefficient vehicles to pay a fee; these funds are then utilized to offer purchasers of fuel-efficient vehicles a rebate on the purchase price. Federal research and development grants are another important financial incentive. These funds need to be increased, and a much larger percentage must be dedicated to renewable energy, alternative fuels, and energy efficiency. Funding for these measures can be made revenue-neutral by reducing subsidies to the oil, gas, and nuclear power industries.

(3) Adopt significantly increased efficiency standards for all energy consuming appliances, buildings, and vehicles. Recently modest improvements have been made to federal laws regarding the energy efficiency of buildings and appliances as well as the nation’s Corporate Automotive Fuel Economy Standards (CAF╬Ľ). These increases are overdue and much needed, but states like California and New York should not be blocked from raising these standards if they wish to do so. Increased efficiency and fuel economy standards should be based on the best science available and in dialogue with the relevant industries, but ultimately legislated standards are more productive than voluntary goals negotiated with industries. In addition, public scrutiny must be brought to bear on regulatory agencies to ensure that they are insulated from undue industry influence.

(4) Mandate that an increasing percentage of the nation’s energy supply be produced renewably and sustainably. More than half the nation’s states have adopted renewable portfolio standards that impose differing mandates on energy providers. Not surprisingly, most of the investment in renewable energy production is taking place in these states. Adoption of a 20 percent national Renewable Energy Standard (RES) by 2020 would build on the success in the states. Environmental problems associated with ethanol production related to the federal Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), however, indicate there can be dangers associated with ratcheting standards up too quickly. Any mandate must ensure that the energy is produced renewably and sustainably.

(5) Remove market barriers for producers of renewable energy. These barriers include expensive and overly complicated requirements for connecting to the electricity grid, insufficient transmission line capacity, and extremely low power purchase rates based on avoided costs from fossil fuel power plants that are not yet accountable for their impact on global warming. Both Germany and Japan have stimulated the renewable energy industry in their nations through requiring net billing and also mandating higher “feed-in” rates. Such measures would stimulate investment in residential solar and wind power in the United States and help restore the nation as a leader in technological innovation. Other initiatives to expedite transmission capacity are also critical to the expansion of renewable energy in the nation.

(6) Encourage decentralized and distributed power generation. Decentralized, residential renewable energy systems, and distributed generation from community wind farms can relieve pressure on the power grid, create new jobs, and empower local communities. State and federal tax credits are one way to encourage investment in decentralized and distributed renewable energy production. Flexible financing schemes are also valuable. The state of Minnesota has pioneered a unique approach to community-based economic development (C-BED), which has resulted in the largest number of community-owned wind farms in the nation.

(7) Place a moratorium on all new coal-fired and nuclear power plants until related environmental concerns are addressed. Given the predominant role carbon dioxide plays in global warming and climate change, and given that coal-fired power plants are responsible for 40 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions, it would be irresponsible to build new coal-fired power plants or coal-to-oil technologies until it can be demonstrated that the carbon can be captured economically and sequestered permanently. Similarly, given the extremely toxic danger that spent nuclear fuel poses to future generations for thousands of years, it is irresponsible to build new nuclear power plants until a permanent means of disposing of this waste is placed into service.

(8) Limit exploration and exploitation of new fossil fuel supplies to parts of the nation where this can be done without adverse damage to people and the environment. As the climate in the Arctic warms, it is doubtful that the economic benefits of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge can outweigh the environmental damage that this will do to one of the nation’s most beautiful and wild places. Another example of such a limit would be the ecological devastation associated with mountaintop mining in Appalachia.

(9) Support a systemic shift to rail-based public transportation and urban planning that emphasizes mass transit. These measures would discourage urban sprawl and the depletion of water and energy resources, especially in the Southwest. Farmland in and around cities should be preserved to maintain and increase the capacity for local food production. Support for public transportation will also require substantial funding to repair the nation’s highways, bridges, and dams. Efforts should be focused on increasing the quality of the nation’s transportation and energy infrastructure, not on increasing the size of it.

(10) Revise U.S. national security policies. Decrease attempts to control oil resources owned by other nations and the profligate use of energy supplies to enforce inevitably temporary as well as massively tragic military interventions. Increase the authority of science-based international standards for addressing the issue of global climate change. Strive to decouple nuclear power from nuclear weapons production so as not to encourage a new round of nuclear proliferation.

b. Expresses gratitude to climate scientists in government, industry, academia and the United Nations, and to environmental public-interest groups and far-sighted political leaders, for their steadfast commitment to the common good and future welfare of all species.

c. Directs the Stated Clerk, the Presbyterian Washington Office, the Presbyterian United Nations Office, the Environmental Justice Office, and other General Assembly representatives to advocate for this approach to national energy policy before Congress, the Executive branch, state legislatures, and regulatory agencies, including those specifically involved in the areas of climate change and international cooperation, with the goal of restoring the United States of America to a leadership position in taking responsibility for reducing the scale and speed of global climate change.

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