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Reform Jewish Leader Testifies Before EPA on Emissions Standards

Weinstein: “We care about this issue not just for the sake of the environment itself, but because we know from experience that the effects of environmental degradation are felt most acutely among those who lack the resources to effectively respond.”

Contact: Kate Bigam or Rachel Cohen
202.387.2800 | news@rac.org

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 5, 2009 – Barbara Weinstein, Legislative Director of the Religious Action Center, testified today before the Environmental Protection Agency regarding the waiver request by the state of California to raise standards for vehicular emissions under the Clean Air Act.

Weinstein spoke on behalf of the Reform Movement in favor of the state of California and the need to strengthen emissions standards for automobiles above federal levels. Though the California waiver request was denied last year, the EPA is currently reexamining the case, and is expected to grant the waiver later this year. If granted, the waiver will allow California and 13 other states and the District of Columbia to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their transportation sectors, and guarantee cleaner air for millions of Americans. In a public hearing, Weinstein delivered the following testimony:

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today in support of the California waiver request to set stronger tailpipe emissions standards for greenhouse gases and other vehicular pollutants. The actions of California and 13 other states and the District of Columbia, if allowed to proceed, will benefit our environment, our health, and our security.

In Jewish texts and teachings, we are instructed that while God created the earth, it is the responsibility of man and woman to care for that creation. The mandate for environmental stewardship is at the core of our Movement’s decades of work to change both policies and practices that affect our environment and all the species, including humans, which inhabit and rely on our natural world. This value leads directly to our support for the California Air Resources Board’s waiver of pre-emption for greenhouse gas emissions regulations for new motor vehicles. Last year, the Union for Reform Judaism and several of our partner institutions in the Jewish community proudly joined an amicus brief on behalf of the state in California v. the EPA. That brief was submitted jointly with members of the scientific community. It demonstrates our common commitment to science-based solutions to problems that speak to us as people of faith.

The EPA’s rejection of the waiver request, after a two year delay and in spite of recommendations in support of the waiver from its own scientists, ignores the realities we face today. Unchecked greenhouse gas and other tailpipe emissions are a clear and major threat to current and future health. Rising sea levels, extended droughts, extreme weather conditions and the corresponding harmful impacts on humanity and other forms of life are indisputable. No region of the country or the world is immune to the effects of our changing climate.

California, with the largest agriculturally-based economy of any state in the nation and the most populous coastal area, is especially vulnerable to the devastation of unchecked climate change. In addition, California residents have suffered from polluted air for decades, despite progress under the Clean Air Act. The Act states that the waiver for California to set stronger emissions standards can be denied if it is found that the state does not need such standards to meet “compelling and extraordinary conditions." Experts have made abundantly clear the extraordinary concerns about air quality and climate change, both for California and the world, presented by unchecked vehicular emissions.

Yet we have lacked the political will at the federal level to face these challenges. Instead, states have taken the lead. California, with its diverse ecology, large coastal population, and economy immersed in agriculture, sought a 30 percent reduction in tailpipe emissions from cars and light trucks by 2016. 13 states and the District of Columbia followed suit and adopted the same standard. Together, these states and the District account for nearly 40 percent of the United States’ auto market. It is, of course, that market which is responsible for billions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere than many large nations, including Brazil and Germany.

The window for action against climate change is rapidly closing. Experts attest that we need 80 percent carbon emissions reductions by 2050 to avoid the most dire future effects of climate change and begin to repair the damage already done. We cannot possibly reach this goal without stronger standards for the transportation sector and the EPA’s support for such standards.

We care about this issue not just for the sake of the environment itself, but because we know from experience that the effects of environmental degradation are felt most acutely among those who lack the resources to effectively respond. After the strength of Hurricane Katrina nearly tripled as it spun over the ever warmer waters of the Gulf Coast, its impact upon making landfall was devastating. Those who could afford to leave did so in most cases. Those who were left behind were disproportionately poor and vulnerable populations. The official death toll exceeded 1000. And this was here, in the wealthiest nation on earth.

As people of faith, our responsibility lies in caring for the least among us. Developing nations, children, minorities, communities of color - they will be most profoundly impacted by climate change, and least able to adapt. The most vulnerable developing nations around the world, who have contributed the least to causing climate change, will be the first to suffer its effects. They will be displaced by flooding, be left hungry and without a source of income when crops fail, and face the threat of new disease without health infrastructure to confront this challenge. But with our financial, technological, and scientific resources- and the knowledge that we are the nation most responsible for climate change- we are particularly accountable and able to do all we can to mitigate its impacts by cutting our emissions as much and as quickly as possible. As the world prepares for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen in December 2009, the U.S. again has a chance to take the lead in addressing this profound challenge. We can illuminate a path forward for nations to develop in a more sustainable way, with states like California at the helm.

The need to protect our environment, for its own sake and for the sake of humanity, is undeniable. The imperative to protect our health is obvious. The morality of helping those in need is clear. But I will close with one more reason to grant the California waiver. More efficient cars are essential to ensure our national security in the years to come. By reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, we reduce the influence of oil-rich nations that in all-too-many cases have interests that are counter or even hostile to our own.

We welcome the EPA’s review of the waiver request and this opportunity to share our views. Our nation can again become a world leader in developing the technology that will make our people and our environment stronger and healthier in a multitude of ways. But it will not happen if we obstruct innovation and it will not happen if efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are blocked. This waiver is a critical step forward for this Administration, honoring its promise to protect our nation and our environment, and restore our standing in the world. Thank you.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1,800 Reform rabbis.



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