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Calling for Cleaner Auto Emissions, National Religious Leader Speaks of the Prophet Isaiah in Testimony Before Appropriations Subcommittee

Saperstein: "When we become obsessed with ever bigger and more powerful chariots and forget their impact. . . then we succumb to the sins about which Isaiah warned."

WASHINGTON, February 10, 1999-Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, today brought the words of the prophets to the U.S. Congress as he made an impassioned call for more stringent fuel economy guidelines, in testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation. The only religious leader to testify during the hearing, Saperstein spoke on behalf of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, the National Council of Churches of Christ, and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, organizations that include approximately 55 million people throughout the United States.

At a hearing on fiscal year 2000 appropriations, Saperstein asked the subcommittee to reject a legislative rider that for the last four years has prevented the Department of Transportation from updating Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards that apply to passenger cars and light trucks sold in the U.S.

Saperstein respectfully called on the committee members to heed the biblical imperative to "choose life" and ensure that their deliberations reflect "the core values of our faiths and our nation." He then continued his testimony, outlining several "consensus values" by which he suggested the committee members evaluate the effect of raised CAFE standards.

Pointing first to the preeminent goal of saving human lives, Saperstein argued that CAFE standards since their inception have provided tangible health benefits to the American people, especially children and the elderly. He cited Environmental Protection Agency data that credit existing fuel economy guidelines with reducing the quantity of carcinogenic particulates emitted into the air by 500,000 tons each year.

"Jewish and Christian traditions teach us that we have a solemn responsibility to prevent harm to other people," Saperstein explained. "These pollutants choke the lungs of children and the elderly, causing and exacerbating respiratory ailments, all too often leading to death," he said. "Remove this rider, and we have a chance to further clean up our air and save more lives...God calls on us first and foremost to protect the vulnerable."

In addition to the health benefits of increased fuel efficiency, according to Saperstein, there is an economic dividend too: a potential savings to the consumer of as much as $3000 over the lifetime of an automobile, as well as less reliance on foreign oil. He explained that half of the nation's oil is used to fuel its cars, corresponding to the amount of oil imported by the U.S. each year. "Increase energy efficiency, and our trade balances can improve," Saperstein added.

Building upon this point, Saperstein emphasized that "dependence on foreign oil can distort our nation's foreign policy objectives." By reducing such dependence by the U.S. and other oil-importing nations, he continued, "we help ensure the political autonomy of nations across the globe."

"The basic human rights with which our Creator has endowed all people, and the peace in the Mideast for which we yearn, may seem a long way from CAFE standards, energy conservation and efficiency, but they are inextricably linked."

Striking a personal note during his testimony, the rabbi reflected upon the legacy we will leave to our children. Saperstein said that he wants his own sons to inherit "a world that is not plagued by the dangers that pollution-caused climate change may create." Specifically, he cited the threats of natural disasters such as extreme heatwaves, rising sea levels, destructive hurricanes, and the spreading of tropical diseases that many scientists now predict will be the consequence of global warming.

"To be sure, [the prophet] Isaiah wasn't concerned with fuel economy," Saperstein testified. "But when we become obsessed with ever bigger and more powerful chariots and forget their impact on the world around us, then we succumb to the sins about which Isaiah warned."

Among the problems attributed to emissions from automobiles and trucks, is the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Scientific evidence has linked such "greenhouse gases" to a significant increase in the planet's surface temperature. Global warming threatens to increase flooding, storms, and drought, with devastating effects on agriculture and the possibility of widespread famine in mostly impoverished areas.


The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing 1.5 million Reform Jews and 1,800 Reform rabbis in 875 congregations throughout North America.

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