Barbara Weinstein: "If we fail to preserve and protect this world – our only world - by failing to address rising levels of carbon pollution, we betray our responsibility to one another and to future generations."
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WASHINGTON, D.C., May 24, 2012 – In March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took a historic step toward developing climate policy by proposing safeguards to limit carbon emissions from new power plants. Speaking today at the EPA public hearing on the Carbon Pollution Standards, Barbara Weinstein, Legislative Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) and also representing the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), submitted the following testimony to the EPA record:
Hello, my name is Barbara Weinstein. I am the Legislative Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, which advocates on behalf of more than 900 congregations and 1.5 million Reform Jews in the U.S. and Canada. I am also here on behalf of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, composed of 27 national Jewish organizations spanning the full spectrum of Jewish religious and communal life. Thank you for the opportunity today to speak in support of the EPA’s proposed Carbon Pollution Standard for new power plants. This standard marks an historic step toward developing comprehensive U.S. climate and energy policy, and we call on the EPA to maintain the strength of this proposed safeguard as it moves toward issuing a final rule.
The looming crisis of climate change is an immense environmental, political, and economic challenge. But in the Jewish community, as in the faith community broadly, climate change is also a moral and spiritual challenge. Judaism teaches that we are partners with God in the world of creation, that we must “till and tend” the Earth (Genesis 2:15) – and that is it not ours to abuse for our own profit. Our ancient sages, writing well before there were power plants or man-made carbon pollution, told us that God implored, “Take care, lest you spoil and destroy my world, because if you do, there is no one after you to make it right again” (Kohelet Rabbah 7:13). If we fail to preserve and protect this world – our only world - by failing to address rising levels of carbon pollution, we betray our responsibility to one another and to future generations.
Our faith also instructs and guides us that in the most difficult times, even in times of economic hardship or political conflict, all of Creation is to be honored and protected. In Deuteronomy (20:19) we read that it is forbidden to cut down fruit-bearing trees outside a besieged city. This reminder to honor our natural resources, even when it may seem most imperative or expeditious to exploit them, is a lesson that inspires us in the secular sphere, as well.
The standards proposed by the EPA address the heart of our nation’s carbon problem by targeting power plants, the country’s largest source of carbon pollution. Existing power plants emit more than 2 billion tons of carbon and other toxic pollutants each year – nearly 13,000 pounds for every man, woman, and child in the United States. And there are serious health, environmental, and economic consequences of those emissions. Scientists and experts agree: carbon pollution threatens public health and welfare by contributing to rising rates of respiratory ailments and heart attacks. These health issues disproportionately affect some more than others: particularly communities of color, low-income communities, children, and older adults. Moreover, carbon pollution is agreed to be the main cause of climate change and is linked to the rising number of extreme weather events in recent years. Each year from 2001 to 2011 has been one of the 12 warmest years on record. The trend is projected to continue, with April making history as the third warmest month ever recorded.
The science is clear and our faith tradition inspires our understanding of the steps that must be taken to reduce carbon emissions and address the impacts of these harmful pollutants. That is why a recent survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found that an overwhelming 69% of American Jews are supportive of tougher laws and regulations to protect the environment, even if it raises prices.
Today, it is OUR responsibility to protect our children from the impact of climate change. That includes the 55% of American children who in 2005, by this agency’s own estimate, lived in counties in which the eight-hour ozone standard was exceeded on at least one day per year. Today, it is OUR responsibility to help prevent our congregants and others in Missouri, Texas and Kansas from ever again knowing the devastation caused by the extreme weather events that swept their state this year and last. The same kinds of extreme weather events, like heat waves, that this agency notes on its website are probable to become “more likely and progressively more intense over the course of decades under current climate change scenarios.” Today, it is OUR responsibility to cut our carbon emissions and arrest the ever-worsening phenomenon of climate change. And we can do that by adopting the Carbon Pollution Standard for new power plants that this agency has proposed.
The need for carbon limits has never been clearer. We commend the EPA for taking steps to limit these harmful emissions, and we call on the EPA to maintain the strength of this safeguard as it moves toward issuing a final rule.