Clean air goes way beyond politics, as it is a matter of faith. The Rev. Jeff Wild, a Lutheran pastor, and I went to Washington recently to discuss the importance of the Clean Air Act with our elected representatives. We were representing faith communities of Wisconsin affiliated with the National Council of Churches. We believe that the Gospel calls us to care for God’s creation and for low-income people, which are often interconnected issues as the disenfranchised are generally the most exposed.
I am a member of Madison Mennonite Church, which places a strong emphasis on social and environmental justice. Wild is a pastor of the Madison Christian Community, which is a living example of this Gospel message because this faith community works with nature as much as possible. MCC is comprised of two congregations, Community of Hope UCC and Advent Lutheran, thus sharing their resources and reducing their impact.
It is important to realize that even in Wisconsin, we cannot take clean air for granted. It is estimated that 268 people died and 456 people had nonfatal heart attacks due to power plant pollution in Wisconsin in 2010 alone.
This year we have the opportunity to strengthen lifesaving standards for ozone, mercury, greenhouse gases and other air pollutants. Unfortunately, recent efforts to improve air quality have been labeled “burdensome” regulations by certain members of Congress. The article “Obama yields on smog rule in face of GOP demands” outlines how the Obama administration disappointed us by backing down to pressure from industry groups despite its progressive stance on other environmental issues. According to EPA estimates, this decision to not update the ozone standards may cost each year between 4,000 and 12,000 lives, 58,000 asthma attacks and 21,000 hospital and emergency room visits.
Wisconsin Sens. Herb Kohl and Ron Johnson currently are backing a bill, S.1392, which would delay the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to limit mercury and air toxins from industrial facilities. If the bill passes, it could result in as many as 2,600 premature deaths, 4,100 heart attacks, and 42,000 asthma attacks a year.
Kohl had voted to protect the ability of the Clean Air Act to limit carbon pollution earlier this year and so we hope he will reverse his decision with regard to S.1392.
Johnson’s Regulation Moratorium and Job Preservation Bill is an even bigger threat to a strong Clean Air Act because it would halt all “burdensome federal regulation” (i.e., a strong Clean Air Act) until the national unemployment rate drops to 7.7 percent. The argument of senators like Johnson and industry groups is that jobs will suffer because of stronger clean air standards. It is not clear that the data support this supposition and one always needs to keep in mind that people’s lives are at stake when it comes to clean air.
There is a growing Christian movement to care for creation and to advocate for environmental justice. We hope more people will join this movement, especially with regard to clean air. We all need to do our part and I ask all of Wisconsin’s members of Congress to promise to protect America’s families, to support clean air policies, and to back other protections that scientists and public health experts have recommended so that we may ensure healthy air for this generation and the next.
While Congress is busy undermining our air quality, what can we do? Contact Kohl’s office and Johnson’s office to urge them to reverse their position on S.1392 and to oppose Johnson’s regulation moratorium. Thank Rep. Tammy Baldwin for her support for a strong Clean Air Act. And join the Clean Air Promise campaign. Go to www.peoplenotpolluters.org to find out more.
Caroline Brock has a doctorate in environmental studies and is active in the Madison Mennonite Church. She is also a freelance writer for the National Council of Churches.