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The State of the Union and the Environment

The State of the Union and the Environment

We read in Kohelet, or Ecclesiastes, that “One generation goes and another generation comes, but the Earth remains forever” (1:4). We are people of faith who believe that all of God’s creation deserves to be protected and treated with respect, and we also know our human survival depends on the stability and security of natural resources.

Over the past year, we have witnessed a disturbing increase in the number of attacks on the environment coming out of the U.S. Congress. Many lawmakers has been fiercely bent on cutting out funding for environmental protections, blocking Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules and regulations, and dismissing calls to address climate change – this last point flying the face of announcements from the likes of the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration that 2011 saw the most extreme weather events in recent years. “This is money that would be better spent, especially in the ailing economy,” is the argument most commonly heard.

But we cannot be so naïve as to believe we must make a false “choice” between the economy and our health and the health of the environment. In his 2012 State of the Union address, it is time for President Obama to reaffirm his commitment to ensuring our children have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink – without sacrificing our economic wellbeing. “Now, the choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy.  The choice we face is between prosperity and decline,” Obama said in 2009 in support of expanding wind energy production as a path to American economic recovery.  We urge President Obama to renew this message in his national address on Tuesday, January 24, and cover these three categories:

Defending Clean Air & Water

Thirty-six major federal environmental laws protect dry and wetlands across the country from exploitation and contamination. Yet despite the established need for federal environmental protection, some Members of Congress have introduced a series of bills that would significantly and harmfully alter environmental laws and regulations. President Obama should reaffirm his support for landmark policies such as the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, and National Environmental Policy Act and emphasize that even in tough economic times, weakening environmental standards severely jeopardizes the health and well-being of the American people.

In 2011, despite significant opposition from Congress and industry lobby groups, the EPA achieved some major victories for clean air and water protection In December, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule limiting mercury and toxic air emissions from power plants, an announcement more than two decades in the making. We applaud President Obama on these heightened standards, which are projected to prevent thousands of premature deaths and respiratory conditions, and we urge him to stand by his support for a similarly-vital rule. The EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule would establish much-needed standards for regulating air pollution that crosses state lines. Although it is now in jeopardy and caught in a court-ordered delay, President Obama should use his Presidential pulpit on Tuesday to urge expedited approval of this rule and similar protections so that all Americans in every state can have cleaner, healthier air to breathe.

Supporting a Clean-Energy Economy

On Wednesday, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL oil pipeline construction permit, saying that it would “not serve the national interest” to grant a permit within the 60-day time limit imposed by Congressional Republicans. Opponents say the project taps into tar sand oil that contributes to climate change and could threaten a major U.S. drinking and irrigation reservoir, while supporters insist that the project would support job creation and energy independence. This debate has refueled the national conversation what kinds of energy resources we rely on and where they come from.

Speaker John Boehner has indicated that the House will soon vote on legislation that would seek to raise revenues to pay for infrastructure improvement by expanding domestic oil and gas extraction, including opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR; pictured above) to drilling.  Since 2001, the URJ has had formal policy supporting legislation to designate the coastal plain of ANWR as wilderness, thereby protecting the ecologically sensitive region from oil exploration and drilling.  During his speech, we hope President Obama will recommit himself and his Presidency to building a strong, clean-energy economy, investing in renewable energy sources, and rejecting the notion that we must expand fossil fuel extraction in vulnerable communities in order to finance other projects.

Confronting Climate Change

We also hope President Obama will emphasize the relationship between our nation’s energy policy and our moral obligation to respond to climate change, which continues to be one of the most significant threats the global population and environment faces. The most vulnerable in our country and around the world are hit hardest by the impacts of climate change, suffering from droughts, severe storms, and food shortages, and countless other natural disasters in the past year alone.

In December, world leaders and representative gathered in Durban, South Africa for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP 17, to negotiate a global commitment to tackle climate change. Although no formal commitment came out of the Durban talks, the gathering was productive in that participating nations agreed upon a structure for a Green Climate Fund that would provide $100 billion by 2020 for climate adaption efforts in developing nations. As the world’s largest historical producer of climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions, the United States is responsible for leading the way to global solutions. President Obama should reaffirm his commitment to continue providing climate change adaption funding for the world’s most vulnerable in the federal budget, as well as committing significant support to the Green Climate Fund.

Watch the speech on Tuesday, January 24, at 9 p.m. ET to hear if President Obama mentions these key environmental issues, specifically the two topics that made it onto our BINGO board: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and offshore oil drilling. Make sure to follow along with the RAC’s BINGO board to see what else he discusses. Keep checking RACblog between now and the speech for more updates on the issues we chose for our BINGO board.

Image courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Published: 1/23/2012

Categories: Social Justice
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