Remember this?

This occurred 14 days after the GOP-controlled House blocked an EPA regulation which would treat coal-ash as a hazardous material.

Today the Birmingham News reports that:

Alabama’s coal-fired power plants dispose of almost 15 million pounds of toxic metals in on-site ash ponds, more than plants in any other state. Alabama Power Co.’s Miller Steam Plant in western Jefferson County sends more toxic metals to its ash pond than any other plant in the country, more than 5 million pounds annually. . .

In addition to the assessment EPA made of the condition of ash pond dams across the country, the agency also classified ash ponds by the level of hazard posed if dams were to fail.

All but one of the Alabama Power ponds were classified as a significant risk, meaning that, if a rupture occurred, environmental and property damage would result. One ash pond at the Gaston plant in Shelby County’s Wilsonville is classified as a high hazard, meaning that loss of life could occur if a dam broke. All the ponds lie near waterways that receive treated discharge from the ponds.

But according to ALGOP Congressmen like Mike Rogers, safely regulating these pools is “overreach”:

Even so, one of the EPA’s two approaches would have regulated coal ash under laws treating the byproduct as a hazardous waste, giving federal officials enforcement powers, creating disposal restrictions and effectively phasing out the use of ash ponds and forcing power plants to shift to landfills.





On October14, 2011:

The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday voted to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating the waste from coal-fired power plants as a hazardous material, taking a swipe at a long-running movement to establish stricter protections against the toxin-laden waste from leaching into the water.

“This is a very scary prospect for communities living near coal-ash dumps–it’s a huge step backwards,” said Lisa Evans, an attorney with Earthjustice who has spent years pushing for federal regulation of coal-waste sites.

Republicans, who have pushed all year to rein in the EPA, have singled out the agency’s proposed coal-ash regulations as an example of regulatory overreach. With almost 40% of the coal waste recycled into cement, wallboard and other products, Republicans have sided with the business sector and warned that an entire industry would be stigmatized if the waste were regulated as hazardous. Another concern is that a proposed EPA rule would wind up forcing power plants to make expensive upgrades to disposal sites, raising electricity costs in the process.

“This is not a time for people who dislike fossil fuels to be pushing their personal agendas and ideologies,” said Rep. Dave McKinley (R., W. Va.), the sponsor of the bill. “To those who lack compassion and understanding about the real world–these are real jobs at stake here–it’s really that simple.”

What “overreaching” public health and safety rules did the EPA seek to implement?

Even so, one of the EPA’s two approaches would have regulated coal ash under laws treating the byproduct as a hazardous waste, giving federal officials enforcement powers, creating disposal restrictions and effectively phasing out the use of ash ponds and forcing power plants to shift to landfills.

On Monday, October 31, 2011:

A large section of bluff collapsed Monday next to the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant, sending dirt, coal ash and mud cascading into the shoreline next to Lake Michigan and dumping a pickup truck, dredging equipment, soil and other debris into the lake.


Time ran article entitled Pro-life Christians Challenge Congressional Republicans on Mercury Regulation which provides some encouraging voices showing that being pro-life is more than being anti-abortion:

You might not expect evangelical Christians to get involved in a political fight over mercury regulations. But when the Environmental Protection Agency proposed in March to tighten limits on industrial mercury emissions, the move caught the attention of an influential group of religious environmentalists who are now butting heads with pro-business Republicans seeking to weaken the regulations in the House on Friday afternoon. . .

Yet this delay faces strong opposition from the rule’s supporters, including evangelicals who argue that mercury pollution is an immediate crisis for the unborn. At the forefront is the Evangelical Environmental Network, a coalition of religious leaders that calls its work “grounded in the Bible’s teaching of the responsibility of God’s people to ‘tend the garden’” of Earth. The group’s leader, Rev. Mitch Hescox, is a registered Republican who worked in the utility and coal industries for 14 years before becoming a pastor.

Taking the fight to Republican critics of the EPA move, the EEN is mounting an ad campaign targeting Republicans Whitfield, Upton and Barton for opposing mercury restrictions while running on pro-life platforms. “I expect members of Congress who claim that they are pro life to use their power to protect the life, especially the unborn,” says a local pastor and mother in one of the ads. “I can’t understand why Congressman Ed Whitfield is fighting to stop the EPA from enforcing its plan specifically meant to protect the unborn by cleaning up dangerous mercury pollution.” The ads have run on 120 Christian and country radio station in Whitfield, Barton and Upton’s districts for the week prior to the Train Act vote. More than 100 evangelical pastors and leaders have also signed the “Evangelical Call to Stop The Mercury Poisoning of the Unborn,” including representatives from over 10 Christian colleges, National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson and Christianity Today’s Editor-in-Chief David Neff. The United States Council of Catholic Bishops submitted similar concerns. “A national standard limiting mercury and other toxic air pollution represents an important opportunity to protect the health and welfare of all people, especially our children and poor and vulnerable communities,” wrote Bishop Stephen Blaire. “While there are short-term costs involved in implementing this standard, the health benefits of such a rule outweigh these costs.”

Here, here.

However, when Christians do not toe the GOP partisan line, listen to  the disdain aimed in their direction:

Even so, some of the Republicans under pressure are suspicious of the EEN’s motives. “This is an activist environmental group parading under the banner of evangelical Christianity and the right to life,” Whitfield’s chief of staff John Sparkman told TIME. “I don’t think it will have resonance in our district.”

We see which issue has greater priority for these “pro-life” legislators: the commands of their corporate masters.

Unfortunately, the TRAIN Act passed the House on Friday afternoon with a 249-169 vote, but President Obama has indicated his willingness to veto this type of legislation if it passes the Senate.

That’s thrilling news to pro-life evangelical leaders who differ with Obama on plenty of other issues, including abortion and stem cell research. But on this issue, Obama and evangelical environmentalists agree that, as the EEN’s Hescox argued, the pro-life position requires protecting children and the unborn from industrial pollution. “‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these,’” Hescox said, quoting the Bible with emphasis. “We are denying our children a full and abundant life by threatening them with mercury.” If the bill passes the House on Friday, that’s a message Hescox and his allies are sure to bring to what they hope will be a more receptive Democratic-led Senate.

The Open Statement to Congress from these Evangelical leaders can be found here.

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions wants to allow Big Business to pee in our cisterns for a little longer, just until the economy recovers.

He began a Op-ed  this weekend opposing public health rules:

A storm cloud over the economy briefly lifted this month when President Obama directed the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw its proposal to tighten the nation’s ozone standards.

I hate to tell him that like the smog cloud over Birmingham, this supposed “storm cloud over the economy” was created by his Big Business cronies. “Today’s forecasts of economic doom are nearly identical — almost word for word — to the doomsday predictions of the last 40 years,” EPA chief Lisa Jackson said in a September speech. “This ‘broken record’ continues despite the fact that history has proven the doomsayers wrong again and again.”

To begin his argument, Sen. Sessions actually tries to downplay the danger of high-ozone levels in his op-ed. When reading his argument, remember that Birmingham, out of 277 metro areas natiowide, has the 21st highest ozone levels. So he may be right; Alabama metro regions may be in “non-attainment” and for good reason.

Despite that fact. he says:

Ozone is a naturally occurring gas.

It is also associated with emissions from cars, factories, and power plants, and as each summer reminds us, ozone concentrations are highest on hot days.

As a result of EPA tightening the standards significantly in 2008, allowable ozone concentrations are 40 percent lower now than in the 1970s.

He, at least,  acknowledges here the effectiveness of the EPA and the Clean Air Act, unlike Rep. Mike Rogers, over the years.  However, while “ozone is a naturally occurring gas”, he fails to mention that 40% of unhealthy ozone in Alabama comes from out-dated coal-burning power plants.

He also failed to mention the numerous studies which confirm the numbers of lives saved by reducing unhealthy ozone levels.  For instance, “in 2008 a committee of the National Research Council, a division of the National Academy of Sciences, reviewed the evidence again and concluded that ‘short-term exposure to ambient ozone is likely to contribute to premature deaths.‘ They recommended that preventing early death be included in any future estimates of the benefits of reducing ozone.”

Sen. Sessions does not include such life-saving in his calculus. According to the EPA’s own analysis, the smog standards Sessions now opposes could save over 12,000 lives from heart attacks, lung disease and asthma attacks by implementing the new standards. He fails to consider such despite that Justice Antonin Scalia – one of the court’s most conservative members – himself wrote in a unanimous opinion that the Clean Air Act “unambiguously bars cost considerations from the NAAQS-setting process and thus ends the matter for us as well as the EPA.”

No, he only considers what his industry-masters have told him.  Instead of relying upon the Congress’s own findings, he cites a report from Manufacture Alliance, an industry front group. That report has been utterly discredited:

The methodology used in this report is invalid; no economist worth his or her salt would stand by it. Rather than providing rigorous economic analysis to help improve public policy decisions, MAPI’s sole objective in issuing this report was to generate scary cost estimates and undermine measures to improve public health.

Instead of relying upon such a biased report, he could have read what Congress’ own research had produced. A recent report from the US Congress’s Congressional Research Service debunks some of the Session’s and the  industry scare-tactics over proposed public-health laws.

Seems these days, there are a zillion Big Business leaders, their puppets in Congress and legions of corporate cheerleaders crying wolf over the regulations that keep you, me and our fellow countrymen safe from unchecked corporate greed. The latest example of this is a study by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the largest trade association representing the electric utility industry, which concluded that the looming Environmental Protection Agency rules for power plants will create an economic “train wreck.”

Not surprisingly, this prophecy of doom and gloom has been found to be completely overblown, according to a new report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

CRS analyzed EEI’s study and found it was severely flawed and lacked credibility. The discredited EEI study is just another example of the disconnect between the alarmist rhetoric coming from special interests and reality.

Here are the main points of the CRS report:

1. “The primary impacts of many of the rules will largely be on coal-fired plants more than 40 years old that have not, until now, installed state-of-the-art pollution controls…Many of these plants are inefficient and are being replaced by more efficient combined cycle natural gas plants, a development likely to be encouraged if the price of competing fuel—natural gas—continues to be low, almost regardless of EPA rules.”

2. The EEI study was done before most of the EPA rules were even proposed, and it assumed that the rules would be more stringent, with shorter compliance deadlines, than the ones that EPA has actually proposed. Therefore, the EEI study great exaggerates the impact of the EPA rules.

3. The EEI study completely ignores the benefits of the EPA rules. According to the CRS report, “The costs of the rules may be large, but, in most cases, the benefits are larger, especially estimated public health benefits.”

Recently, American Electric Power’s chairman admitted to shareholders that he was not worried about the new EPA rules. His public statements have been dramatically different, stoking fears about the disastrous impact the EPA rules will have on the economy:

“Because of the unrealistic compliance timelines in the EPA proposals, we will have to prematurely shut down nearly 25 percent of our current coal-fueled generating capacity, cut hundreds of good power-plant jobs, and invest billions of dollars in capital to retire, retrofit, and replace coal-fueled power plants,” AEP Chairman and CEO Mike Morris said in a statement last week. “The sudden increase in electricity rates and impacts on state economies will be significant at a time when people and states are still struggling.”

A week earlier, Morris had sought to allay investors’ concerns about the plant closures and their effect on AEP’s bottom line at a June 1 investor’s conference.
“On balance, we think that is the appropriate way to go,” Morris said of the closures. “Not only to treat our customers, but also to treat our shareholders, near and long term, with that small amount of the fleet going off-line.”

He not only includes biased reports but Sessions actually misrepresents history these rules though. He wrote:

As a result of EPA tightening the standards significantly in 2008, allowable ozone concentrations are 40 percent lower now than in the 1970s.

Nonetheless, in early 2010, EPA unilaterally announced plans to lower the standard, again, this time by an additional 20 percent. This was a voluntary decision that was not ordered by the courts or mandated by law.

What actually happened:

The currently applicable standard of 84 parts per billion (ppb) was promulgated in 1997. When the George W. Bush administration finally got around to revising the standard in 2008, it proposed a standard of 75 ppb, which was less stringent than the 60-70 ppb range that CASAC had recommended. In an extraordinary act of resistance, CASAC told the EPA administrator that the proposed standard was not supported by the scientific evidence. Not surprisingly, environmental groups challenged the Bush administration standard in court. As mentioned above, they put their lawsuit on hold to give EPA time to write a more stringent standard.

Soon after president Obama was inaugurated, Jackson struck a deal with the environmental organizations, under which EPA withdrew the Bush administration standard and promised to propose a new (and presumably more stringent) standard by August 2010. The agreement effectively left the outdated 1997 standard in place, because EPA told the states not to worry about implementing the withdrawn standard.

EPA missed the August 2010 deadline. Out of an abundance of caution, Jackson asked CASAC to review the scientific information one more time. CASAC did so and once again recommended a standard in the 60-70 ppb range. In January of this year, Jackson said that EPA would propose a standard in that range. The agency then completed its proposal and sent it to the White House Office of Management and Budget in July, where it languished until last Friday.

If Jackson now reneges on her agreement with the environmental organizations and puts the ozone standard on the back burner until 2013 or later, Americans living in cities — where ozone pollution is at its worst — will be left in worse shape than they would have been had the inadequate Bush administration standard gone into effect.

Nevertheless, Sessions conclude his argument with:

For the sake of economic growth and job creation, I believe Congress should enact legislation authorizing the president to delay or forego major new rules in light of significant economic concerns, at least until unemployment rates finally fall to historic average levels.

Does anyone believe Sessions will agree to the scientific evidence later.

In the words of Christian apologist and missionary Francis Schaeffer:

These are the two factors that lead to the destruction of our environment: money and time – – or to say it another way: greed and haste. The question is, or seems to be, are we going to have an immediate profit and an immediate saving of time, or are we going to do what we really should do as God’s children.

. .  .What we, the Christian community, have to do is refuse them the right to ravish our land, just as we refuse them the right to ravish our women; to insist that somebody accept a little less profit by not exploiting nature.

We need to push back against the rhetoric of Representatives Sessions, Rogers and Roby. After all, even that “communist-rag” Forbes magazine has declared it is time to replace Eisenhower-Era Power plants:

Once again opponents are voicing the same tired argument that power companies need a lot more time to comply, even though they’ve known the rule was coming for more than a decade. Some—like American Electric Power—are pulling out all stops to delay the rule, which they say will destroy jobs, raise energy prices and slow economic growth.

That’s nonsense. Studies show the EPA rule is technologically feasible, provides clear economic benefits and offers power companies an opportunity to modernize their aging fleets.

The power plants most endangered by these air pollution rules are the nation’s smallest, dirtiest, least-efficient plants. Most are more than 50 years old.  Continuing to rely on these plants while giving the pollutants they belch a free ride is like driving around in that Model T Ford. Why accept such antiquated technology in the 21st century?  The time to modernize the nation’s generating fleet is now.

While the Senator Sessions, Congressman Rogers and their fellow industry-cheerleaders proclaim that the proposed rules kill-jobs,  just the opposite is true. The new rules will actually spur new jobs and economic activity.

These companies can attest that complying with the air quality rules yields potential economic benefits, including job creation, while maintaining reliability of our electric system.

Studies back them up.

A recent report by the University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute found significant job creation benefits from both the air toxics and cross-state rules, with an especially large boost—nearly 300,000 jobs annually nationwide over the next five years—as Eisenhower-era power plants are replaced with cleaner, more-efficient capacity.

Pipefitters, engineers, boilermakers, construction workers and others will be needed to build new, clean power plants and install pollution control devices on others.

From the Discovery News article: Peruvian Desert once a Breadbasket:

Throughout human history unsustainable agricultural practices have turned fragile ecosystems into wastelands and left people starving. During the Dust Bowl, American farmers learned the consequences of removing the deep rooted grasses from the Great Plains when the soil blew away in tremendous dust storms. Icelandic shepherds learned that the sheep rearing practices their ancestors used on the European mainland destroyed the thin soils of their island and left them with starving herds and little to eat.

The ancient inhabitants of what is now Peru also learned the unhappy consequences of farming in a delicate ecosystem. The Ica Valley, near the coast of southern Peru and the famous Nazca lines, is now a barren desert, but was once a fertile floodplain, anchored by the roots of the huarango tree.

People were able to raise a variety of crops there for several centuries. But intensive agriculture in pre-conquest times led to ecosystem collapse. The history of the land was recently reconstructed by bioarcheologist David Beresford-Jones of the University of Cambridge by looking at plant remains left in ancient garbage heaps.

Beresford-Jones and a team of archeologists studied plant remains associated with settlement sites spanning roughly 750 B.C. to 1000 A.D. They observed the change as the valley inhabitants went from eating mostly gathered foods, to a period of intense agriculture, then back again to surviving on what they could eke out of nature’s diminished bounty.

The farmers inadvertently crossed an ecological threshold and the changes became irreversible,” says Dr. David Beresford-Jones of the University of Cambridge.

. . .In less than two thousand years, the people went full circle and ended up eating what their ancestors had, but without the huarango forests. To this day, the land is barren, with only the ghostly outlines of irrigation canals to suggest that the land once supported an agrarian society.

Michelle Bachmann has drawn some alarmist reactions recently for her acknowledgement that Presbyterian missionary and apologist Francis Schaeffer influenced her life and thinking. One article reports:

Schaeffer “was a tremendous philosopher,” Bachmann told me. “He wrote marvellous books and was very inspirational.” She said that Schaeffer “took Christianity beyond the Bible,” and that he showed “how the application of living according to Christian principles has helped the culture for the better.” She added, “He really tried to call Christians to do more than just go to church, to have an application to how they live their lives, to have Christians think that whether they are called to be a dentist, or whether they are a doctor, or whether they are an artist, or whether they are a sculptor—whatever it is that they’re called to do—to give it everything that they have and to have a bigger purpose, a bigger meaning in all of it.”

She is reported to have said of Schaeffer:

“One thing that Dr. Schaeffer said is that [God is] not just the God of theology. He’s not just the God of the Bible,” Bachmann said, according to the Des Moines Register. “Since he is the Creator God, he’s the father of biology, sociology, of political science, of you name the subject. … And that altered our way of thinking, that God had something to say about our career.”

“Francis Schaeffer also said that life is the watershed issue of our time, and how we come down on how we view human life will impact all other issues,” she said. “And so Marcus and I decided we didn’t want to be pro-life only, just as speaking… We wanted to live a life of being about pro-life.”

Francis Schaeffer played a large part in the development of my thinking as well. Schaeffer mostly called upon Christians to think Christianly about every area of life: in his words, to have a “Biblical world and life view.”
As Romans 12 teaches, we should: “be not conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

There should be no concern with Rep. Bachmann that she has read some of Schaeffer’s books. If you disagree with her positions, attacking her religious motivations and convictions will not rebut her arguments nor convince any independent and evangelical bystander of her errors of her positions. In fact, such reactionary tones will only calcify the partisan a divide.

We should actually encourage her embrace a more full-orbed vision of her Christian convictions and beliefs. Although with less dogma, we should want her to more thoroughly and  broadly apply her worldview. From what I have seen so far from her campaign, she selectively limits her “biblical worldview” to abortion and homosexual marriage. This is unfortunately the pattern of many activists of the “Christian Right.” They usually limit their Christian principles to just a few social and sexual-moral issues while wholly ignoring the demands of their Christianity concerning economic and public justice. While those social issues are very important, our Christian principles must have a broader application than a narrow set of concerns. On almost all other areas, the “Christian Right” has merely baptized the partisan Republican agenda. Whether the issue is taxes, treatment of workers in the workplace, racial reconciliation, consumer protection, victims’ rights in civil courtrooms, immigration reform, foreign and military intervention, or criminal justice, the Christian Right’s response mimics the GOP party line.

For instance, let”s consider Rep. Bachmann’s response to modern ecological problems?   She has made elimination of the EPA and environmental protection a prominent plank of her platform. She even opened her campaign with pronouncements such as:

What we need to do is pass the mother of all repeal bills, but it’s the repeal bill that will get a job killing regulations. And I would begin with the EPA, because there is no other agency like the EPA. It should really be renamed the job-killing organization of America.

Acting as a “Rachel Carson-in-Reverse,” she argued

‘The big thing we are working on now is the global warming hoax.  It’s all voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax.”

On the House floor she argued:

Carbon dioxide, Mister Speaker, is a natural byproduct of nature. Carbon dioxide is natural. It occurs in Earth. It is a part of the regular lifecycle of Earth. In fact, life on planet Earth can’t even exist without carbon dioxide. So necessary is it to human life, to animal life, to plant life, to the oceans, to the vegetation that’s on the Earth, to the, to the fowl that — that flies in the air, we need to have carbon dioxide as part of the fundamental lifecycle of Earth.

As a matter of fact, carbon dioxide is portrayed as harmful!

But there isn’t even one study that can be produced that shows carbon dioxide is a harmful gas. There isn’t one such study because carbon dioxide is not a harmful gas, it is a harmless gas. Carbon dioxide is natural. It is not harmful. It is part of Earth’s life cycle.

And yet we’re being told that we have to reduce this natural substance and reduce the American standard of living to create an arbitrary reduction in something that is naturally occuring in the earth. Well we’re told the crux of this problem is human activity. It’s humans that are creating more carbon dioxide!

As evidenced by the tenor of her rhetoric, her opposition to environmental protection and supervision is dogmatic and ideological; it is no mere concern with the misapplication of rules or over-zealousness by the EPA officials.  Her visceral objection to environmental regulation and public health law has been consistent across her career. Granted, there may be regulations which are overly-burdensome and those need modification; however, Bachmann’s believes any such regulations are principally illegitimate.

Should Christians be concerned about environmental justice? I think that Rep. Bachmann would be surprised to learn what her mentor Schaeffer taught concerning the Christian’s response to environmental crises and ecological problems. He certainly called for more than apathy and willful ignorance. In his book, the “Church at the End of the Twentieth Century” (1970), Schaeffer addressed the “population explosion and the ecological problem:”

One would think that in the Alps where I live there would be peace, but everywhere you turn the mountains are being ripped up to make roads across them so that it is getting harder and harder to find a quiet place. We know the problem in the United States. So we make national parks, and pretty soon the national parks are destroyed because so many people come into them that the trails are covered with asphalt to keep them from being worn away, and they are no better than Broadway. The population explosion applies tremendous pressure.

Along with this goes total ecological destruction. We must not kid ourselves. We are in trouble. Not only Lake Erie is dead. Lake Geneva is sick. The ocean is dying. There is ecological pressure and the thinkers of this world are frightened about what is coming next. . .

I doubt Rep. Bachmann would be willing to admit such “trouble” or especially not its human causes. Can anyone imagine Bachmann or the Tea Party employing such language as Schaeffer does?

Francis Schaeffer addressed environmental issues more exhaustively in “Pollution and the Death of Man”(1970).  He generally argued that a consistent Christian worldview and philosophy provides the only sound foundational reason and logic for sustained protection of the Earth.  In contradistinction to merely pragmatic and technological motives,  Schaeffer presented the moral basis (in fact, moral obligation) for dealing with the ecological problems.  He positively agrees that:

Our contemporary moral crisis, then, goes much deeper than questions or political power and law, or urban riots and slums. It may, at least in part, reflect the American society’s almost utter disregard for the value of nature.”

He based our moral responsibility upon several Christian concepts such as the Goodness of Creation and its Ultimate Redemption through the preaching of the Good News.

The value of the things is not in themselves autonomously, but that God made them – -and thus they deserve to be treated with high respect.

In addition to its created status, Christians must view the Earth as God’s possession, according to Schaeffer:

It is the same when we have dominion over nature: it is not ours. It belongs to God, and we are to exercise our dominion over these things not as though entitled to exploit them, but as things borrowed or held in trust. We are using them realizing that they are not ours intrinsically. Man’s dominion is under God’s dominion.

But he further taught that we live in a sinful world with sinful men. Consistent with thought of James Madison, “if men were angels, we would not need laws,” Schaeffer saw that:

Man was given dominion over creation. This is true. But since the Fall man has exercised this dominion wrongly. He is a rebel who has set himself at the center of the universe. By creation, man has dominion, but as a fallen creature he has used that dominion wrongly. Because he is fallen, he exploits created things as though they were nothing in themselves, and as though he has an autonomous right to them.

Did Schaeffer believe these moral concerns and obligations trump the pursuit of profits by corporations? Absolutely! He answers using strip-mining as an example:

Why has strip-mining usually turned the area where it has been used into desert? Why is the “Black Country” in England’s Midlands black? What has brought about the ugly destruction of the environment? There is one reason: man’s greed.

If the strip-miners would take bulldozers and push back the topsoil, rip out the coal, then replace the topsoil, in ten years after the coal was removed there would be a green field, and in fifty years a forest. But as it has usually been practiced, for an added profit above what is reasonable in regard to nature, man turns these areas into deserts and then cries out that the topsoil is gone, grass will not grow, and there is no way to grow trees for hundreds of years.

It is always true that if you treat the land properly, you have to make two choices. The first is in the area of economics. It costs more money, at least at first, to treat the land well.  . . .

The second choice involved is that it usually takes longer to treat the land properly. These are the two factors that lead to the destruction of our environment: money and time – – or to say it another way: greed and haste. The question is, or seems to be, are we going to have an immediate profit and an immediate saving of time, or are we going to do what we really should do as God’s children.

. .  .What we, the Christian community, have to do is refuse them the right to ravish our land, just as we refuse them the right to ravish our women; to insist that somebody accept a little less profit by not exploiting nature.

As Christians we have to learn to say “Stop” because after all, greed is destructive of nature at this point, and there is a time to take one’s time.

I wish Bachmann talked like this. I wish the Tea Party would see being pro-life is much more than being anti-abortion as Schaeffer did. I desire Christians, both evangelical and Roman Catholic, to apply their Christian principles across many areas.

Perhaps a complete reading of Schaeffer can help us unmask the fact that our activities and “environmental sins” are not just private, amoral, inconsequential, and limited; these acts, mediated through changes in our environment and communities, affect, not only our lives, our neighbors, and the generations to come but also our violate our covenant with living God.

“Most of us are still too sane to piss in our own cistern, but we allow others to do so, and we reward them for it. We reward them so well, in fact, that those who piss in our cisterns are wealthier than the rest of us. – Wendell Berry

Smog covering Birmingham

The American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2011 report on America’s most polluted cities is out.

The State of the Air 2011 shows that the air quality in many places has improved during 2007-2009. Still, over 154 million people—just over one half the nation—suffer pollution levels that are too often dangerous to breathe. Despite great progress, air pollution lingers as a widespread and dangerous reality. It is important to note this progress, even as some seek to weaken the public health law that has improved the air we breathe since 1970, the Clean Air Act.

According to the American Lung Association report, out of 277 metro areas,  the Birmingham metro region was the 8th most polluted city for particle pollution in the nation. It ranked as the 21st most polluted for overly high ozone levels. Amazingly, it scored an F’s on all three levels of analysis. Montgomery County did not fair much better by scoring consistent D’s. In fact, each major metro area in Alabama scored F’s for high ozone levels, except Montgomery with their D.

Note, that my Congressman Mike Rogers is one of those determined to weaken eliminate our clean air and other public health laws and their enforcement. He and his fellow Republicans were praised by Lance Brown, executive director of PACE, this past week in an opinion piece appearing in the Montgomery Advertiser for “helping lead the effort to require sensible regulation and to rein in over-aggressive action” i.e. allowing our corporate overlords to pee in our common cisterns.

According to the Mr. Brown, Montgomery county has “no problem” with high ozone.  Although the American Lung Association gives Montgomery a D for unhealthily high ozone levels and a D for overly high particle pollution, Mr. Brown argues the EPA is “unnecessarily” raising the standards.

The PACE opinion includes this telling insight of perspective:

EPA Administrator Jackson, like all regulators, always offers some level of justification for new rules. In this case, EPA believes tougher ozone limits will produce public health benefits.

While improved public health is always a laudable goal, it is just as important to pursue solutions that also foster economic health, not fall backward with new restrictions on recruitment and growth. Stemming excessive and capricious regulation is part of that solution. That way, the River Region and other U.S. communities can all breathe a little easier.

Is public health merely a “laudable goal?” Public health should not be some secondary or tertiary concern for elected officers but rather a chief goal. I remember some where that the calling of our civil leaders is to “establish justice,” and “promote the general welfare” and “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

What are the consequences of being a resident of the 8th most polluted city for its residents?:

Breathing high levels of particle pollution day in and day out also can be deadly, as landmark studies in the 1990s conclusively showed. Chronic exposure to particle pollution can shorten life by one to three years. Other impacts range from premature births to serious respiratory disorders, even when the particle levels are very low.

Year-round exposure to particle pollution has also been linked to:

  • increased hospitalization for asthma attacks for children living near roads with heavy truck or trailer traffic;
  • slowed lung function growth in children and teenagers;
  •  significant damage to the small airways of the lungs;
  •  increased risk of dying from lung cancer; and
  •  increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease.68

The evidence warns that the death toll is high. Although no national tally exists, California just completed an analysis that estimates that 9,200 people in California die annually from breathing particle pollution.  An updated computer modeling of deaths from pollution caused by coal-fired power plant emissions, exposures which are more predominant outside of California, estimates roughly 13,200 deaths from particle pollution in the Midwest, New England and the Southeast.

Research into the health risks of 65,000 women over age 50 found that those who lived in areas with higher levels of particle pollution faced a much greater risk of dying from heart disease than had been previously estimated. Even women who lived within the same city faced differing risks depending on the annual levels of pollution in their neighborhood.

The Environmental Protection Agency released the most thorough review of the current research on particle pollution in December 2009. The Agency had engaged a panel of expert scientists, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, to help them assess the evidence, in particular research published between 2002 and May 2009. EPA concluded that particle pollution caused multiple, serious threats to health.

Similar evidence exists for the health consequences for high ozone levels.

The vast majority of Birmingham particle pollution and ozone is derived from coal-fired power plants, not fireworks or  as implied by PACE.  According to a Birmingham watchdog group,

These old, outdated coal-fired power plants have been exempt from modern pollution controls due to a loophole in the Clean Air Act. Back in the 70s, driven by pressure from industry lobbyists, a “loophole” was created in the Clean Air Act by elected officials that benefited the coal and electricity industry greatly. Promising that they would soon be retired, many old coal-fired plants were exempt from requirements to install modern pollution controls, often referred to as the “grandfathered” plants.Data source: US EPA, 2008

Many power companies exploited this “grandfathered” status, kept their plants open, and increased their emissions significantly over the years.

While strides have been made we certainly need to continue our vigilance in being good stewards and insuring clean air and waters. As stated by Wendell Berry,

Sooner or later. governments will have to recognize that if the land [and air] does not prosper, nothing else can prosper for very long. We can have no industry or trade or wealth or security if we don’t uphold the health of the land [and air] and the people’s work. . .

It is commonly understood that governments are instituted to provide certain protections that citizens individually cannot provide for themselves. . . Our governments have only occasionally recognized the need of land [and air] and people to be protected against economic violence. It is true that economic violence is not always as swift, and it is rarely as bloody, as violence of war, but it can be devastating nonetheless. Acts of economic aggression can destroy a landscape or a community or the center of a town  or city, and they routinely do so. . . Because as individuals or even as communities we cannot protect ourselves against these aggressions, we need our state and national government to protect us.

It appears that we have fallen into the habit of compromising on issues that should not, and in fact cannot, be compromised.  I have and idea that a large number of us, including even a large number of politicians, believe that it is wrong to destroy the Earth [and air.] But we have powerful political opponents who insist that an Earth-destroying economy is justified by freedom and profit. And so we compromise by agreeing to permit the destruction only of parts of the Earth, or permit the Earth to be destroyed a little at a time — like the famous three-legged pig that was too well loved to be eaten all at once. [“and air” additions mine]

The high calling of businesses and private enterprise is stewardship which includes just care for the surrounding communities, people, land, water, and air. As we seek economic prosperity for Alabama, let us not so narrowly limit our vision and measure of judgment but rightly call on our elected officials to pursue the common good and demand public justice. Maybe we need to modify our State creed a little:

I believe in Alabama, a state dedicated to a faith in God and the enlightenment of mankind; to a democracy that safeguards the liberties of each citizen and to the conservation of her youth, her ideals, and her soil [and air].

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