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My Day on Capitol* Hill: A Religious Response to Global Warming

Last week, about forty lay and clergy members of Interfaith Power and Light met with Senators, Representatives and their environmental legislative directors to call for rapid and equitable action on climate change.

In the House, we asked that members sign onto a global warming principles letter circulated by Reps. Waxman (D-CA), Markey (D-MA and Inslee (D-WA).

The principles include the following elements:

strong science-based targets for near-term and long-term emissions reductions; auctioning emissions allowances rather than giving them to polluting industries; investing auction revenues in clean energy technologies; returning auction proceeds to consumers, workers, and communities to offset any economic impacts; and dedicating a portion of auction proceeds to help states, communities, vulnerable developing countries, and ecosystems address harm from the degree of global warming that is now unavoidable.

In the Senate, we pressed for the strengthening of the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2008 in three areas:

1. Bill fails to cut emissions 80% by 2050, which is the minimum emissions reduction necessary according to science. In addition, the bill fails to mandate that the EPA take action if science evolves to show further action is required. We want the bill to be science-based. Members of Congress need to build in a mechanism to adjust the bill’s current emissions reduction target if the science shows it is needed.

2. Right now, the bill takes a piece-meal approach to transitioning low-income Americans. We think the bill should fully address the cost to low-income Americans

3. The bill currently gives hundreds of billions of dollars to emitters for free which will take vital resources away from the transition to a clean energy economy. We think 100% of allowances should be auctioned and that the revenue should be used for public purposes, particularly for getting us off our dependence on foreign and fossil sources of fuel.

I had the opportunity to meet with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). We actually ran into the very tall Senator on the way to his office. He swiftly rounded a corner (wearing hip, black Puma sneakers) and almost stumbled into my boss, the Rev. Canon Sally Bingham. He led us back into his office and for the next thirty minutes listened to his Rhode Island constitutes – two pastors – and shared his cap and auction fairness ideals, as well as the pragmatic realities of passing global warming legislation this year (no hope thanks to Sen. Inhofe and President Bush, but still strategically important to push now to lay the groundwork for 2009).

Additionally, I met with staffers for Reps. Henry Waxman – smart and tough, Brian Bilbray (R-CA) – his staffer was very confused about the science, Barbara Lee (D-CA) – she speaks for me from Berkeley, and finally Dennis Cardoza (D-CA), a Blue Dog who clearly listens to his church-going constituents.

At the end of the day, our group reconvened and told their lobbying stories. Rev. Jim Deming, of Tennessee, met with the offices of both his Senators and about three Congressmembers, with two more scheduled for the next day.

In all, our folks got out the message that America’s faith community cares deeply about global warming and expects our political leaders to help us cut carbon emissions. We picked up contact information and it looks like lots of district meetings will happen before November.

(left: Jessica Brown, the Rev. Dr. Michael Reid, Alexander Carpenter – pictures by Gretchen Rust)

*thanks Jared for the update capital! editing.

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