FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 13, 2016
Contact: Nora Leccese
Reverend Nelson Testifies to U.S. Senate on Moral Imperative to Act on Climate
Washington, D.C.—On the morning of Wednesday April 13th at 9:30 am, Office of Public Witness Director Rev J Herbert Nelson testified at a Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing entitled “Examining the Role of Environmental Policies on Access to Energy and Economic Opportunity.” The hearing was called to illuminate the impact of the President’s climate policies on economic opportunity, national security, and related issues and also addressed the moral imperative to act on climate change. Reverend Nelson was joined by fellow minority witness Michael Breen, President and CEO of Truman National Security Project Father and by majority witnesses Robert A. Sirico, President of Action Institute; Major General Robert Scales, Senior Military Analyst and Alex Epstein, President at the Center for Industrial Progress.
Reverend Nelson spoke of his time as Pastor of an inner city congregation in Memphis, Tennessee and of the hardship he witnessed in a community that was bordered on all sides by heavy polluters. Reverend Nelson revealed, “I shared my home and my community with some of the most intense industrial pollution in the country from a chemical plant, a coal-fired power generating station, and an oil refinery. Ours was a predominately African American community, which like so many low-income communities of color in our nation, suffered disproportionately under the health burdens of living in an industrial zone.”
He brought to the committee’s attention that faithful climate action is not solely a Presbyterian issue and that there is broad based ecumenical and interfaith support for the Clean Power Plan and the Green Climate Fund. Reverend Nelson submitted a letter released on Monday April 11th that was signed by 121 faith organizations urging Congress to invest the President’s recommended $750 million in the Green Climate Fund for Fiscal Year 2017.
In his testimony, Reverend Nelson implored the nation to accept its moral responsibility to address global warming. Reverend Nelson stated, “We do this because we believe the only thing that will ‘put a stay’ on climate change is swift, faithful action to heal and protect God’s creation.” You can watch the archived webcast of the hearing here.
Testimony of Reverend Dr. J Herbert Nelson II
Director, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
"Examining the Role of Environmental Policies on
Access to Energy and Economic Opportunity.”
April 13, 2016
Hello, my name is Reverend Doctor J Herbert Nelson and I direct the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness. Chairman Inhofe, Ranking Member Boxer, and Committee Members, thank you for the opportunity to testify today.
I come to you today not only with 30 years of pastoral experience in a community that bore the harmful impacts of industrial pollution, not only as director of our denomination’s national advocacy office, but as a representative of an ecumenical Christian community that understands the urgent moral imperative to act on climate change and protect God’s great creation.
Scripture affirms: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers” (Ps. 24:1–2); The Christian affirmation of God’s creation and love for the world means protection for all human, animal and plant life. It is apt, then, that we discuss environmental policy in tandem with economic policy, for care for all of creation, including our neighbors’ health and economic wellbeing, is central to our concern in addressing climate change.
I served as Pastor of a poor inner city congregation in Memphis, Tennessee before coming to Washington, DC. I shared my home and my community with some of the most intense industrial pollution in the country from a chemical plant, a coal-fired power generating station, and an oil refinery. Ours was a predominantly African American community, which like so many low-income communities of color in our nation, suffered disproportionately under the health burdens of living in an industrial zone. It was widely reported at the time that Africans Americans were 79 percent more likely than whites to live in neighborhoods where industrial pollution was suspected of posing the greatest health danger.
Memphis residents were often sick and were forced to miss school and work because of chronic asthma caused by pollutants. I recall one activist I knew, Doris Bradshaw, who lived on land contaminated by a nearby military storage facility. After her grandmother’s untimely death from an aggressive cervical cancer, which doctors told her was environmentally induced, Ms. Bradshaw delved into her own investigation of the contaminants of the land and air. She was shocked to find a laundry list of chemicals that had been improperly disposed of and stored there, and those responsible for the disposal had not been held accountable. I am certain that the CEOs and profiteers of those companies did not live in areas where the air and water made their family ill. As pastor, I conducted funerals of people who died before their time, made countless hospital visits for maladies my flock should not have had to endure, and engaged in organizing to bring justice to those afflicted by careless environmental practices. We seek an earth restored, where economic development is not paid for with the health of our most vulnerable sisters and brothers in Christ.
Presbyterians have established since 1981 that we have an ethical obligation to secure a livable planet for present and future generations. A report approved by the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) entitled The Power to Change: U.S. Energy Policy And Global Warming states emphatically that we have both a spiritual and moral responsibility to address the issues related to climate change. In order to do this in the Reformed tradition, we believe that repentance is required. Repentance in our biblical understanding calls individuals and nations to stop the actions that are contrary to God’s desires for the sustainability of human life, while turning to a new way of living that promotes the John 10:10 vision of an abundant life. With God’s grace, we can receive the power to change.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) recognizes that there is no greater measure of God’s abundant provision than that of the energy provided by the sun and wind. As such, our denomination has called for the removal of market barriers for broad based investment in renewable energy. We have already seen prices of renewables drop below the prices of carbon based energy sources in some areas, and believe it is part of our moral imperative to continue these development projects. We charge the federal government to continue to shift subsidies and financial incentives away from fossil fuel extraction and towards renewable energy infrastructure in order to protect the affordable energy prices that many low income families rely on. Our denomination also recognizes that carbon based energy sources are artificially inexpensive, and that we would be stunned if costs to human health and reclamation of God’s damaged creation were reflected in the utility bills of everyday Americans. We know not what we do.
At this time, I would like to make some specific remarks about the President’s Climate Action Plan. Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Evangelical institutions have commented extensively on the importance of the President’s Plan, including and especially the Clean Power Plan and curbing methane waste. I will submit for the record more than two dozen statements by Catholic, Evangelical, Protestant, and Jewish leadership that express strong support for those two aspects of the Climate Action Plan. The Clean Power Plan will help communities like the one I pastored in Memphis to gather stakeholders and together, forge a path forward to make the transition to a much-needed clean energy future that will protect our community’s health. In spite of the Supreme Court stay, as well as some states’ decisions to stall progress, faith communities are forging ahead at the grassroots level to have the conversations on the ground about making inevitable and necessary changes in our energy economy, which will ultimately benefit all of us. We do this because we believe the only thing that will “put a stay” on climate change is swift, faithful action to heal and protect God’s creation. Furthermore, because faith communities value good stewardship, we believe methane standards by EPA and BLM of new and existing methane pollution sources need to be swiftly completed. One only need visit Porter Ranch, California or any other community close to an oil and gas extraction site to see devastating impacts of careless, easily fix-able methane leaks. Currently, the methane pollution wasted by the oil and gas industry each year is enough to heat nearly 6 million homes each winter. Furthermore, millions in taxpayer money literally go up in smoke due to venting and flaring practices on our public lands. States, Tribes and federal taxpayers lose royalty revenues when natural gas is wasted – as much as $23 million annually in royalty revenue for the Federal Government and the States that share it, according to a 2010 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.
Our advocacy does not end at our own borders, for we know well that energy decisions made by the US are amplified the world over. People of faith came out in unprecedented numbers to advocate for global climate action in the COP 21 Paris Climate Agreement. Collectively, we delivered nearly two million petition signatures to negotiators calling for a fair, ambitious, binding climate agreement. The agreement reached is a reflection of the powerful advocacy work of communities around the world. World leaders have finally recognized that the moral imperative for ambitious climate action — now and for decades to come — is strong. Yet, although the deal is an important step forward, it is insufficient. We commend negotiators for laying a strong foundation for climate change mitigation, and recognize that we in the United States have significant work to do to make good on existing promises, as well as achieve the level of change necessary. As we continue to build on this agreement, we call on the United States to take leadership in keeping existing climate finance commitments, as well as planning for the social, political, and financial implications of climate-related loss and damage.
It is a matter of justice that developed nations who have put the most greenhouse gasses into the air take responsibility for developing nations’ ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Developing nations need access to renewable energy infrastructure, as well as the tools to address climate impacts such as severe weather, droughts, and flooding. The Paris Agreement included some basic climate finance mechanisms which our communities can build on in future years. Since its inception, faith communities have vigorously supported the Green Climate Fund. Along with my testimony, I will submit for the record a letter released on Monday, April 11, 2016 that was signed by 115 faith organizations urging Congress to invest the President’s recommended $750 million in the Green Climate Fund for Fiscal Year 2017. Along with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), some of the signers include the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Jewish Council of Public Affairs, the National Council of Churches USA, and the Evangelical Environmental Network.
This is not simply a Presbyterian concern; various communions and denominations from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to the Alliance of Baptists to the United Methodist Church to the Roman Catholic Church and Evangelicals have joined together in the common mission to care for God’s creation. Many of these Christian traditions also hold theological principles reflected in Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’. Laudato Si’ is one of two papal encyclicals that, because its subject matter is universally relevant, is addressed to all people, rather than only to Catholics. We affirm its echo of the great St. Francis’ reverence for nature. At the same time, we join the Pope in the urgency of truth-telling: we humans are largely responsible for global warming and we have to find ways to reverse track.
With our Lord, we will stand with the “least of these” (Matt. 25:40) and advocate for the poor and oppressed in present and future generations who are often the victims of environmental injustice and who are least able to mitigate the impact of global warming that [is falling] disproportionately on them. … [W]e implore our nation to accept its moral responsibility to address global warming. I thank you for the opportunity to testify and look forward to your questions.
 Pace, David. “Minorities Suffer Most from Industrial Pollution.” Associated Press. 12/14/2005. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/10452037/ns/us_news-environment/t/minorities-suffer-most-industrial-pollution/#.Vwqu72QrLjE
 Jia, Chunrong, Wesley James, and Satish Kedia. “Relationship of Racial Composition and Cancer Risks from Air Toxics Exposure in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.A.” Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2014 Aug; 11(8): 7713–7724. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4143828/#B5-ijerph-11-07713
Freeman, Sarah Wilkerson. Tennessee Women: Their Lives and Times. University of Georgia Press, 2009. P. 415
“The Power to Change: U.S. Energy Policy and Global Warming,” approved by the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 2008, http://www.pcusa.org/resource/power-change-us-energy-policy-global-warming/.
 Jacobs, Mike. “Where is Wind Energy Cheaper than Natural Gas?”. Union of Concerned Scientists. October 18, 2013. http://blog.ucsusa.org/mike-jacobs/where-is-wind-energy-cheaper-than-natural-gas-276
 National Religious Partnership for the Environment. http://www.nrpe.org/climate-statements.html