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FIRST-PERSON: New EPA CO2 regulations will hurt the poor

HOUSTON (BP)–Last December, the Environmental Protection Agency declared greenhouse gasses, including carbon dioxide (CO2), to be a danger to public health and the environment. On Thursday, Senator Lisa Murkowski and 40 of her colleagues from both parties will try to block the EPA from regulating CO2 emissions.

You could argue that the “science” of global warming seems less certain by the day, or you could debate the constitutionality of allowing unelected bureaucrats do an end-run around Congress (which is exactly why even supporters of “cap and trade” support the Murkowski Resolution). But as a seminary professor training the next generation of pastors, I am primarily am concerned that the impact of these regulations will be to drive up the cost of energy and fuel, harming the poor and damaging the economy — all without any environmental benefit.

“The poor” aren’t just faceless masses waiting to be cared for by others. They are real people, in our neighborhoods and congregations, many of whom work hard to support their families and meet their responsibilities. A fellow pastor from the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. recently heard from a single, working mom in his congregation who is struggling to pay her utility bills. When energy prices spiked last summer, she chose to turn off the natural gas to her home (losing hot water) and made turning off the lights and eating by candle-light into a game with her 8-year-old daughter, in order to pay for summer child care and save up for heat in the winter.

EPA regulation of CO2 would make her situation much worse, and I think it’s worth asking if the case for global warming is strong enough to warrant mandating draconian cuts. The e-mails leaked last November demonstrate that the “scientific consensus” (upon which the EPA built its case for regulating CO2) was achieved by withholding or manipulating data and suppressing research that contradicts the climate-alarmist narrative. Furthermore, the lifestyle of climate-crusaders like Al Gore and other celebrities (who live in huge mansions and jet all over the world warning us to reduce our “carbon footprint”) doesn’t instill a lot of confidence. I know a sermon when I see it, and “Green for thee, not for me” won’t win many hearts.

Some of our leaders insist that these regulations are necessary because Congress has failed to act. Maybe that’s because public confidence in warnings about global warming has never been lower since Gallup began measuring it. The threat of EPA regulation amounts to unelected bureaucrats blackmailing our democratically elected leaders. Make no mistake: A government that is not accountable to the people and their representatives will respond instead to the powerful, leading to “rent-seeking” by groups who stand to gain financially from government actions. (This helps explain the otherwise-surprising support of CO2 regulations by some large businesses.)

Beyond the dishonesty, hypocrisy, and grasping for power, lies the economic impact of these regulations on the poor. As one who trains pastors, that is my primary concern in this debate. Scripture exhorts us to care for and protect the poor, and that includes resisting policies where the only real effect is to harm the poor and destroy jobs. Warren Buffet has stated that CO2 caps will impose costs which act as a regressive tax, hurting the poor the most … and this doesn’t even consider the negative impact on the American economy as a whole.

EPA regulations will raise energy and transportation costs, a burden the poor cannot afford. All of us, in turn, will pay for the higher costs of all goods and services that rely on energy and transportation (i.e.- nearly everything). Jobs that aren’t lost in a declining economy will be harder to drive (or take public transportation) to because of higher vehicle and fuel costs. The poor, especially, will be deprived of heat in winter and cool air in summer, exposing them to greater physical hardship.

The Apostle Paul was eager to remember the poor. Let’s hope our leaders will, too. If they fail, there’s a single mom in Maryland — and working parents across the country — who will be facing some very hard choices. When my colleague asked his church member what she would do if her electricity costs keep rising, she gave a rueful chuckle and said, “I guess we’ll buy more candles.”
Benjamin B. Phillips is an assistant professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Houston Campus and a research fellow of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, a national network of clergy, scientists, economists, and other experts committed to helping the poor and care for the environment. A video interview with the working mom he mentioned can be viewed online at http://stewards.net/bQaKaz.

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  • Benjamin B. Phillips