I want to thank the EPA for proposing this standard on methane emissions, which is crucial to slow climate change, to improve public health, and to protect our children’s future. I also thank you for inviting public discussion on this issue: it is not a special interest or partisan issue, but is of vital concern to every person now living on the planet, and especially to every resident of Pennsylvania and to every American.
I speak today not only as a resident of Pittsburgh but also as a person of faith, as a Catholic who is inspired by the recent visit of Pope Francis. As some of you may know, Pope Francis issued a major document called Laudato Si’ in June of this year. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis continues the Catholic Church’s longstanding teaching on climate change, affirming that it is real, that it is a moral issue, and that prudence demands immediate and urgent action.
The encyclical follows a familiar format for Catholic teaching: See-Judge-Act. The first element is to see what is happening, to rely on the “best scientific research available” (§11) today. And science is telling us that methane pollution persists for decades; that industry releases millions of tons of methane and other toxic chemicals into the air every year; that without new limits on methane pollution, emissions from the oil and gas industry will increase by 25 percent in the next 10 years; that in some areas, methane emissions are even higher than the EPA currently reports; and importantly, that methane and other toxic air pollution exposes neighboring communities to harmful pollution and causes serious health problems including cancer, asthma, and other respiratory illnesses. Toxic emissions particularly impact vulnerable groups like children and the elderly.
The second step Francis makes is to judge through the lens of faith: to understand and to interpret the ecological crisis according to theological and moral principles from the tradition. There is, he says, a “Gospel of Creation.” Some of the principles he lays out include: we need to approach nature with awe, wonder, and joy (§11-12); the Earth is not just a resource but is “our common home” (§2); the climate in particular he tells us is “a common good, belonging to all, meant for all” (§23); we must pay special attention to the poor, who will be most impacted and have the least power (§25); and in looking with the eyes of faith, we should understand that the Creator has always intended creatures to live connected to and dependent on each other. The gaze of Jesus invites us “be attentive to the beauty that there is in the world” (§97) and to perceive the divine message of the Creator’s love in each thing. Indeed, “Creation is of the order of love.” (§77) Pope Francis takes us to the heart of what it is to be human – linked to all creatures, humans, the cosmos, because of our one Creator. Because of this divine plan, we should treat all creatures with love and respect, and pay special attention to the vulnerable (§42).
Finally, in light of these faith convictions and moral standards, Pope Francis calls us all to action. “Reducing greenhouse gases,” he tells us, “requires honesty, courage, and responsibility” (§169). We are all called to respond, in our individual lives and our families; in our neighborhoods and communities; and in all of this, our national policies also have a vital and indispensable role. Francis specifically challenges elected leaders to have the courage to enact those policies we need, on behalf of future generations and the earth itself (§57). If they do so, “they will attest to their God-given dignity and leave behind a testimony of selfless responsibility” (§181). And so I thank the EPA again for proposing stronger methane emission standards. Please, embody courageous political leadership and help us heed the moral call to act. The proposed standards would reduce methane and also reduce toxic air pollution. Technologies to cut emissions have been around for years, and industry needs these standards to find the impetus to implement them. These standards will protect Americans with low-cost safeguards that already exist to plug the leaks and to stop the pollution. It is important for the health of children and the elderly, for future generations, and indeed for us all. Let us act with love, let us act with prudence and courage, let us act with justice: I urge you, do not delay in implementing the EPA’s new Methane Pollution Standard.
Daniel P. Scheid, Ph.D.
EPA Docket: EPA-HQ-OAR-2010-0505
September 29, 2015