DEP Hearings: Rev. Alison Cornish

Rev. Cornish is the Executive Director of PA IPL.  She testified at the PA DEP listening session in Philadelphia County on September 30, 2015.  Alison headshot

Good Afternoon.  I am the Reverend Alison Cornish, and I serve as the Executive Director of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light, a community of congregations, faith-based organizations and individuals of faith responding to climate change as a moral issue.  Through advocacy, energy conservation, energy efficiency and the use of clean, renewable energy, we help people of faith be model stewards of Creation.  We are the Pennsylvania affiliate of Interfaith Power & Light, a national religious response to the threat of climate change.  We see climate change as a moral issue.

We recognize that the Clean Power Plan is the single biggest and most ambitious action the U.S. has ever taken to tackle climate change. It sets the first-ever limits on dangerous carbon pollution from the nation’s existing power plants, and is flexible and achievable. These landmark clean air standards – which are supported by millions of Americans from all over our country – demonstrate the United States’ commitment to addressing climate change.

Carbon pollution fuels climate change. We limit mercury, arsenic, lead and other dangerous pollutants from power plants, but haven’t limited carbon pollution – the key driver of climate change – until now. Until now, there were absolutely no limits on the amount of climate-warming pollution our nation’s power plants could spew from their smokestacks. This is a big win for public health.

Lower income families, who are already predisposed to higher health risks are also often living the closest to the sources of carbon pollution, which is threatening the health of our children and seniors at a much higher rate. We must take commonsense steps to be good stewards of the land and limit the harmful carbon pollution that fuels climate change and threatens the health of our communities. Limiting the pollution that triggers asthma attacks and other health consequences, protects the “least among us,” those who are most vulnerable to air pollution.

People of faith believe we have a moral obligation to care for and protect our nation’s children and future generations by addressing the effects of climate change and carbon pollution, especially as they wreak havoc on the poorest and most vulnerable among us. The increased frequency and severity of catastrophic floods, lengthy droughts, wildfires and other extreme weather events is disproportionately affecting low income families who do not have the resources to adequately prepare and recover.

People of faith believe that, as stewards of Creation, we must do better if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Our children deserve a stable climate and a sustainable future. We believe that a swift and equitable transition to clean energy is a moral imperative, and cleaning up our nation’s power plants is a critical first step.

People of faith believe climate change is a moral issue of concern to all religious people. If you love your neighbor, you don’t pollute their air or water. We demonstrate love and concern for one another by how we treat our neighbors and the world that we share.

Pope Francis has called on all people of good will to protect Creation, and specifically to care for the climate, which he calls “a common good, belonging to and meant for all.” His encyclical reminds us that it is the world’s poor who bear the brunt of the crisis, which has been caused primarily by wealthy developed nations. As Americans and people of faith, we take this call to heart and urge our country – and individual states – to become a leader in solving global warming and building a new clean energy economy.

As the Executive Director of PA IPL, I can testify that congregations right here in Pennsylvania and all across the country take action to reduce carbon pollution. Just in the last year, our organization has performed energy audits for faith communities, weatherized homes for low income people, helped secure sustainably-generated electricity for congregations and their members, and helped to educate people of all faiths to be faithful stewards of our common home. We are doing all we can ‘on the ground’ to help congregations reduce their own and their members’ and neighbors carbon footprints. And we will continue to work, pray, preach, inspire, celebrate, and stir hope that change is coming.

These are our tasks. But when it comes to leading the change-over of the energy-producing facilities that fuel our society – while also burning carbon-laden fossil fuels – we must raise our voices in a petitionary chorus to lawmakers, officials and policy-makers. We must call upon you to act as your consciences guide to remember that what we do – collectively – today has a profound impact on our children, grandchildren, and generations yet to come. Action – and inaction – today will have an irreversible effect on the non-human beings with whom we share our common home. We appeal to you to embrace an ethic of responsibility and fairness – to recognize the gross imbalance of how much carbon Americans put in to the climate as opposed to so many other nations – and how our actions exacerbate the suffering of others.

In crafting its plan in response to the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, Pennsylvania, as other states, has a lot of flexibility.  While EPA’s projections show Pennsylvania and its power plants will need to continue to work to reduce CO2 emissions and take additional action to reach its goal in 2030, these rates – and that state goal – are reasonable and achievable because no plant and no state has to meet them alone or all at once. They are designed to be met as part of the grid and over time.

We in the faith community know well the advantages of ‘not needing to go it alone.’ But we also feel an urgency that we wish to convey to you – what we’ve coined ‘further, faster.’ In terms of responding to changes already happening, we are behind. In the words of Pope Francis,

With regard to climate change, the advances have been regrettably few. Reducing greenhouse gases requires honesty, courage and responsibility, above all on the part of those [who] are more powerful and pollute the most.  – Pope Francis, Chapter 5, paragraph 7 of Laudato Si’

In crafting its response to the Clean Power Plan, we urge the Pennsylvania DEP to

  • Engage in the Clean Energy Incentive Program available for early investments which supports renewable energy projects – and energy efficiency in low-income communities – in 2020 and 2021.
  • Fully deploy demand-side energy efficiency as an important, proven strategy that can substantially and cost-effectively lower CO2 emissions from the power sector and help meet our state’s goals.
  • Step down continued development of fossil fuel-based sources
  • Increase investment in renewable energy systems
  • Support creative approaches to the sourcing and distribution of clean energy, especially to those living and working in under-resourced areas
  • Develop ‘green job’ opportunities for those currently working in fossil fuel-based industries
  • Demonstrate leadership on meeting – even better, exceeding – the CPP goals well before being required to do so

We continue to hold you, and all decision-makers, in thought and prayer. Thank you.

Religious statements on climate change

Delivered September 30, 2015, Philadelphia.