Cycling trip, Day 3

Organizing a bike trip like this at the end of a semester is a bit of a stressor – it would be easier if I were on my own, but being responsible for two others and for making various arrangements has been tough. Don’t get me wrong – Peter and Kris are great companions, and so many friends and relatives have sent in good thoughts and prayers and donations that it has been overwhelming, but it really is a lot of work.
In fact, I had not realized the burden I was carrying until I let it go – this morning right in church. Toward the end of the service, Pastor Ed called for people to come forward to receive healing prayer. One member did, and folks surrounded her, putting their hands on her shoulders while the pastor anointed her forehead and prayed over her. It was a touching scene of support, and then he turned to us and asked us to come down to the front of the church.
And so the three of us did – stood in front of the pastor while all these people, perfect strangers, placed their hands on us while pastor prayed: for a safe journey, for our message of caring for God’s creation to be successful, for us to light up the hearts and souls of people we would meet along the way. I wept and embraced these complete strangers who were now to me like members of my own family.
The Methodist church of Orbisonia is a small church in a small town, like so many throughout Pennsylvania and the country. People are struggling, skeptical of outsiders and of politicians. Yet they are reaching out. They have acquired the old High School gym and converted part of it into an outreach center – they’re looking for $400,000 to complete the job.  It’s a beautiful dream, and I hope in a small way that PA IPL can help. Already Peter, in his matter-of-fact engineer way, has identified several ways that they can save hundreds of dollars a year in electrical costs (and carbon).  Just taking out the air conditioners during the winter, for example, would save a tremendous amount.
We arrived there as strangers and left as more than friends – that is what this trip is all about. Of course, the weather agreed, turning sunny and warm. Our ride out of Orbisonia was breathtakingly beautiful – through Shade Gap and Cowan’s Gap. Easy grades and gorgeous scenery – nothing better. We ate our lunch under the maple trees of Mountain View elementary school, even took a nap midday.  Somehow, though, the first 25 miles seemed so much easier than the second 25 miles. By 4, we were hallucinating about ice cream and finding the uphills so much longer than the downhills.
Peter and I were sure that Kris was underestimating the mileage…  But his directions held true and we finally arrived at the beautiful home of our hosts, Rev. Dennis and Linda Beaver, to a warm welcome, a hot shower and a cold beer!
Pastor Dennis is at the Evangelical Lutheran church in Waynesboro, but lives north of town. We’ll see the church tomorrow and visit with some members over breakfast. Already, we have shared many stories and many laughs – made all the more pleasant by Linda’s excellent lasagna. I feel full, well-fed, both physically and spiritually. I went on this trip to help others, but find that I’m the one who is being given so very much.
I wish for all of you a goodly measure of the grace that has surrounded us during this trip.
Jon (Kris and Peter)

Marcellus Shale bill HB 1950

It is said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  Not, however, if that step is mostly in the wrong direction.  That is the case with the recent bill passed by the Pennsylvania House and Senate on Marcellus Shale drilling

A comparison to the Principles for Considering Drilling in the Marcellus Shale: an Ethical Analysis  authored by PA IPL shows how inadequate this legislative response is.  Some principles it only begins to address.  For example, instead of ensuring that overall environmental and health impacts are sharply reduced (principle 2),  this bill provides only minimal environmental protections.  Some principles it fails to address at all.  For example, this bill does absolutely nothing to move Pennsylvania toward a sustainable energy future (principle 1).  And in one case, this bill is a step backwards.  Principle 3 notes that drilling has already set neighbor against neighbor, and has done little to create sustainable economic development.  By levying the lowest fees of any state, and especially by placing the burden of levying those fees on counties, this bill will encourage the very “race to the bottom” that our principles warned of.  Drilling companies will be able to threaten to leave any counties that decide to levy fees and take their business to neighboring counties.  The disputes we have already seen may very well be exacerbated by this legislation.

We are heartened that, despite pressure both from the Governor and from those profiting from drilling, there was significant, bipartisan opposition to this bill.  We hope that future sessions of our state legislature will learn from this inadequate “solution” and draft legislation that will protect our present and help move us to a better future.

We hope that members of PA IPL and other Pennsylvanians will continue to engage in creative and constructive dialogue about these issues. 


  • If you haven’t read  Principles for Considering Drilling in the Marcellus Shale: an Ethical Analysis, we encourage you to do so.  It is a framework for thinking about the moral and ethical principles involved in the decisions we and our lawmakers must make.  Each section begins with a quote from a sacred text.  We invite individuals (both lay people and clergy) to join us by signing on to the document.  You may do so via email.  
  • State Impact PA is a collaboration of WITF, WHYY, and NPR covering “fis­cal and envi­ron­men­tal impact of Pennsylvania’s boom­ing energy econ­omy, with a focus on Mar­cel­lus Shale drilling.”  It links to newspaper articles all over the state as well as to reports on the 3 radio stations.
  • HB 1950, now Act 13.  The bill is written in legislative language, and is 174 pages long, so you may wish to refer to a more digested version, or ask your local legislator for help understanding some of the provisions. 
  • Here is a summary just of the bill’s provisions for local zoning from the Centre Daily Times.   A community forum for discussing the shale fee has been set in Centre County.  Look for opportunities for public discussion as well as local experiences and concerns in your local paper.
  • A free Public Issues Forum (cosponsored by State College Area School District Community Education,  the Schlow Centre Region Library, and the Centre Daily Times) will be held at CPI on April 14.

Changing Our Climate: an Op-Ed by Rabbi Daniel Swartz

Our climate is changing – both literally and figuratively.  The list of weather events that may be linked to changes in the global climate is already long, and it keeps growing longer with each passing season.  Droughts, floods, record-breaking heat waves, fires, even monster snow storms are all signs that climate change is part of our present, not just our future.

But the “climate” is changing in other ways as well. Many have been focusing on negative changes – the climate of acrimony and vitriol in political discourse, or the still sour economic climate.  But there are some positive “climactic” changes as well.  For me, one of the most significant is the growing involvement of faith communities around the globe in addressing environmental concerns, including global climate change.
How is something that seems intensely scientific, like the changing composition of our atmosphere, or intensely political, like global treaties dealing with use of fossil fuels, a faith issue?  Prayers don’t yield scientific data – but once science tells us what IS happening, our faith traditions can help us figure out what we OUGHT to do about it.  And while even a close reading of such traditions won’t reveal a detailed energy policy, certain basic guiding principles are shared by many faith communities.
For example, our world is good – one might even say “very good” – and we are supposed to help tend it and protect it.  It is simple wrong to think selfishly only of ourselves and to ignore the needs of generations to come.  Making money should not be the ultimate goal of humanity – we are meant to look after each other, particularly those who need the most protection – the “widow, the orphan and the stranger” or the “least of these.” Finally, one can find even in quite ancient sources an understanding that it is better to prevent harm than to try to repair damage after it has occurred. 
Taken together, such principles do at the least suggest a course of action to address climate change.  Solutions that especially benefit the poor, like increasing energy efficiency and thus reducing the disproportionate burden from high energy costs that those in economic straights face, should be a top priority.  Even in the present political climate, it should be possible to forge tax incentives and the like to make our homes and businesses more energy efficient.
We also should take the needs of future generations into account by promoting clean and sustainable energy sources – which, as was noted in the State of the Union, also can be a wise investment in the future of our economy.  Last but certainly not least, attempts to strip EPA of its power to address CO2 emissions and thus protect public health and the environment from the various ravages of climate change is not only short-sighted, but could be viewed as immoral.
But does thinking of climate change from a faith and moral perspective actually make a difference?  After all, you don’t have to be religious to think that fairness is a good thing.  A faith perspective, however, brings not only a sense of moral authority to an issue – it also can move us beyond paralysis.  Looking at the scientific and political difficulties facing any attempts to address global climate change, one can feel downright depressed and overwhelmed – and so there is a natural tendency to want to ignore or deny the whole thing, to remain stuck with our head in the sand.  But understanding that we can bring our faith to bear on this issue first of all fills us with the added strength of knowing we are doing the right thing.  And because faith has so often triumphed against great odds – worse odds by far than those facing a lasting and just solution to climate change – we can begin to replace depression with hope, paralysis with sustained action for the good. 
That is why this weekend (February 11-13th) Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light is joining with IPL affiliates across the country in sponsoring a “preach-in” on climate change.  I’ll be addressing these concerns from a Jewish standpoint at Temple Hesed this Friday, and others across the state and nation will be doing so from a wide variety of other faith traditions.  Because we already know that the climate is changing – and we know what type of solutions are needed. The only question that remains is – do we have enough faith to make it into a change for the better?

Help Keep the EPA Working to Protect our Environment

On January 2, 2011, for the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency began to regulate carbon emissions, having declared that they form a significant danger to human health and well-being. In the absence of comprehensive legislation on climate change, this is the only recourse the administration has for regulating carbon and thereby fulfilling our obligations under international law.

Now Congress wants to force the EPA to stop, and is even taking aim at the Clean Air Act, one of the most successful pieces of legislation ever. We need to let our senators know that climate change is a moral issue, and that we have an obligation to ourselves, our neighbors and to future generations to reduce carbon pollution. We just completed a successful letter-writing campaign, but we still urge you to call the senators (or your representative) and tell them to protect public health and defend the Clean Air Act.

Senator Casey’s phone numbers:
Washington, Toll Free: (866) 802-2833
Harrisburg, (717) 231-7540
Philadelphia, (215) 405-9660
Pittsburgh, (412) 803-7370
Scranton, (570) 941-0930
Erie, (814) 874-5080
Bellefonte, (814) 357-0314
Allentown, (610) 782-9470

Senator Toomey’s phone numbers:
Washington, (202) 224-4254
Harrisburg, (717) 782-3951
Philadelphia, (215) 597-7200
Erie, (814) 453-3010
Allentown, (610) 434-1444

Calling takes only a minute (you simply need to give your name, hometown, and a very brief message), but it makes a big difference.



Energy Efficiency Resource Standards

Advocate for Efficiency!

We wrapped up our mini-campaign to educate individuals and congregations and to push our senators to act in September, 2010. The project had three parts:

First, we held events at congregations in Scranton, Meadville, Pittsburgh, State College and Harrisburg in July and August to talk about PA IPL and to promote Energy Efficiency Resource Standards (EERS).

Second, together with our friends at PennFuture, we developed a postcard, urging our senators to include EERS in legislation; we have already collected over 400 of these postcards!

Third, we took our postcards and our message to the Senators themselves. We already met with Senatorial staffs in Bellefonte and Philadelphia to tell them about our campaign, and at the end of August Joy Bergey took her godchildren to Washington D.C. to present these cards to Senators Casey and Specter.

What are Efficiency Resource Standards?

A complicated name, but a simple idea: national standards for energy efficiency, just like we have in Pennsylvania (Act 129). Like mileage requirements for cars, industry actually wants national standards instead of various state standards, and we want them because waste and inefficiency make up a huge part of our carbon footprint. For commercial buildings, like most houses of worship, the EPA estimates that 30% of the energy is wasted. Power plants also waste a tremendous amount of energy.

As in Pennsylvania, national EERS can be combined with support for more renewable energy as part of a comprehensive approach to reduce our carbon footprint.