Lobbying for Eco-Justice

      I spent the better part of Wednesday June 15th, in Sacramento, lobbying, with about thirty other people from around the state of California representing California Inter-Faith Power and Light. We lobbied about three priority pieces of legislation which have already passed one or other house of the state legislature. I serve on the advisory board of California Inter-Faith Power and Light ( CIPL). The organization represents 530 different congregations, synagogues or Catholic parishes in California. CIPL is one of 38 different state Inter-Faith Power and Light organizations. Mainly, it helps local congregations conduct a carbon imprint and plan for more efficient energy usage in local parishes ( e.g., by installing solar panels, more efficient lighting systems, etc.). CIPL also nominates and then gives out, annually, Energy Oscars to a local church or church-based school or organization which exemplies best practices in areas of energy efficiency. Annually, it sets lobby day priorities ( with the help of knowledgeable people who represent the California Catholic Conference or Lutheran or Jewish lobby groups concerned with eco-justice who can help us set priorities on two to three bills for our lobby day).

       The three priority bills we focused on were AB591 which had already passed the state assembly but will need also to be ratified by the senate. The bill addresses the regulation of oil and gas production using hydraulic fracturing( now called by the neologism, fracking). Essentially, fracking involves the underground injection of water, chemical additives and proppants ( such as sand) at extremely high pressure to induce fractures in underground rock geological formations. This stimulates the flow of gas or oil and increases the volume of oil and gas which can be recovered from shales and other formations with low permeability. Fracking uses a variety of chemicals, some of which are known toxins, as well as large volumes of water. These chemicals can include diesal fuel and ethylbezene ( known carcinogens) and ethyline glycol ( a chemical associated with birth defects, male and female infertility, menstrual disorders).

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      Around the country, complaints have arisen that the process of fracking has caused harmful medical disorders by also contaminating well drinking water. You-Tube videos have shown that these new gas adventures ( cf. the documenatry, The Gas Wars) can mix the gases with drinking water. One video shows people able to put a match to running water which, then, sets on fire! Another video shows someone putting a match to standing water which has also been contaminated by the gases. Complaints about the harmful medical effects of fracking have been raised around the country, eg., in Pennsylvania and Colorado. Some have asked for federal legislation to regulate fracking and its impacts.

          AB591 rather modestly demands that fracking operators disclose: (1) The chemicals used in the operations ( Many gas companies refuse to do so, claiming that their formula could then be stolen by competitors); ( 2) How much water gets used and the source of that water. The bill is not only concerned to protect clean water but to provide some sense of protection of increasingly limited water supplies. In Kern County, California, for example, some ten gallons of water are necessary to turn oil tars to a gallon of usable oil. In Kern Country, oil companies represent about 80% of water company use to turn their tars into oil; ( 3) Any radiological components or tracers that were injected into the well and a description of the recovery method, if any, for those elements or tracers, the recovery rate and the disposal method for recovered components or tracers. The bill is fundamentally concerned with disclosure.

        Not surprisingly, the bill is supported widely by environmental groups, such as The Sierra Club, Earthworks, The Califonria Water Association and is opposed by the American Chemistry Council, California Independent Petroleum Operators, the Western States' Petroleum Association. By chance, that very same day that we were lobbying the NPR News Hour showed a special segment about the increasing complaints and claimed dangers around the United States involved in fracking.

     Our other two bills we lobbied for included SB535 which sets aside a Healthy Air Revitalization Trust to direct a proportion of the revenues from the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 to help residents who are unfairly burdened by harmful air quality and chronic respiratory illnesses simply because of their neighborhoods. We all know that there has been a kind of environmental racism in this country. Waste sites are overwhelmingly and disproportionately located in Afro-American and Hispanic neighborhoods. The climate protection fund would allow polluted neighborhoods to use the resources for emision reduction programs; for pre-empting the effects of drastic heat waves ( e.g., by providing cooling centers in low-income communities); improving quality of life by transit improvement and subsidies and preparing for flood or fire disasters. SB535  already once fully passed both houses of the California legislature but was vetoed by former Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger. It is hoped that with its second passage it will be signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown.

           The final bill we lobbied for, AB 650, has already passed in the Assembly but awaits Senate confirmation. It uses funds ( $750,000) from Caltrans to set up a blue-ribbon committee to address a growing transit crisis in California. Funding for transit has not kept pace with demand. Public dollars once dedicated to maintaining and expanding transit services have been drastically cut to accommodate state general fund deficiits. Service has been cut around the state, putting drivers and maintenance staff out of work and leaving bus and rail riders ( especially those of low income or the elderly who do not have alternative forms of transit) scrambling  for other ways to get to jobs, schools, doctor appointments.

       It should be clear why CIPL would support these three bills. My own experience of lobbying with the staff of my Assemblywoman and two state Senators and with a representative of the Governor's office was relatively easy. All of my own representatives seemed amenable to the positions we were pushing. But representatives of CIPL from other parts of the state also contacted Assembly members or Senators less congenial to our lobbying effort. When meeting with the Governor's staff representative we also pushed a concern for upcoming projected emissions standards in auto use which would envision an eventual output of 60 miles per gallon. American auto manufacturers have been asking for a uniform standard that they can use for planning ahead. California has been a conspicuous leader in trying to set safe and sane auto emissions standars.

       Catholic social teaching on the environment ( which has grown apace during the papacy of Benedict XVI and through the continuous efforts of the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace) involves, of course, theological reflection about stewardship; God's image and presence in and to all of creation; eco-justice ( that the burdens of global warming or ecological degradation be fairly shared and not laid disproportionately on the poor). It also calls for appropriate personal behavior to reduce ecological degradation or adding to the galloping global footprint. No less--if it is to be consequential--does it call for some genuine advocacy. But readers of America should also become aware of a splendid, specifically Catholic, resource to think about eco-justice: The Catholic Coalition on Climate Change.  Check out their website. For those new to the issues of eco-justice, The Catholic Coalition on Climate Change has an excellent resource pamphlet, " A Catholic Approach to Climate Change".

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Daniel Misleh
6 years 6 months ago
Thanks for the plug, Fr. Coleman, and thanks for all you do to help improve the lives of low-income folks in California.  

The Catholic Coalition on Climate Change also encourages Catholic individuals, schools, parishes and others to take the St. Francis Pledge to Care for Creation and the Poor.  The Pledge asks for five things: pray, learn, assess, act and advocate.  It is supported by dozens of national Catholic organizations including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

See: www.catholicclimatecovenant.org for more info.

Dan Misleh
Executive Director
Catholic Coalition on Climate Change
6 years 6 months ago
While it's utterly uncontroversial to promote domestic home or small installation energy efficiency and micro-electrical production, to segue from the types of systems that can remove a home or small church from the electrical grid to political calls for the ceasation of industrial energy production is to mix apples with watermelons.

There are alternatives to Oil, natural gas and coal for electricity production but the base load of modern American (and European and Asian) society far and away exceeds the capacity of solar and wind generation. Nuclear power is the answer - but not the way most nations' and activists think: google Thorium salt reactor and you'll see that we not only have working prototypes, but we actually built and ran one for years beginning in the 1960s, but closed it down because the 'waste' did not produce Plutonium (which the US and other nations desire for bombs). Thorium comes from coal ash (the waste of all coal fired power plants!). Further, Thorium salt reactors do not need pressure vessels, exotic pumps, and all the fail-safes that make conventional uranium plants so costly and risky. 

Like our faith tells us...it's better to light a candle than curse the darkness. If you want to end our societies' reliance on fossil fuels and risky nukes, then you need to promote safe, viable, economical ALTERNATIVES, not just call for political 'solutions' via agitation and hype. 

Right now, with our base load needs, hic et nunc, the entire civilized world needs the status quo, fracking and all. You are not going to substantially change that with agitation. But if you get behind safe, economical alternatives - like Thorium - you will make all fossil fuel energy sources obsolete and the world will stampede away from them and into your utopian electric car future. 

It's very similar to the difference between "liberation" theology that in the name of "social-justice" results in neither social harmony or the promotion of Catholicism and holiness but rather pits one group against another on purely materialistic bean-counting antagonisms.... if you want to reduce poverty then you have to help the poor enter the economy as wealth creators not just static wealth receivers. 

Good intentions alone never produce fruits if the plan is unworkable in the real world, the incentives are backward and the forces you wish to marshal to your cause are not sufficient to replace whatever hated status quo you are confronting.  

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