Applying the Clean Power Plan to Pennsylvania

[This statement was my presentation --  at hearings held by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection -- of The Shalom Center's view on how Pennsylvania should respond to the Federal EPA's call on all states to devise their own plans for major reductions in CO2 and similar planet-destroying emissions.  About 30 groups submitted statements. All but two vigorously supported the Clean Power Plan and proposed specific conteent for it. One opposed the whole idea of the Clean Power Plan. That was the Pennsylvania Association of Manufacturers, which called the whole plan unconstitutional. The Pennsylvania coal industry explained that coal is so crucual to the eonomy of the state that well-meaning efforts at controlling emissions are mistaken in their goals and their results. --  AW.]

September 30, 2015;  17 Tishri, 5676 To the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection:

Shalom, and thanks for your and Governor Wolf’s  swift response to the request  from the President and the federal Environmental Protection Agency for Pennsylvania and other states to develop plans to carry out the Clean Power Plan.

I am Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of The Shalom Center, a national network (with headquarters in Philadelphia) that seeks to be a prophetic voice in Jewish, multireligious, and American life. The Shalom Center initiated a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis  that has been signed by 412 rabbis of every stream of Jewish life. Thirty-four of these Rabbis live and lead in Pennsylvania. My remarks today are grounded in the views of those Rabbis as expressed in their Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis and of thousands of other Jews who agree with them   -- though in the midst of the High Holy Days it has not been possible to consult them about these specific words.

 Though the criminal behavior of Volkswagen had not yet been revealed when the Rabbinic Letter was written and published, the Rabbinic Letter is very clear about the danger of Carbon Corporation irresponsibility. Point 1 follows the Letter’s teaching on this danger:

To meet the requirements of the Clean Power Plan, we call on the Governor -- :

 1.  To order the mandatory recall within one month of every Volkswagen diesel automobile manufactured and sold in the last two years, each of which is fraudulently and murderously pouring lethal chemicals into our air by virtue of deliberately tricking and violating emission tests; to bring a lawsuit against the Volkswagen Company for the full sale price of each such auto now being driven in the State of Pennsylvania,  the full sale value then to be paid by the state to each owner; to include in the suit as well, additional massive damages due our State for the hurt done to our air and our people; and to bring criminal charges against any Volkswagen executives and staff who conspired to commit these crimes.

2.  2. To announce an immediate and permanent end to all fracking on public lands in Pennsylvania and on all new permits for fracking on any property within the state. Businesses that profit from fracking have “justified” it on the grounds that it results in fewer scorching-gas emissions than burning coal or gasoline. It is now clear that this is not so. The fracking process produces methane emissions that, since methane is far more powerful than CO2 in scorching our planet,  creates even more danger of climate chaos than burning coal. At the same time, it poisons water supplies and air that are crucial to the health of Pennsylvanians. The argument that fracking is a way-station to renewable power is a fallacy. The real way station is to invest the billions that are now going into fracking, instead to spread solar and wind-power installations all across the state.

T  3. To oppose the plans of some  Carbon Corporations to turn the City of Philadelphia into what they call an “energy hub” -- actually not a hub but a cesspool of dirty energy, endangering our city on the ground through the constant passage of extremely dangerous  trains carrying volatile and lethally explosive Bakken shale oil, and endangering our entire planet by multiplying the emission of CO2 and methane. We also call on the Governor to use the police and safety powers inherent in the Commonwealth to stop and hold for inspection every railroad car entering the state bearing Bakken oil, and to subject each car to thorough tests of its safety before deciding whether to permit it to go forward in Pennsylvania.

4 4. To adopt a seven-year program for phasing out all coal-burning power plants in Pennsylvania, beginning with those situated in neighborhoods with high unemployment and poverty rates, in order to reduce the epidemics of asthma that plague those neighborhoods. We also call on the Governor to end all forms of subsidies and tax breaks to coal mining businesses in Pennsylvania.

5.  5. To adopt a simultaneous seven-year program to guarantee full employment at full wages in green jobs  for a two-year period to all workers in the Carbon industries who are displaced by these ,crucial transformations.

6.  6. To adopt a simultaneous seven-year plan to emplace and subsidize  wind-power and solar-power generators and distribution systems in key locations in Pennsylvania.

These proposals are grounded in the Bible, which encodes the practical and the spiritual experience of an indigenous people of shepherds and farmers who were closely connected to their land and who saw that connection as their avenue to God. Leviticus 25-26 call for one year of every seven to be Shabbat Shabbaton – a Sabbatical Year –--a Year of Shmittah –- restful Release for the Earth and its workers from being forced to work.

In Leviticus 26, the Torah warns us that if we refuse to let the Earth rest, it will “rest” anyway, despite us and upon us – through drought, famine, and exile that turn whole peoples into refugees. This ancient warning heard by one indigenous people in one slender land has now become a crisis of our planet as a whole and of the entire human species.

Already we see unprecedented floods, droughts, ice-melts, snowstorms, heat waves, typhoons, sea-level rises, and the expansion of disease-bearing insects from “tropical” zones into what used to be “temperate” regions. Leviticus 26 embodied.  Scientific projections of the future make clear that even worse will happen if we continue with carbon-burning business as usual.

The unity of justice and Earth-healing is taught both by our ancient Torah and by our experience today: The worsening inequality of wealth, income, and political power has two direct impacts on the climate crisis. On the one hand, great Carbon Corporations not only make their enormous profits from wounding the Earth, but then use these profits to purchase elections and to fund fake science to prevent the public from acting to heal the wounds. On the other hand, the poor in America and around the globe suffer first and worst from the typhoons, floods, droughts, and diseases brought on by climate chaos. 

By overburning carbon dioxide and methane into our planet's air, we have shattered the sacred balance in which we breathe in what the trees breathe out, and the trees breathe in what we breathe out. The upshot: global scorching, climate crisis.

All of this is overworking Earth -- precisely what our Bible teaches we must not do. So now we must let our planet rest from overwork.

The proposals we have put before you take some major steps toward healing our wounded Mother Earth and all her children – including the entire human species – by halting our reckless choking and scorching of our common home. We call on you to enact them.


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