By Susan Stephenson, Executive Director
The last time Congress had the ball on climate– more than a decade ago in the Obama administration — they fumbled. Specifically, the Senate fumbled by failing to pass or even vote on a Senate companion to the Waxman-Markey climate bill that had passed the House. And we lost a crucial decade in the struggle to head off climate chaos. Imagine the progress we could have made on replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy, cleaning up our air, advancing climate solutions like battery technology, weatherizing homes, preparing for climate disasters, cutting emissions, and saving lives if we hadn’t spent the last ten years procrastinating.
But now, we have another chance. Given the need for economic stimulus after the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the broad consensus for investments in infrastructure and job creation, we even have a chance to go big. There’s still a narrowing window of time to transition to a clean energy economy before truly catastrophic climate change is locked in. But given the escalating pace of climate disasters globally — from record heat to massive forest fires to deadly flooding — that window is closing fast. The planet cannot afford another fumble.
While the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal has some good things in it, notably the biggest investment in passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak, and a nationwide network of half a million EV charging stations, it is hardly transformative. But there is still hope for a budget reconciliation package that truly puts us on the path to a safe climate and clean energy future.
President Biden’s proposal for a $3.5 trillion package provided an excellent blueprint. If properly drawn up, budget reconciliation measures can be approved with only 51 votes, thus avoiding a filibuster and providing a political pathway for significant climate policies.
Further in our favor, Speaker Pelosi has said that she will not move the bipartisan infrastructure bill until the Senate also sends them a budget resolution bill that includes many of the remaining climate provisions that were left out of the bipartisan bill.
We must keep pressure on the Senate for bold investments that match the scale of the climate crisis and our communities’ needs. In addition to filling the funding gaps from the Infrastructure bill, the reconciliation package must include:
- A 100% Clean Energy Standard by 2035, and 80% by 2030. This is one of the most impactful policies for cutting carbon pollution.
- Expanded renewable energy and clean vehicle tax credits and rebates for consumers, extended for 10 years
- A Justice40 Initiative to ensure that at least 40% of investments go to the disadvantaged communities that have borne the brunt of fossil fuel pollution for far too long
- Support for dislocated fossil fuel workers to help them transition to clean energy jobs
- A Civilian Climate Corps to help Americans employ youth and train them for good, stable clean energy careers
- Replacement of lead pipes so all communities have safe drinking water.
- Significant support for global decarbonization through investments in the Green Climate Fund.
Our faith teaches us to be good stewards of the Earth, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. But God’s Creation is suffering, and climate change puts the most vulnerable at risk. Lives and livelihoods are being lost. Our children’s right to a livable climate is threatened. Click here to call your Senators and tell them it is time to join us in this fight.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s words could not be more applicable today. He said: “We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
We are living through a historic moment; we must not squander it. What Congress does this summer will define the future for generations to come. The fierce urgency of now is upon us. The Earth doesn’t have another decade to wait.
By Jonathan Lacock-Nisly, IPL Federal Policy Associate
In person advocacy is returning to DC!
On June 9th, Interfaith Power & Light and partners gathered with 100 faith leaders at the Capitol to show support for 100% clean electricity by 2035, as part of President Biden’s American Jobs Plan. (More here!) That plan has been at the center of 3 months of negotiations in Congress on an infrastructure and climate bill that looks ready to reshape our country’s roads, bridges, electricity, and climate response for decades to come. This moment is truly a generational opportunity.
Across the country, over 3,400 more faith leaders showed their support through an open letter to Congress, calling for a strong climate and infrastructure package that cares for the communities most harmed by our current fossil fuel infrastructure.
The quick version:
Congress is gearing up to write and pass two infrastructure bills—one that is small, has very little for the climate, and is bipartisan, and another that is larger, climate focused, and likely to only be supported by Democrats.
The longer version:
Since unveiling the American Jobs Plan at the end of March, President Biden and Democrats in the Senate have been negotiating with Republican senators in hopes of finding an infrastructure package that at least 10 Republicans would support. That’s how many GOP senators it would take to overcome the filibuster, a Senate procedural rule requiring most legislation to receive 60 votes to pass.
However, it isn’t the only way to pass a bill in the Senate. Packages that deal mostly with spending (like this one) can be passed with a simple majority vote through a process called budget reconciliation. Yet several moderate Democrats have insisted the reconciliation process only be used as a last resort.
On June 24th, the White House reached a tentative deal on an infrastructure bill with a group of bipartisan senators. We’re deeply concerned that the deal looks to have very little for clean energy, climate, and environmental justice.
However, we’re encouraged that President Biden and Speaker Pelosi both put out statements saying that they would only support this bill in tandem with a budget reconciliation bill that covers climate priorities. Congress is now turning to the task of writing and passing two bills—one that is small, has very little for the climate, and is bipartisan, and another that is larger, climate focused, and likely to only be supported by Democrats.
What can you do?
Talk to your senators, and let them know that an infrastructure plan must include climate action to have your support. It’s a message every senator needs to be hearing right now. Use this link to call and remind them that climate as a part of infrastructure action is:
-A moral imperative! Our communities depend on our elected leaders to address the climate crisis and act for environmental justice. Caring for the climate is a form of caring for our neighbors.
Speaking after the faith leaders event at the Capitol, IPL’s President Rev. Susan Hendershot told a reporter, “”Proverbs 29:18 says, ‘Without a vision the people perish,’… We know that without a vision the people perish, and without action to bring that vision to life, all that we hold most precious and sacred will perish.”
-A factual imperative! Our current infrastructure is crumbling in part because it wasn’t built to withstand a changing climate. From winter superstorms causing power outages in Texas, to hurricanes flooding cities and sewer systems in the Southeast, to wildfires forcing blackouts in the West, our infrastructure must be updated to deal with the changes we’re already seeing. It would be foolish to miss this chance to also address the root causes of those climate disruptions.
You can see our full faith, climate, and infrastructure fact sheet here. Our top priorities include:
-Expanding clean, renewable energy sources and passing a Clean Energy Standard to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2035
-40% of funds being spent in the communities hurt the most by our current polluting economy
-Electrifying transportation and expanding public transit
For the People Act (H.R. 1 / S. 1)
This important voting rights legislation (see fact sheet here) passed the House earlier this year. It had stalled in the Senate, but it gained new life this week with a compromise measure from Sen. Manchin that includes many of the essential pieces of the bill.
This new version now looks to have support of a majority of senators, but still can’t pass because of the filibuster. We continue to call on the Senate to do what is right for our democracy and pass this essential legislation with a simple majority vote.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 6, 2021
Contact: Susan Stephenson
Faith Leaders Call on Biden Administration to Step Up Climate Commitments
Offer examples of religious communities already at zero carbon
Today Interfaith Power & Light released a letter to President Biden signed by 1,000+ people of faith, including hundreds of clergy and other faith leaders, calling for increased U.S. ambition on climate. The letter also highlighted efforts by congregations to reduce emissions substantially, including three that are zero carbon.
At the U.N. climate conference later this year, other nations will want to see what the world’s largest historic polluter has done since we exited the accord, and what we will pledge to do as we rejoin. Internationally, the fact is current pledges are not sufficient to keep global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius — or even under 2 degrees, the upper limit of the Paris accord. A strong and credible commitment from the U.S. will encourage other countries to step up their own ambition.
“Interfaith Power & Light and our network of 22,000 congregations around the country are grateful that President Biden listened to people of faith and conscience and followed through with his promise to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord on his first day in office,” said Rev. Susan Hendershot, president of Interfaith Power & Light, “but this is only the very beginning of what we need to do to get the U.S. and world on track to a truly sustainable future.”
The letter reads in part: “Later this year, at the U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, I urge you to make a U.S. commitment that goes beyond the Paris agreement. For the sake of our children’s future and all of Creation, we must achieve at least 50% reductions by 2030 and a 100% clean energy future by 2050, while supporting developing nations.”
The good news is that the U.S has already begun working toward those goals. While the previous administration was rolling back climate protections, Americans were continuing to reduce emissions in our houses of worship, homes, schools, and other institutions. Some have cut their emissions by half or more already.
“The next step is setting ambitious goals and demonstrating real commitment to reduce our country’s carbon pollution, along with support to help the developing world adapt and transition to sustainable clean energy. As the world’s wealthiest nation and largest historical emitter, we have a moral obligation to support communities suffering the most from a changing climate,” said Rev. Hendershot.
People of faith and conscience view the climate crisis as one of the defining moral issues of our time. A recent poll commissioned by Interfaith Power & Light found that almost three-quarters (73%) of voters say they are worried about climate change, including 87% of Black Protestants, 82% of nonwhite Catholics, 77% of white Catholics, 76% of Jews, and 57% of white evangelical Protestants.
More than 8 in 10 of these faith voters see their responsibility to care for God’s creation as a reason to act on the climate crisis. Our country should follow the example of these zero carbon faith institutions, and make a stronger commitment on climate, by reducing our own emissions at home and helping developing nations to rapidly shift to clean energy.
These three congregational signers of the letter are already cutting emissions to zero or near-zero:
Church of Our Saviour in Arlington, Massachusetts
The rectory of this small church is now saving 15 tons CO2 per year with new heat pumps, with of total savings $1,710 in annual energy costs. Read their story here
Unitarian Universalist Society, in Coralville, Iowa
They have built the greenest church in Iowa, a LEED certified, Net-Zero building with geothermal, solar, and electric car charging stations. Read their story here
The Church of St. Martin in Davis, California
This “Cool Congregation” is certified at 100% reduction as a net-zero congregation! Read more here.
To learn more or to get a copy of the letter to President Biden, email Susan Stephenson at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Cool Congregations Challenge shows that people of faith are united by concerns about climate change and are taking action! The winners provide strong moral role models for their communities, and their activities have a ripple effect with people in their own homes.
The annual contest accepts applications from religious congregations around the United States who are doing work to address global warming by reducing their carbon footprint as they create models of sustainability within their communities. The judges remarked that there were so many excellent submissions this year that it was difficult to choose!
There are five national Interfaith Power & Light (IPL) 2021 Cool Congregations Challenge winners and thirteen Runners Up. Read their whole stories here.
The Islamic Center of East Lansing in Michigan won the Cool Congregations Community Inspiration Award for putting up their own solar array AND inspiring their neighboring congregation, University Lutheran to install solar also. University Lutheran was awarded Honorable Mention in the Challenge.
“The solar project implemented by the Islamic Center is our attempt to care for God’s creation by generating electricity without a trace of carbon footprint,” Chaudhry said. “As a house of worship, we didn’t want to merely preach [but] put our words into action. By producing electricity from a renewable source, we are conserving the environment as required by our faith.”
RENEWABLE ROLE MODEL
Gesu Catholic Church and School in Detroit, Michigan won the Cool Congregations Renewable Role Model Award for their student-led collaborative effort to install solar on their building.
“We are thrilled that our Gesu students seized the opportunity to learn about sustainability, environmental justice, and the care of creation, while at the same time advocating for community health. Having IPL’s recognition will continue to enhance their learning and deepen Gesu’s positive impact on the environment,” said Rev. Phil Cooke, SJ.
Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church, located near the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, won this year’s Cool Congregations Sacred Grounds Award for their collaborative effort to restore the four-acre habitat their church campus is built on.
“Our congregation is honored to be acknowledged for our environmental work,” said the Rev. Susan DeWyngaert, the senior pastor at Woods. “As a Presbyterian Church (USA) Earth Care Congregation, we have made a commitment to work toward sustainability by providing worship, education, prayer and service opportunities in our church and community. Receiving the Cool Congregations Challenge Award is thrilling for us. We hope it will model and inspire more emphasis on sustainability as a faith practice.”
The Church of Our Saviour in Arlington, Massachusetts won the Cool Congregations Challenge Energy Saver Award for replacing their old oil heater with new heat pumps. The rectory of this small church is now saving 15 tons CO2 per year with new heat pumps, with of total savings $1,710 in annual energy costs.
“As part of celebrating our centennial year as a congregation, we looked back on our church history, not just to see where we had come from, and how our values were shaped, but also to consider what kind of legacy we wanted to leave future generations. A vestry discussion revealed that decreasing our carbon footprint was high on our list of priorities, as we wanted to do our part in leaving a cleaner planet and greener church for future generations,” Rev. Malia Crawford.
First Plymouth Congregational Church United Church of Christ in Englewood, Colorado won the Cool Planner Award for their teamwork to swap out their lighting for efficient LED lighting despite pandemic restrictions.
The Creation Justice Ministry team at FPCC estimates they will save about $3800 per year and reduce their emissions by about 36 tons annually at their 55,000 square foot building.
These congregations also had awesome projects!
State College Friends Meeting, State College, PA
Congregation Kol Shalom, Bainbridge Island, WA
Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, Lansing, MI
RENEWABLE ROLE MODEL
Genesis of Ann Arbor: Note that Genesis of Ann Arbor is a partnership between St Clare’s Episcopal Church and Temple Beth Emeth, Ann Arbor, MI
New Garden Friends Meeting, Greensboro, NC
Second Presbyterian Church, Little Rock, AR
St. John United Methodist Church, Anchorage, AK
Winchester Unitarian Society, Winchester, MA
West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church, Rocky River, OH
Gesu Catholic Church and School, Detroit, MI
Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Wilmington, DE
West Raleigh Presbyterian Church, Raleigh, NC
Humboldt Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Bayside, CA
“The national winning congregations are casting a vision for the kind of world in which they want to live, and then carrying out that vision with practical actions that make a real difference in creating lasting solutions to climate change,” said Rev. Susan Hendershot, President of Interfaith Power & Light.
IPL encourages congregations completing projects or plans in 2022 to apply for next year’s Cool Congregations Challenge by December 15, 2021. Due to Covid the project eligibility window has been expanded to projects completed in 2019, 2020, and 2021. Learn more here.
Thanks to our expert panel of judges this year! By category they are: Community Inspiration: Ashaki Scott, IPL National Office Manager and Program Assistant and Gregory Lopez, IPL board member. Energy Saver: Ryan Snow, Director, Market Transformation + Development at the U.S. Green Building Council and Hannah Bastian, Research Analyst from The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Renewable Role Model: Jerry Bernstein, Special Projects Coordinator and Dara Bortman, Board Chair of the American Solar Energy Socieity. Sacred Grounds: Tim Darst, retired Executive Director of Kentucky IPL and Carla Ellern, IPL DMV supporter, Registered Landscape Architect with Lila Fendrick Landscape Architects, member of American Society of Landscape Architects and a LEED AP (Accredited Professional) BD+C. Cool Planner: Mikelann Scerbo, Senior Associate, Research at the Alliance for Saving Energy.