Interfaith Power & Light (IPL) mobilizes people of faith and conscience to take action on climate change and care for those who are most harmed by its impacts. This includes advocacy for policy solutions including energy efficiency, renewable energy, and leadership to care for earth, our common home. As communities of faith organizing a religious response to global warming, we believe that climate disruption is among the greatest challenges that humanity has ever encountered.
IPL is committed to the moral imperative of preserving and protecting the planet for generations to come. We advocate for energy policies that reduce carbon pollution, protect the health, beauty, and integrity of earth, support the health of human communities, and promote the use of clean energy.
As communities of faith, we advocate alongside the vulnerable and marginalized for bold and just solutions to the climate crisis.
View the Recommendations for a Faithful Environmental Agenda, from a coalition of religious organizations in the Washington Interfaith Staff Community Energy & Ecology Working Group.
Below are our policy positions on key issues affecting climate change.
Renewable Energy Standard (RES)
Nearly 30 states have an RES in place and it has proved to be an effective policy. Often energy efficiency standards are incorporated in the policy, are as a “carve out”, defining how much energy must be saved through improved efficiency. We need a federal policy that takes advantages of lessons learned and brings renewable energy to all states.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2015 about two-thirds of the electricity generated was from fossil fuels and only 13% was from renewables. We need to be close to 50% by 2030 in order to achieve the emissions reductions needed to comply with the Paris agreement and keep global warming under 2 degrees Celcius. Setting renewable energy targets can help us get there, as many states have demonstrated. California already generates nearly 30% of its electricity from renewables and has enacted a 50% Renewable Energy Standard for 2030, while Hawaii has a target of 100% by 2045.
International Climate Funding
Interfaith Power & Light supports international climate funding, such as the Green Climate Fund. The Green Climate Fund (GCF) is an international fund designed to address the critical climate change mitigation and adaptation needs of developing nations – to foster resilience and low-emission development. The main purpose of the GCF is to help build the capability of developing nations to limit or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions through low carbon development pathways and to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. The GCF continues an established history of US leadership and support on climate finance extending across both Republican and Democratic Administrations. During the George W. Bush Administration, the US pledged $2 billion to the World Bank’s Climate Investment Funds (CIFs). The CIFs were always intended to transition into a larger more permanent fund
Investment in mitigation and adaptation is not only our moral obligation as a major contributor to climate change, but also a sound investment in alleviating poverty and ensuring global food security now and in the future.
The United States’ funding toward international climate funding is important for three additional reasons: one, U.S. funding helps to build trust among developed and developing countries – trust that is essential to reaching on-going international agreements aimed at actions that address climate disruption; two, funding assists developing nations to limit or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions through low carbon development pathways and to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change – strategies that will have the co-benefit of building needed infrastructure; and three, central to many international funding agreements is the commitment of the private sector, facilitating the use of innovative financial strategies in addressing climate change.
People of faith all around the world have gathered at international events, such as the UN Climate Talks in Copenhagen and Paris, demanding action by the world body to not only reduce the threat of climate change, but to provide funding for those hardest hit in the least developed countries who bear little responsibility for this crisis. We understand that, when one part of the global community suffers, we all suffer. Support for international climate funding is one way to address both the immediate suffering and the long-term reduction of climate change impacts.
IPL energy efficiency and conservation translate directly into fewer emissions of harmful chemicals into Earth’s atmosphere, water, soil, flora, fauna and human communities. Energy bills can also drain significant amounts of money from a congregation’s budget. Energy Efficiency and conservation go a long way to demonstrating good stewardship of Earth, while also saving costs.
It is important to remember that energy efficiency and water conservation go hand in hand. “Water is needed to generate energy. Energy is needed to deliver water. Both resources are limiting the other-and both may be running short.” – Michael Webber, Scientific American
Water and wastewater utilities are typically the largest consumers of energy in municipalities, often accounting for 30-40 percent of total energy consumed according the Environmental Protection Agency. Pursuing energy efficiency at our water sector systems can significantly reduce operating costs, while mitigating the effects of climate change.
Putting a Price on Carbon
Interfaith Power & Light (IPL) supports putting a price on carbon pollution that will put downward pressure on emissions. This can be accomplished through policies like carbon taxes, carbon fees, a limited number of carbon credits sold at auction, or cap and trade systems. All of these systems help “correct” the market in which carbon pollution is essentially free. And if the revenue raised from the carbon tax or fee is invested in climate solutions like energy efficiency and renewables, there is even more benefit for the climate.
The down side of putting a price on carbon is that it can raise energy prices, which will disproportionately affect low-income people, making it a form of regressive tax. In order to address this possible negative outcome IPL advocates for an equity principle in any carbon pricing program. Such a social justice element could be an auction of emissions credits, for example, with some revenue earmarked for weatherization for low-income households (to reduce the cost of energy), or for energy efficiency programs, or green jobs training.
A price on carbon must be designed so that it rapidly cuts carbon pollution and protects low-income citizens from an unfair cost burden. It can be used in conjunction with other mechanisms such as the EPA rules on power plant emissions.
IPL supports a price on carbon as an essential step in creating a level playing field for energy production and addressing global warming. This effort can be part of an overall program to improve energy efficiency and replace fossil fuels with clean energy, which will have long-term economic, environmental and social benefits. As people of faith, we must speak up and change the current system to one that is in keeping with our responsibility to be stewards of Creation.
IPL supports the Carbon Pricing Faith Principles that were developed by a coalition of faith organizations. You can view the principles here.
There are existing carbon pricing systems at the state and regional levels working now. Below are the two major programs in the U.S. that IPL supports:
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)
This is multistate cap-and-trade program established in 2005 that covers emissions from in-state power plants that are at least 25 megawatts. Nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states participate in RGGI.
RGGI held its first auction of CO2 allowances in 2008. As of 2014, RGGI has held 24 quarterly auctions, selling more than half a million allowances and collecting nearly $1 billion in auction revenue.
California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32)
California’s comprehensive climate law, passed in 2006, caps emissions economy-wide in order to cut emissions to the 1990 level by 2020. It targets greenhouse gas emissions from electricity production, fuels, cars, trucks and other sources. To achieve the reductions, the system incorporates regulations, planning, energy efficiency, renewable energy and tradable carbon credits sold at auction. California’s carbon auction is already bringing in over $1 billion per year, and 10% of the revenue is designated for programs to benefit disadvantaged, low-income communities.
Interfaith Power & Light advocates for transportation policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provide affordable transit options, protect the most vulnerable among us, and support the health of our communities. We also realize that the needs of urban and rural communities may differ and all of these needs must be taken into consideration in moving toward transportation policies that look to the future.
IPL supports transportation policies that improve efficiency and reduce emissions of transportation including cars, trucks, trains and aircraft. This includes fuel efficiency standards for all vehicle classes and a rapid transition to low-carbon fuels, support for R&D around electric vehicles and responsibly produced biofuels, and funding for effective mass transit, while addressing transportation needs in rural areas. IPL supports policies that advance smart local land use planning that reduces reliance on the automobile and improves livability. IPL also supports funding to redesign existing and new roadways to support safe walking and bicycling. IPL does not support subsidizing fossil fuel extraction or pricing fossil fuels without factoring in the costs of climate and public health impacts.
Transportation policies that reduce pollution, improve fuel efficiency, provide better transportation choices, and encourage healthy communities are a vital component of a clean energy future.
The current technology of burning coal to produce electricity carries huge societal costs around air and water pollution and is one of the most significant drivers of climate disruption. These external costs are not captured in the price of coal power. Every step of the current coal-fired process is dangerous to human health, from mining and processing to burning and storage of waste ash. Those most often impacted by these dangerous processes are the most vulnerable members of our communities: the poor, the elderly, and children.
Science clearly indicates that we must reduce our output of carbon dioxide and other global warming pollution. Transitioning away from coal and other fossil fuels is a crucial step in mitigating climate disruption. In the United States that means we must halt the construction of all new coal power plants unless and until we can conclusively demonstrate safe and affordable carbon capture and storage. Existing coal plants utilizing 20th century technology should be phased out as quickly as possible as we transition to clean energy and become more energy efficient.
We know that all forms of coal mining are dangerous, imperil human health, and degrade landscapes and human communities. Particularly egregious is mountaintop removal mining, which has permanently destroyed over 500 mountains and 1500 miles of streams, while putting human communities in Appalachia in harm’s way from toxins in their air and water. We therefore oppose mountaintop removal mining and advocate for its immediate discontinuation.
We also oppose the export of coal from the United States to be burned in Asia. Shipping coal from Montana and Wyoming on uncovered trains to ports in the Pacific Northwest or Gulf Coast would cause immediate and devastating health, environmental, transportation, and community impacts along the rail route, in addition to air, water, and climate pollution generated by burning the coal.
As we transition to clean energy, we must work to remediate and restore the land and communities that have been degraded and economically exploited from coal mining, shipping, and burning. We support programs to provide jobs training to displaced coal workers and restoration of degraded lands.
While we recognize this transition is complex and will require significant investments, we have great faith in the ingenuity and spirit of America. We have come together many times in the past in the face of adversity and challenge. We believe we can come together for a shared purpose to make this transition to clean energy and offer a bright future for our children and grandchildren.
Biomass energy is energy from recently living things such as food crops, trees and plants, residues from agriculture or forestry, oil-rich algae, and the organic component of municipal and industrial wastes. Wood is the largest biomass energy resource today. Biomass can be burned to create heat and electricity or processed into biofuel.1
The high economic costs relative to other low carbon or renewable energy technologies, the social justice issues around locations of biomass burning, and the problems associated with health impacts make wood biomass energy a distraction from more viable forms of energy that are cleaner and come with fewer complications.2 IPL opposes all biomass energy that contribute to the destruction of healthy forests and reduces native biodiversity.
Wood biomass is a complex and complicated policy issue because of the many ways that it has been implemented. The science around carbon accounting for wood biomass energy remains unsettled with disagreements over how to account for the full lifecycle of trees. Part of the complicated accounting is due to the difference between using leftover wood byproducts from harvesting trees to make energy and cutting down forests and planting tree monocultures specifically to support wood for biomass burning. Cutting trees specifically for biomass energy releases carbon that would otherwise remain in the forests (trees and soil) and causes the need for additional forests to be cut down to produce wood products such as lumber for the building industry. Even if these forests are allowed to regrow to pull that carbon from the atmosphere, research has found that large scale burning of wood for energy can be more carbon intensive than burning coal on a timescale that matters to us.3
Another important issue is uncertainty around forests being replanted and growing back as there is increasing pressure for pasture and agricultural lands as well as forest loss due to wildfires, insect damage, disease and other ecological stresses including climate change.4
There are regional differences as well. The demand from European power plants (the EU gets nearly 60% of what it classifies as renewable energy from wood biomass) that burn wood pellets has increased the destruction of biologically diverse forests in the southeastern US and supported an industry that is turning forests into monoculture tree plantations.5 Western US forests may benefit from biomass energy (whether burning to create energy or converting to biofuels) as part of a larger restoration program that is focused on improving forest health after decades of artificial fire suppression.6 Yet there is a significant challenge keeping any biomass energy focused on using trees that need to be removed to avoid catastrophic fires and a desire for greater profits causing a move toward burning trees that do not need to be removed, but are relatively large and readily accessible.
Dr. William Moomaw, Professor Emeritus at Tufts University, has said that planting trees on a large scale is a great thing to do, but they will not make much of a difference in the next two or three decades because little trees just don’t store much carbon. Letting existing natural forests grow is essential to any climate goal we have. He also points to the social justice issue: the plants that make the pellets or convert the trees to energy are being built near low-income, African American communities that already have high rates of asthma. These plants produce a tremendous amount of dust and particulate matter.7 Additionally, biomass burning has significant health impacts from air pollution.8
Interfaith Power & Light believes the science is clear that carbon pollution must fall to ‘net zero’ by 2050 at the latest. The next decade is critical to pass the policies and build the infrastructure to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. While biomass energy around wood burning may prove viable in specific circumstances and locations, IPL opposes categorizing wood biomass as a form of renewable energy and supports a focus on building existing proven technologies of producing renewable energy along with research and development dollars to support promising new technologies. As a matter of morality and justice, wood biomass energy often burdens the least powerful of our neighbors and people of faith should fight against this injustice while supporting bold and just climate solutions.
IPL also stands in opposition of the oil’s transportation across America’s heartland in the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to Texas ports for refining and distribution to overseas markets.
IPL is joining with other faith leaders and environmental organizations in asking President Obama to deny Transcanada’s permit to construct the pipeline. IPL’s concerns are backed by the newly released, taxpayer supported, National Climate Assessment report. It’s the product of thirteen top federal agencies and their scientists, backed by a $2 billion dollar annual budget. It was produced for the president and Congress to inform policy decisions. Deciding the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline is just such a decision. According to the report, climate change will have severe impacts on ecosystems, infrastructures, and human health if we continue on the current path of heavy fossil fuel consumption. It also underscores that the decisions made today will determine how much climate change will disrupt the future.
The majority of confirmed tar sands deposits are under the boreal forests of Alberta, Canada. The boreal forests represent 25 percent of the intact, original forests on the planet and are a global resource for filtering the Earth’s water, removing carbon from the atmosphere, and regulating the climate. This region of Alberta is also home to the First Nations indigenous peoples of Canada, who are greatly affected by the mining of tar sands. They are also standing in opposition to the further development of tar sands because of the harm that occurs to their native lands, the animals that share the land, and their traditional hunting and fishing economy.
The mining of tar sands is a resource intensive process that emits up to three times the carbon of conventional oil. The production of tar sands to liquid fuel requires natural gas to create steam that literally melts the tar off the sand. The recovered crude then needs to be refined. In the end, for every barrel of syncrude produced, around four barrels of water and 1,200 cubic feet of natural gas are required. The dirty wastewater is often pumped into enormous holding reservoirs, which pollute the environment with toxic substances that are dangerous to human health and wildlife populations. Communities located in proximity to current tar sands operations have experienced elevated cancer rates.
The focus on obtaining liquid fuel from tar sands is a serious and costly diversion from America’s responsibility to lead the way toward a clean energy future. We cannot afford to become dependent on yet another dirty source of fuel. Instead,IPL urges a focus on transportation solutions such as better vehicle fuel efficiency, alternative fuels, more funding for mass transit, and electric cars.
For the following reasons, IPL does not believe building new nuclear plants presents a viable solution to global warming.
Cost and Timeline: The high cost and long time frame required to build new nuclear plants is prohibitive, given the immediacy of global warming. Energy efficiency and conservation are the fastest, cleanest, and cheapest ways to achieve significant greenhouse gas emissions reductions and this should be our first focus. Taking into account the entire life cycle of mining uranium (a nonrenewable resource) and disposing of the waste, nuclear power production is neither clean nor renewable. Investing billions of dollars in this technology drains funds away from much more cost effective, rapidly deployable, and truly renewable alternatives, such as wind, geothermal, and solar power. (For more information on cost, please see economic studies referenced below)
Safety: From mining uranium to the end of the fuel cycle the technology is not safe. Until scientists find a safe way to deal with radioactive waste generated at every phase, building more nuclear power plants would be irresponsible to present and future generations. The link to weapons proliferation and terrorism cannot be avoided. Placing dangerous nuclear materials in the midst of our communities poses an unacceptable risk of a catastrophic event. Such an event could be a massive release of radiation due to a plant meltdown or a terrorist attack, and could kill tens of thousands of people as well as poison large areas with radioactivity for millennia.
Justice: As people of faith, we believe in justice that transcends generations, race and class. Our indigenous brothers and sisters and economically poor communities in the US and throughout the world carry a disproportionate burden of past uranium mining legacies and end waste that pollute water and harm health. Passing on radioactive materials, with a half-life of 100,000 years, to thousands of generations to come is a profound moral failure. Even a small accident could cause the contamination of groundwater for 300,000 years.
As an additional justice issue, nuclear power plants require enormous amounts of fresh water, a precious resource whose growing scarcity is increasingly at the heart of resource conflicts and the suffering of humans and other species.
Therefore, IPL urges a redoubled focus on energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable resources to avert the worst impacts of climate change.
The Rocky Mountain Institute has conducted extensive economic analysis of the cost of nuclear compared to renewables. See: “The Nuclear Illusion” By Amory Lovins and Imran Sheikh.
The Nuclear Policy Research Institute and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research have published an excellent book detailing the possibilities for reaching a carbon free future without nuclear energy: Carbon Free and Nuclear Free, A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy by Arjun Makhijani.
Taxpayers for Common Sense has documented the often overlooked and exorbitant costs the U.S. taxpayers would be asked to absorb in the event of a nuclear accident.
Methane Gas Development and Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking)
Water, air, and land are sacred trusts within many faith traditions. Increasingly, ethical and moral concerns are being lifted up to address the health of water, air, land, climate, and communities affected by the methane gas extractive industry. Communities of color, especially Indigenous communities, bear a disproportionate burden from methane gas extraction and pollution. Alongside concerns for the health of our communities, natural gas brings concern for the health of our climate. Methane gas, a greenhouse gas that, over 20 years, traps about 87 times more heat in the atmosphere than does carbon dioxide.1
In the words of Pope Francis, “Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization.” The devastating effects of fossil fuel based energy show that it’s time to look to sustainable alternatives.
Because of the threat that gas and methane extraction pose to our communities and our sacred resources, we must rapidly move towards eliminating, rather than expanding, both fracking and methane dependency. This must happen with a timeline and with a level of funding that ensures a just transition for workers and communities currently dependent on gas extraction, and equally protects the vulnerable communities downwind2 whose health and livelihoods are threatened.4
Areas of focus when weighing justice, ethical, and spiritual considerations include:
- Effects on community health, especially overburdened communities.
- Effects on the environment of the hydraulic fracturing process
- Water concerns
- Air pollution
- Abandoned and orphaned wells
- Methane gas uses such as increased plastics and infrastructure concerns
Effects of hydraulic fracturing:
In recent years, the technology of hydraulic fracturing has exacerbated concerns for air, water, land, climate, and well-being of communities. In hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, a hole is drilled deep into underground shale rock. In each well, several million gallons of water, sand, and “injections chemicals” are pumped into the ground to fracture the shale at high pressure and access the gas.
As of 2019, there were more than 900,000 active oil and gas wells in the United States, with more than 130,000 drilled since 2010.3 About 7 in 10 of these wells utilize hydraulic fracturing.
In most jurisdictions, companies are not required to disclose the chemicals they use in fracking. Some of the chemicals used as part of the fracking process are toxic or carcinogenic, such as hydrochloric acid, ammonium chloride, and methanol.
Earth has a finite amount of water. The same water that the first prophets and leaders of our faith traditions drank thousands of years ago is still with us, and the same water will be here one million years from now in the form of clouds, ice, snow, rivers, oceans, or groundwater. Many faith traditions view water as a sacred trust.
The water returning to the surface in the fracking process contains heavy metals, high levels of salts, and radioactive elements. This “flowback” is then stored in containment ponds, injected back into the ground, or loaded into tanker trucks for disposal elsewhere. Fracking is not regulated by federal statutes governing water safety because industry lobbyists obtained an exemption from this law, known as the “Halliburton loophole.”5 The result is spills, pollution of land and water, and devastation of community health. Current science states that this water cannot be cleaned to be safe for any use outside of the oil and gas field.
Workers transporting this waste are exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. While the presence of radioactivity in drilling byproducts has been known for almost a century, there is little federal or state oversight. In fact, some have gone in the opposite direction–Pennsylvania doctors were legally barred from discussing fracking-related radiation with their patients until that law was struck down by the state’s Supreme Court in 2016.<sup>6</sup>
Another concern with the disposal of produced water and flowback is injection into the earth, which some scientists believe has a direct connection with growing earthquake zones in some parts of the country that previously did not experience significant seismic activity.
Air is the most important element for sustaining life on Earth. Every human needs air every minute of their life. Many of our faith traditions’ Creation stories involve the gift of breath from the Creator to the first human. Air is often considered a sacred gift, interchangeable with spirit or life.
Methane, which contains many volatile organic compounds, is a gas that cannot be seen or smelled. It is a contributor to climate change up to 87 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in the short term. Methane has been recorded by NASA and other entities in large quantities over some parts of the United States at extremely high levels. It also represents a serious threat to the health of local communities as it has been connected to asthma attacks, heart issues, and other respiratory ailments.7
Recent research from the Environmental Defense Fund has found that methane leakage rates during extraction, storage and transportation are as much as 60% higher than official government estimates.8 Because methane is so much more potent than carbon dioxide as a climate pollutant, a higher methane leakage rate means less – perhaps much less – climate benefits will be realized by switching from coal to methane for electricity production.
To date there are no federal regulations adequately addressing methane pollution from existing sources, and the federal regulations addressing methane from new sources are under attack by EPA. Regulation is primarily left to states to legislate, regulate, and enforce. Interfaith Power & Light has supported regulations that provide safeguards on methane development and has opposed recent rollbacks of these safeguards by the Trump administration.
Abandoned and Orphaned Wells
Due to low oil and gas prices or the end of productivity, wells are closed, abandoned, or orphaned. Depending upon the process required by states and the availability of funds through company bonding and state resources, wells, equipment, and toxic pipelines can leave behind legacy health and environmental hazards. Many of our religious traditions hold a responsibility to be good stewards of Creation and to ensure a clean and livable future. For this reason, legacy issues of gas extraction are a concern.
Methane Gas Uses and Infrastructure
As energy use shifts in the world, methane gas is increasingly used in the production of plastic. Pipelines carrying gas over vast stretches to plastic manufacturing “cracker” plants are a growing concern in many rural areas. Exporting methane in the form of liquid natural gas (LNG) through domestic ports to foreign lands also weighs as an ethical and moral implication.
Environmental Justice and Just Transition
Environmental justice concerns exist at each step of the process for methane extraction, transportation, and consumption. A long history of structural inequality contributes to the “cancer alleys” in communities of color and other disadvantaged communities.9 Those communities downwind of natural gas development receive the pollution produced by gas development, but are often left out of the jobs that production provides. Even those communities that receive jobs are on a fossil fuel “boom and bust” cycle leaving them vulnerable as the jobs move on while the windfall profits go to a few at the top.
Communities of color are often targeted with unwanted gas infrastructure deemed too dangerous for majority white communities. Indigenous communities face particular dangers from methane extraction and infrastructure, as a hugely disproportionate amount of oil and gas extraction and reserves exist on tribal land.10
In light of the many tentacles of the gas industry and the complex ethical, moral, and spiritual considerations, Interfaith Power & Light believes some places to begin immediately as we continue to work toward eliminating natural gas development include:
- Federal methane rules to address pollution, regulation, and enforcement from new and existing sources
- Disclosure of the composition and safety of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, especially to protect water.
- An effective regulatory structure to protect human health, the climate, and water and air quality. This includes appropriate resources to allow agencies to enforce regulations.
- Financial assurance requirements that guarantee that industry resources are available to remediate any impacts from potential accidents.
- Development and use of drilling company best-practice standards that address things such as well casing construction, plugging of wells, wastewater treatment and storage, and technologies that minimizes the leakage of natural gas emissions from drilling and pipeline facilities.
- A ban on drilling in environmentally sensitive areas, such as areas of unique public benefit, indigenous sacred sites, fragile ecosystems, near houses, schools, and communities.
- Require creation of standard federal setbacks and buffer zones for industry production, transport, storage and manufacturing.
Interfaith Power & Light supports renewable energy, efficiency, and conservation and just transition that focuses on supporting the most vulnerable communities and those that have borne a disproportionate burden of pollution from the fossil fuel industry.