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Using your collective voice to influence Congress on climate issues

President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion plan represents opportunity, IPL staffer says

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Anja via Pixabay

LOUISVILLE — President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure, jobs and green energy plan served as a backdrop Monday for an Ecumenical Advocacy Days workshop led by Interfaith Power & Light (IPL), a partner of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The plan, which has “climate front and center,” represents a generational opportunity for climate action right now, said Jonathan Lacock-Nisly, an IPL federal policy associate based in Washington, D.C.

IPL Field Director Tiffany Hartung and Lacock-Nisly were co-presenters of the workshop “FAITH in Action: Working for a Faithful Environmental Agenda in Congress.” Hartung, who is based in North Carolina, encouraged participants to use their collective voices to influence policymakers.

Tiffany Hartung is field director for Interfaith Power & Light.

“We are finally in a place to pass strong climate legislation and undo some of the damage that’s been done in the last four years. But in order for this to happen, it’s critical that policymakers hear from people of faith and conscience about why you support climate justice,” Hartung said. “This voice is powerful.”

Climate justice is the focus of the 2021 Ecumenical Advocacy Days conference, which is taking place this week online, and includes worship services and workshops by various groups. IPL is a national nonprofit that says it works to “inspire and mobilize people of faith and conscience toward bold and just action on climate change.”

Given that Biden’s plan is facing opposition, “speaking with even senators who are often supportive of our issues, I think is very timely right now,” Lacock-Nisly said.

Highlighting various aspects of the plan, he said, “We can see all of the ways in which investing in our infrastructure is an environmental justice imperative.”

Potential improvements under the plan include removing lead pipes from communities; expanding water access, especially to Indigenous communities in the West; and resolving electrical grid issues that endangered Texans during unusually cold weather last winter, he said.

“Our electrical grid is barely up to meeting the current moment and it’s certainly not up to increased climate disruptions in the coming year,” he said. “This is an opportunity for us to invest in a grid that not only can meet that changing climate but also can help mitigate the damage by being a smart grid that can deal with a future where everyone is going to be producing power on their own rooftops.”

Jonathan Lacock-Nisly is a federal policy associate with Interfaith Power & Light.

Lacock-Nisly outlined five FAITH principles that IPL uses to guide advocacy efforts and support for climate policy in Congress.

  1. Frontline, vulnerable, and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) communities must be supported first.
  2. Accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy and commit to net-zero climate pollution in electricity by 2035 and economy-wide by 2050.
  3. Invest in climate resiliency and sustainable infrastructure.
  4. Transition our workforce to clean energy jobs with support and job training for workers.
  5. Honor Creation by promoting protection and conservation of public lands and oceans.

Many faith organizations, including the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness, have signed on to support the principles, Lacock-Nisly said, displaying a list of them. “If you see your denomination up there, I think that’s a great starting point for a conversation in your church about how we can be living out these principles in environmental action.”

Lacock-Nisly also highlighted some recent legislative wins in Washington. For example, the COVID-19 relief package includes $100 million for environmental justice grants and pollution monitoring, he said. That’s important because “the communities who are forced to breathe the most air pollution also have the highest mortality rate from COVID-19,” he said. “Those communities are most likely to be Black, Indigenous or people of color communities.”

The relief package also includes money for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and public transit, which Lacock-Nisly applauded. “Public transit is a social justice solution and a climate solution,” enabling people to get to appointments, grocery stores and employers without cars.

Faith communities can help to push for additional wins by advocating for policies that reflect their values, such as “compassion for those who are suffering, justice for communities that have been seen as disposable in our thirst for fossil fuel production, and love for our children, God’s Creation and the sacred,” Hartung said.

She noted that faith groups can educate members of Congress about issues and provide them with impactful examples. “It’s helpful for lawmakers to be able to have a story to tell that they heard from so-and-so congregation” about how a policy “would impact, or is impacting, their community,” she said.

President Joe Biden has proposed a $2 trillion infrastructure, jobs and green energy plan, but it faces opposition. (Photo by Michael Stokes under Creative Commons)

Hartung also encouraged the audience to connect with IPL’s Faithful Advocacy Captains program, participate in lobbying opportunities and attend town halls by members of Congress.  Other useful tactics include using social media to influence friends, relatives and church members, and notifying the media when your congregation takes important actions or stands.

Circling back to Biden’s plan, Lacock-Nisly said, “We’re already hearing a lot of pushback that focusing on climate is not an important part of addressing infrastructure. So we as the faith community need to be saying that, ‘Yes, investing in infrastructure is a climate issue.’”

The Office of Public Witness is one of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

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