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Clergy and Faith Organizations Urge Biden Administration to Strengthen its Proposed Standard to Limit Deadly Soot Pollution 

Mar 23, 2023 | Press Releases

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

Date: March 23, 2023

Contact: Tiffany Hartung, Interfaith Power & Light, Advocacy Director


[Washington, D.C.] – Today, Interfaith Power & Light, United Women in Faith, and Sisters of Mercy delivered a joint letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) urging the agency to strengthen its current proposal to limit soot pollution. The letter was signed by more than 700 faith leaders from 49 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. Copies of the letter were delivered in person not only to EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., but also to regional EPA office in Atlanta, Georgia. Faith leaders will also later deliver it to the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania regional EPA office.

“It is the moral responsibility of our nation, and our sacred task as people of faith, to protect our ecosystems, advance environmental justice and public health, and address the climate crisis,” the faith leaders wrote. “Our faith traditions compel us to care for our neighbors and prioritize the needs of those who are most vulnerable among us. For this reason, we call on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set the strongest science–based soot pollution standard possible.”

Soot pollution consists of tiny particles that are released into the air whenever fossil fuels – such as gasoline, oil, or coal – are burned. These particles are microscopically small, about 36 times smaller than a single grain of sand, and because of their size, they can be inhaled into our lungs and even absorbed into our bloodstream. Called particulate matter, or PM 2.5, by scientists, soot is one of the leading sources of air pollution not only in the United States but across the globe. Exposure to soot is also associated with a range of chronic health conditions, including asthma, COPD, heart disease, and even neurological conditions, such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

“Pollution is a moral and ethical issue. All people, no matter where they live, have a right to breathe air that doesn’t harm their health,” said Reverend Susan Hendershot, President of Interfaith Power & Light, an organization dedicated to mobilizing people of faith and conscience to act on climate change. “Faith leaders from around the country are calling on EPA to issue a stronger final soot standard that will advance environmental justice, protect the most vulnerable among us, and ensure that our children and our elders have clean air to breathe.” 

The EPA’s current soot proposal would cap soot at 10 micrograms/year. Although this is an improvement over the status quo, it will still leave many people in the United States vulnerable to unacceptably high levels of soot pollution. According to the EPA’s own scientists, a stronger standard could save thousands of lives each year and go a long way toward addressing many health inequities driven by disproportionate exposure to soot. The faith leaders emphasized these points in their letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan, writing “The EPA’s proposed soot standard is insufficient to protect our communities’ health and our environment. In its final standard, the EPA must set the strongest science-based soot pollution standards possible.”

Sister Barbara Grant, a chaplain at Mercy Hospital in St. Louis, noted that the health of real people is at stake, as the EPA considers tightening the current standard.

“As a ‘house mother’ for black teenage girls, I accompanied them to the emergency room in the middle of the night gasping for breath as they had an asthma attack,” Sister Grant said. “As they grew, this disease often diminished their quality of life, limiting their capacity for gainful work and their ability to earn a living wage. The EPA’s proposed soot standard does not do enough to counteract the damage to people’s health! We all have a right to breathe clean air!”

“Over 460,000 adults and 75,000 children in Wisconsin suffer from asthma and need protection from soot pollution,” said signer Reverend Nick Upthall of Advent Lutheran of Madison Christian Community. “As leaders in communities with diverse faith practices, our shared identity is to care for our most vulnerable neighbors. The proposed EPA standard is insufficient in saving lives, so we call for the strongest science-based standards.”

In addition to the letter signed by hundreds of faith leaders, these groups also delivered a second letter to EPA, a letter authored by the National Religious Partnership for the Environment (NRPE) and signed by 12 leading faith organizations from across the country. As with the leader from various faith leaders, this organizational sign-on letter urged President Biden’s EPA to follow the science and lower its proposed cap on soot pollution from 10 micrograms/year to 8 micrograms/year.

“With the health of human beings and the climate on the line, addressing soot pollution is a key concern for religious organizations,” said Cassandra Carmichael, NRPE’s executive director. “The Biden Administration has the opportunity to correct environmental injustices and safeguard human health by finalizing a strong soot pollution rule.”

The public comment period for the EPA’s proposal on soot ends next week on Tuesday, March 28th.

You can find both letters in their entirety here and here. Images of faith leaders delivering the letters to the Washington DC office can be seen here.

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