Our Policy Positions
IPL advocates for bold and just climate policy and has developed positions centered on our values of equity and justice.
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 our Sacred Earth, or God’s Creation. 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 climate pollution, protect the health, beauty, and integrity of our Sacred Earth, or God’s Creation, support the health of our neighbors, 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.
IPL develops our policy positions based on these principles developed with our faith partners and IPL’s Justice Equity Diversity and Inclusiveness principles.
Our current federal policy priorities include:
- Advocating for the Biden administration works across the federal government to deliver on the administration’s promise to cut climate pollution in half by 2030 and to deliver the strongest possible public health protections for all communities, and for our Sacred Earth.
- Protecting voting rights and democracy. Voter suppression intends to silence the communities most impacted by pollution and extreme weather, including Black communities, Indigenous communities, other communities of color, young people, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups. As threats to democracy grow, so do threats to our environment. All people deserve to have their voices heard.
- Advancing the Environmental Justice for All Act.
- Advocating for strong climate justice provisions in the Farm Bill.
- Bringing pressure to bear on automakers such as GM and Toyota to commit to producing 100% zero emissions vehicles by 2035, with a priority on affordability and equity.
We have a position on:
Renewable Energy Standards
IPL supports a rapid ramp up of renewable energy through a national Renewable Energy Standard. Included in our definition of renewables are wind, solar, geothermal and some hydro. As much as possible renewables should be close to the source (such as rooftop solar) to increase efficiency.
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.
Protecting and Recovering Wildlife
As people of faith, we are called to be caretakers of all Creation. Due to climate change, roughly one third of America’s wildlife species are at some degree of elevated risk of extinction. Currently, more than 1,600 U.S. species are listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. Respecting and protecting the unique creatures that share our world is a moral responsibility.
From bees to salmon to polar bears, keystone species are threatened by climate change and pollution. Reducing global warming is urgent, but we can also help these species adapt by protecting the habitat where they live and raise their young: forests, grasslands, rivers, oceans and streams.
Healthy ecosystems that support wildlife can lock up carbon while increasing Earth’s resilience to climate impacts. Restoring wildlife habitats can protect communities by reducing the risks from extreme wildfires and storms. Intact forests allow for generations of fish and wildlife to build homes and raise their young, protected by the shade of varied-age trees. Cavities in old trees and fallen logs are among the most favored nesting spots for birds and other forest dwellers. Older forests moderate latitude, altitude, rainfall and temperature.
Proactive conservation efforts can help save thousands of species from extinction. Protecting wildlife can also create jobs that support the outdoor economy and other key sectors. Tribal nations, the original stewards of this land, must also be respected and supported in implementing their own conservation efforts.
IPL supports efforts to protect wildlife through policies such as marine conservation zones, sustainable fishing, land and water conservation, support for tribal nations, and the global biodiversity framework of setting aside 30% of Earth for nature by 2030.
National Wildlife Federation: https://www.nwf.org/Our-Work/Wildlife-Conservation
Forest habitat: (Watson et al. 2016)
UN Environment Program Biodiversity Conference: https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/cop15-ends-landmark-biodiversity-agreement#:~:text=The%20GBF%20aims%20to%20address,ecosystems%20under%20protection%20by%202030.
Presently, it seems likely that hydrogen will be an important climate solution for hard-to-electrify sectors such as cement and steel production. IPL supports green hydrogen only and will remain vigilant about making sure it can truly meet its promise while using and supporting new sources of clean energy.
Hydrogen can be produced in a variety of ways, including using fossil fuels like methane “natural” gas, nuclear power, biogas, biomass, and renewable energy like solar and wind. It is clean-burning, and when combined with oxygen in a fuel cell, hydrogen produces heat and electricity with only water vapor as a by-product, but creating it can be carbon pollution intensive.
The different colors of hydrogen refer to its method of production. Green hydrogen uses renewable energy to electrolyze water molecules, splitting water into its separate components, hydrogen and oxygen. In this policy statement, we are only concerned with green hydrogen as IPL sees green hydrogen as the only form of hydrogen production that is fully compatible with a net-zero emission energy future. Green hydrogen is currently 4 to 6 times more expensive than fossil hydrogen and makes up less than 1 percent of U.S. hydrogen production.
At this time, it appears hydrogen will be important in hard-to-electrify sectors. In the United States, the industrial sector is the third largest source of climate pollution after transportation and electricity generation. The industrial sector has some difficult-to-abate climate pollution, including steel and cement production. Green hydrogen can produce the high-temperature heat needed to power industrial processes.
Hydrogen should only be used in certain sectors – electrification is largely a better solution. But the International Energy Agency’s net-zero emission scenario shows that hydrogen is vital in a limited role. Hydrogen will account for about 10 percent of final energy consumption, according to their model.
Federal and state policy is needed for the hydrogen economy to scale successfully. In particular, states have an important role to play in prioritizing end uses, integrating, planning, permitting, and handling regulations, standards, and certifications that verify emissions and ensure safety. Hydrogen producers must use new sources of clean energy, avoiding RECs and matching consumption and production of the clean energy.
Hydrogen leakage has potentially negative climate consequences. Hydrogen is an indirect greenhouse gas, meaning that hydrogen emissions do not directly warm the atmosphere but instead increase the concentration of other greenhouse gases like methane, water vapor, and ozone, contributing to global warming.
New peer-reviewed research by the Environmental Defense Fund found that hydrogen leakage impacts are greater than previously thought. Hydrogen can leak relatively easily into the atmosphere, and we currently cannot measure hydrogen leakage to the level needed. Large leaks are measured for safety concerns as opposed to smaller leaks, but small leaks likely also have negative climate impacts.
There is broad consensus that green hydrogen can help us meet our climate goals. But hydrogen’s ability to play a role in a climate-safe economy hinges on its own production being clean, supporting new clean energy development, and not leaking to any significant amount.
Used in a limited and appropriate manner, hydrogen could be a powerful decarbonization tool, but we must get the basics right to enable the hydrogen economy to scale successfully. Success means that outcomes are equitable and inclusive, commercially viable, and sustainable over the long term. Green hydrogen, if properly implemented, could supplement and complement electrification. It must not further entrench natural gas. IPL supports green hydrogen only and will remain vigilant about making sure it can truly meet its promise to decarbonize a few otherwise hard-to-decarbonize sectors.
Protecting and Recovering Forests
Across cultures and throughout history, forests hold immense spiritual significance. Healthy forests are an important carbon solution, yet they are also being impacted by climate change through heat, drought, wildfires, disease, and pests. Protecting forests around the world will both reduce global warming and increase natural climate resiliency.
Forests offer the single most powerful and effective way to remove carbon from our atmosphere. Mature forests and big trees are the natural champions of carbon sequestration, storing carbon for decades, if not centuries. They are a low-cost resource that continues to grow as we all benefit from the services they provide, including clear air, clean water, habitat for wildlife, a haven for biodiversity and myriad options for recreation.
Intact forests also protect against the impacts of climate change, like flooding, erosion, and landslides. The extensive networks of root systems in old, undisturbed forests absorb rainfall efficiently, prevent runoff, stabilize water table levels and retain soil moisture. These processes regulate the flow across the land surface and help secure slopes, prevent water and wind erosion, while managing the transport of nutrients and sediments
Deforestation is the number one source of carbon emissions in the developing world. Countries that protect their forests should be compensated. Existing forests can also be protected by supporting communities in sustainable livelihoods and alternative fuel sources.
Wood pellets are a major threat to forests in the U.S., especially in the South. Over a million acres of US forests have already been cut for “biomass” energy. The EU and other countries are offering renewable energy subsidies for electricity produced from wood pellets. But replacing cut trees can take decades, and there is no guarantee that trees will even be regrown ever. Burning wood pellets produces as much carbon emissions as burning fossil fuels, and actually accelerates climate change.
IPL supports policies to protect forests here and around the world, and opposes the use of wood pellets as a climate solution. Forests provide essential ecosystem services and spiritual value that should not be neglected.
Climate Forests Campaign: https://www.climate-forests.org/
Ecology & Society: Study of spiritual value of forests: https://ecologyandsociety.org/vol27/iss4/art20/#:~:text=The%20spiritual%20connection%20to%20forests,and%20is%20often%20considered%20sacred.
Benefits of intact forests: (Watson et al. 2016, DellaSala et al. 2011, Creed et al. 2016, Moomaw et al. 2019).
Dogwood Alliance on wood pellets: https://www.dogwoodalliance.org/our-work/wood-pellet-biomass/
International Climate Funding
Climate change presents a threat to all of Creation and particularly to vulnerable populations living in poverty around the globe. We recognize that climate change impacts hit those already suffering from poverty and insecure living conditions “first and worst” and, in a majority of instances, these populations bear little responsibility for contributing the greenhouse gas emissions primarily responsible for climate change.
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.
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.
Transportation accounts for nearly a third of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. Most vehicles produce several times their weight in carbon pollution each year from the dirty fuels on which we depend. These emissions are not only contributing greatly to global warming, but they’re polluting our air and compromising our health. By addressing the transportation sector, we have the opportunity to accelerate the transition to a clean energy future while improving Americans’ health and quality of life. We will simultaneously decrease our dependenceon foreign oil, reduce our trade deficit and increase our energy security.
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.
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. We commit ourselves to the moral imperative of preserving and protecting the planet for generations to come. There can be no effective strategy to address climate disruption without significant restructuring of our electricity production including a rapid and just transition from antiquated coal power generation.
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.
Carbon Capture and Storage
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has been gaining attention from both industrial and political leaders as a solution that would theoretically allow for the continued use of fossil fuels while protecting the climate. (In this context, CCS refers to technological processes that attempt to remove carbon dioxide while burning fossil fuels. To be clear, natural processes that capture carbon, like good forest and agricultural management, are important tools in addressing the climate crisis.) As people of faith and conscience motivated by an ethical and moral commitment to the truth and care for our communities and Creation, we oppose any plan for CCS that falsely implies we can safely continue to burn fossil fuels as a major source of energy.
A spiritual lens requires that policies take into consideration the common good, care for our neighbors, and the gift of our common home. Too often, proponents of CCS ignore these elements and the continued harm that CCS power plants would cause through local air pollution. These proponents also ignore the lack of successful and cost effective CCS projects in existence, while simultaneously questioning the efficacy of widely affordable, truly clean technologies like wind and solar power. Endless funding for further research on CCS steals away funding that should be used to expand renewable energy and assist those suffering the effects of climate change.
With limited exceptions for hard to decarbonize industrial sectors, IPL views CCS as a false solution that promises climate action while instead providing cover for continued fossil fuel pollution. Instead of dealing with the broken relationship between humanity and our common home, CCS attempts to paper over the divide.
What is CCS?
Carbon capture technology uses chemical reactions to remove carbon dioxide either before or, most commonly for power plants, after a fossil fuel has been burned for energy. The carbon dioxide is then transported through pipelines, either as a gas or a pressurized liquid, to a storage facility. Often storage facilities are in natural underground formations, risking a massive release of stored carbon dioxide during an earthquake or other geological event. Some geologists have even raised concerns that underground storage could in itself contribute to increased earthquakes.
Captured carbon dioxide can also be used in oil fields or coal beds to facilitate the production of even more fossil fuels, defeating the stated purpose of reducing carbon pollution.
Lack of feasibility
Despite many years of promises and huge investments, CCS projects continue to come up short. In one prominent example, the Petra Nova CCS plant in Texas, initially billed as the future of US electrical production, closed in 2020 after only 3 years. It cost $1 billion, including $190 million in government subsidies, and captured far less carbon dioxide than projected.
Other high profile failures include the FutureGen project in Illinois, which failed to open after spending $125 million in federal and local subsidies, and the Gorgon project by Chevron in Australia, which is estimated to have achieved less than a third of its intended carbon storage despite a $3 billion price tag.
To fossil fuel companies, the ability to funnel public climate funding into their existing fossil fuel infrastructure is a clear win. As people of faith, we must consider how these resources could be better used to achieve climate justice and protect overburdened communities.
Environmental justice concerns
While CCS may remove carbon dioxide from polluting sources like power plants, it leaves other kinds of pollution in place. Communities around a coal CCS plant, for instance, would still be forced to deal with mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter, as well as lead and arsenic.
We fear that widespread CCS may make it easier for political leaders to ignore the pollution inflicted upon the low-wealth communities and Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities that are disproportionately burdened by local air pollution.
Furthermore, power plants with CCS require more fuel to operate, since the CCS systems themselves use large amounts of electricity to capture carbon. This could produce even more local air pollution than the power plants produce without CCS.
Finally, when considering using CCS with methane gas, it is important to note that much of the climate pollution caused by methane comes from extraction and transportation. Methane leaks, which often occur during drilling or transporting through pipelines, are a climate super polluter. These leaks also cause various health problems for neighbors in frontline communities that will not be addressed by CCS.
CCS may have an important role to play in hard to decarbonize industrial sectors. At the present moment, important resources like concrete and steel still cannot be made without producing a large amount of carbon dioxide. In these limited settings, implementing CCS could be the most effective way to reduce carbon pollution.
However, as people of faith and conscience who care for our common home and the communities most impacted by fossil fuel pollution, we reject the false promise of CCS as a technology that will allow us to continue to power our economy with fossil fuels. Now is the time to eliminate climate pollution at the source. We must turn instead to truly clean, renewable energy, and follow the leadership of environmental justice communities in creating a clean, just economy that works for us all.
Interfaith Power & Light (IPL) strongly opposes the mining and exploitation of Canada’s tar sands oil because of the unprecedented risk it poses to Earth’s climate. 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.
Interfaith Power & Light works to promote ethical, moral, just and sound solutions to global warming and energy needs. The urgency of the climate crisis demands a rapid transition to clean, safe, cost-effective energy sources. While nuclear power plants release no carbon dioxide, there is no nuclear technology being used for energy that meets these criteria.
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.
Democracy and Voting Rights
IPL believes that all human beings have inherent dignity and worth. Therefore all Americans should have equal access to the ballot box.
Voting is the very foundation of representative democracy. By ensuring people a voice in their government, the right to vote promotes a more equitable society and provides an essential safeguard against tyranny. But this most basic right has been undermined by courts and politicians to make it harder for citizens to participate in the political process. Erecting obstacles to voting is a violation of our most sacred values, and weakens our democracy.
In a highly controversial decision, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned key elements of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Since then numerous state legislatures have put up roadblocks to voting, including purging registered voters from the voter rolls without notifying them, closing hundreds of polling places in communities of color, restricting voter registration time periods, and requiring voters to show forms of ID that many people don’t have.
In 2021 there was a dramatic restriction of voting rights in many states, with new requirements to vote, shortened the time periods to vote, limitations on vote by mail, and Georgia even made it a crime to give water and food to people waiting in line at polling places.
Some of the very people most affected by carbon pollution and climate change – people of color, low-income communities, and young people – are the very people most likely to be targeted by politicized redistricting and voting restrictions. This is wrong. Their voices deserve to be heard equally with others.
Specifically, IPL supports democracy and voting rights policies to:
- Protect voters against discriminatory changes to voting rules that target communities on the basis of race or background
- Allow online, automatic, and same day voter registration
- Require a minimum of 15 days of early voting including at least two weekends
- Allow no-excuse mail voting for all voters, with ample access to ballot drop boxes
- Require states that require ID to vote to accept a wide range of ID types
- Prohibit partisan gerrymandering
- Remove dark money (anonymous donors, often fossil fuel corporations) from political campaigns
- Restore the federal preclearance regime that the Supreme Court struck down, and require states with recent histories of voting rights violations to get federal approval for new voting rules or redistricting plans
- Provide greater protection for election workers against harassment and intimidation
People of faith were at the forefront of the civil rights movement, which helped win key voting rights and protections for people of color. But now those rights are being eroded. Today people of faith and conscience have a moral duty to protect democracy, racial justice, and equity for all people. Voter suppression targets and disproportionately harms people of color, poor people and young people, the same people disproportionately harmed by fossil fuel pollution and global warming.
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