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Thomas Berry Forum Participates at Clean Power Plan People's Hearing in New York

Seven panelists sit on stage with a backdrop announcing the conference name. Photo: Nancy Lorence

Thomas Berry Forum Participates with New York Attorney General, Mayor's Office at Clean Power Plan “People's Hearing” in New York

By Br. Kevin Cawley

With the current administration overlooking New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s request that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hold public hearings in New York on the proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the attorney general’s and NYC mayor’s offices held a “people’s hearing” on January 9, to ensure New Yorkers’ voices were heard. The country’s reliance on dirty, non-renewable fossil fuels for power generation is a major contributor of climate change pollution and its impacts on the lives and livelihoods of New York’s residents, including more frequent and intense storms, rising sea levels, higher temperatures and increased air pollution. The Clean Power Plan is a vital tool to slash greenhouse gas emissions from one of the leading causes of climate change pollution, fossil-fuel burning power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under Administrator Scott Pruitt, has refused to schedule any public hearings east of West Virginia, despite the direct climate impacts facing residents of New York and other states on the eastern seaboard.

Br. Kevin Cawley, executive director of the Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue at Iona College, participated in the session and gave public testimony on behalf of the Berry Forum and the NY Metro Catholic Climate Alliance. The afternoon session ran for nearly four hours as more than 50 public statements were delivered.

Brother Cawley speaks as the 2 panelists at his table listen intently. Photo: Nancy Lorence

Below is the statement based on the work of the Catholic Climate Covenant, delivered by Cawley at the hearing:

This past April, over 200,000 citizens marched in Washington, D.C., to call attention to the federal administration disregard of the environment in its policies, its actions and its intentions. As the various groups departed the city, many passed by the EPA building on Pennsylvania Avenue. As they did so, many were moved to lay down their signs and banners from the march on the steps of the building. This impromptu shrine resembled those sad memorials often seen at the site of tragic accidents where passersby leave flowers and candles in honor of the lives lost at the location. How deeply felt these emotions must be to evoke a similar response in so many marchers that day in Washington. Yes, the EPA, now the site of a very sad, unnecessary and ultimately deadly intersection of policy and ideology.

As a Catholic, I lift up Pope Francis' statement in his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si': "There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy."

Care for our poor and vulnerable neighbors, and care for creation, are integral themes of Catholic social teaching. Climate change poses an undeniable threat to our security, public health and economy. Now is the time to support critical climate change safeguards, build a clean energy economy that works for everyone, and protect human life and dignity and all God's creation.

The Clean Power Plan seeks to reduce carbon pollution from the United States' largest source, the power sector, by 32 percent by 2030. By EPA's own estimates, the CPP could prevent a projected 500 to 3,600 premature deaths, 90,000 asthma attacks in children, up to 1,700 heart attacks and 1,700 hospital admissions.

I share the disappointment of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the EPA's intention to repeal the CPP, as it risks damage to our air, our waters and, most importantly, our people, particularly the poor and vulnerable.

I support continuation of the CPP. Should the EPA decide to repeal and replace it, then the replacement rule must meet or exceed the CPP's human health protections and carbon reduction goals. Furthermore, the CPP should not be repealed until the replacement rule is operational. EPA's mission is to protect human health and the environment. CPP repeal without an equal or superior alternative in place, would leave a vacuum that harms human health and the environment.

As the EPA has signaled its intention to repeal the CPP, I urge EPA not do so. If an alternative plan is developed and put in place, it must meet or exceed the CPP's national carbon emission reduction goals, and protect public health, especially poor and vulnerable people.

Thank you for organizing this hearing and thank you for your kind attention.