My name is Bishop Carroll Baltimore. I am Vice President of Creation Justice Ministries representing the policies of more than two dozen Christian denominations that join together to protect, restore, and rightly share God's creation. Through our membership, we serve approximately 100,000 churches and 35 million people.
We have grave moral concerns regarding potential changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Proposed revisions to NEPA are inconsistent with NEPA’s central purposes. Among those purposes are three that people of faith hold with special regard:
- Government should be a trustee of the earth and its natural resources for the benefit of future generations
- We must consider impacts on low-income, minority, and rural communities
- Projects should encourage meaningful participation in government decisions by communities affected
These purposes of NEPA mirror Christian community values embodied in Jesus’ Great Commandment: to love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.
By loving our Creator God, we show respect for what God has made. We are entrusted with the care of creation for our short lifetimes, and to ensure the gifts of God’s creation can sustain life for our children and generations to come. NEPA helps our society evaluate how development will impact God’s creation.
The NEPA process gives us, on a societal level, an opportunity to “love your neighbor as yourself.” It requires project planners to listen to those who could be most impacted by a proposed project, including the most vulnerable. If a project will hurt neighbors by making it hard for them to breathe, drink safe water, grow food, catch fish, or freely practice their religious faith, it is our shared moral responsibility to show love for our neighbors by preventing harm from a project.
As Christian communities, we often find ourselves on the front lines of response to emergencies. We rally resources with compassion to respond to devastating circumstances. Some of the most devastating emergencies in our recent ministry are related to short-circuiting or undermining of the NEPA process.
April 20, 2020 will mark 10 years since the devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. BP and other oil companies developing offshore drilling sites in the Gulf of Mexico were exempt from standard NEPA planning processes. In its wake, we ministered to fisherman families not only seeking new ways to support themselves, but also devastated by the loss of identity after generations of family business out in the midst of God’s magnificent marine creation in the Gulf. Now, in addition to the Trump Administration’s proposals to expand offshore drilling, this proposal to weaken NEPA means offshore drilling can proceed with little to no review. It would limit the information the government has to evaluate the impact on endangered marine mammals, coral reefs, and coastal ecosystem protection and restoration. Ten years later, have we learned nothing from the suffering from Deepwater Horizon?
We have also witnessed the devastation of Native American burial grounds and sacred sites as a result of an ignored or undermined NEPA process. As Christians, we stand with people of all spiritual traditions to defend their religious freedom. Right now, the wall construction area on the US-Mexico border is a virtually lawless zone where NEPA requirements are waived. As a result, the Tohono O’Odham Tribe burial grounds are being bulldozed this month. Chairman of the Tohono O’Odham Ned Norris said, “There is no difference between what they have done here and imagine someone coming with a bulldozer through Arlington National Cemetery.” Additional sites sacred to the tribe are under immediate threat as construction continues. Some religious leader delegations have gone to the border to witness this tragedy, and call on Congress to intervene. This feels like a repetition of just a few years ago, when the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe watched with horror as their sacred burial grounds were bulldozed to make way for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Faith communities organized to send camp supplies such as firewood, and provide peaceful public support. Just when we thought the NEPA worked to prevent any further damage from proceeding to the river they depend on for bodily and spiritual sustenance, the Trump Administration overrode the result. We were deeply troubled by the expedited review process to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and its opening for leasing. The coastal plain of the Refuge, which is the site of the Gwich’in creation story, and is what they call “the sacred place where life begins.”
If we are to follow Jesus’ Great Commandment, we need structures in place to respect what God has made and to show our neighbors love. Any proposed NEPA changes should enhance our ability as a society to live in the spirit of Jesus’ Great Commandment, not undermine, expedite, or exempt anyone from it.