General Board of Church & Society Executive Testifies Before House Subcommittee

March 13, 2009

Represents National Council of Churches Eco-Justice Working Group in urging legislators to avoid economic injustices in any global warming bills.

- The director of Economic and Environmental Justice at the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) told the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Subcommittee March 12 that the faith community supports strong and quick action to address the dangers of climate change. He emphasized, though, that solutions must mitigate rather than compound economic injustices.

John Hill testified at a hearing on Capitol Hill on "Consumer Protection Provisions in Climate Legislation." He spoke on behalf of the National Council of Churches (NCC) as a member of its Eco-Justice Working Group. The NCC represents 35 Christian denominations in the United States.

"Global climate change is a real and growing threat to Creation with profound and potentially devastating environmental, economic and social consequences," Hill said.

4 principles guide policy solutions

Hill pointed out that for more than 15 years, the NCC has worked to educate and equip its members and congregations to take action to reduce their own contributions to climate change. "And, [we] have petitioned our government to provide strong leadership in developing domestic and international frameworks to lower greenhouse gas emissions," he added.

Hill was one of six persons asked to speak at the subcommittee hearing. Primary emphasis of the hearing was to examine a proposal to assist consumers under a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Hill identified four principals that guide the faith community in considering potential policy solutions: justice, stewardship, sustainability and sufficiency. He said a just climate policy must contain effective, mandatory emissions reduction targets "to prevent catastrophic impacts" for the people and planet.

"For too long climate change advocates have minimized the potential impact of climate legislation on the poor," Hill said, "and opponents have used such impacts as a justification for inaction." He cautioned the legislators not to "forget the devastating impact of inaction."

Rising sea levels, more intense storms, floods, droughts and spreading disease were cited by Hill as global warming effects that disproportionately affect persons living in poverty, communities of color and other vulnerable communities. "The Gulf Coast hurricanes of 2004 demonstrated all too painfully the devastating consequences that occur when storms of nature interact with the storms of poverty and racism that batter communities in the United States and around the world," he said.

Least responsible are most vulnerable

In developing policies, Hill urged the legislators to ensure that solutions don't push families deeper into poverty due to higher energy-related costs. He said there are proposals that can "efficiently, effectively and justly" provide benefits to offset cost increases for low-income individuals and families. He mentioned one outlined by the Center on Budget Policies and Priorities, whose executive director, Robert Greenstein, also testified at the hearing.

"Those least responsible for the emissions that created this problem," Hill said, "are most vulnerable to its effects. Let us not perpetuate further this injustice by forcing those same individuals to shoulder additional and disproportionate cost of proposed solutions."

Hill said financial help for those living in poverty in the United States and international adaptation assistance for vulnerable communities abroad must be a part of any climate policy.

Using established, proven methods that provide funds sufficient to offset all energy-related price increases to deliver benefit for low-income consumers would be supported, according to Hill. He said mechanisms such as an electronic benefits transfer card and an expanded earned income tax credit would allow individuals and families flexibility to adapt to price increases for a variety of goods and services. 

Hill said proposals that would use local distribution companies or other utilities to deliver a consumer rebate ignore over half the estimated costs to low-income families. He said these proposals require new delivery systems and outreach programs to encourage participation. "We believe established methods offer a more effective and efficient approach to reach the greatest percentage of low-income consumers," he said.

Four other persons testified before the subcommittee. They were Sonny Popowsky, Pennsylvania Office of the Consumer Advocate; Steve Kline, vice president of Corporate Environmental and Federal Affairs, PG&E Corp.; Steven Hayward, American Enterprise Institute; and Mike Carey, Ohio Coal Assn.

The full text of Hill's statement is available on GBCS's web site, Under "Issues and News," go to statements.

About the General Board of Church & Society

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