Lutherans Testify in Support of RGGI

“… this very first commandment that God gives to humanity is clearly to care for creation” says Pastor Paul Metzloff, representing LAMPa at the December 8th Department of Environmental Protection hearing on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). For Metzloff, an army veteran with sixteen years of service, it is a “moral imperative” to care for God’s creation. Living into this call is not always easy or optionalMetzloff testified how “… commandments are not things you do when you feel like it, or have the time, or if you think the economy will support them. They’re things you’re required to do.” To achieve this, he says, will take a complete mobilization of government and society that has not been seen since World War II 

The RGGI is one initiative where the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania can contribute to the global efforts to combat climate change. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) notes that RGGI is already successful cap-and-invest program, adopted by ten of Pennsylvania’s northeastern neighbors, and a new 2021 member in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Flexibility is what makes RGGI so popular among the states that adopted it. Regulators set a declining pollution cap and encourage polluters to comply by issuing a limited number of “allowances” for every ton of carbon dioxide emitted. The number of allowances equals the annual pollution limit, which declines over time, ensuring pollution also decreases.  

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection sees the commonwealth as an ideal member of RGGI given its all-encompassing benefits. The EDF notes that Pennsylvania is the third largest greenhouse gas polluter, giving it one of the worst air quality measurements in the nation. The Pennsylvania power sector itself is the fifth dirtiest in the nation. This has had severe health consequences for many who suffer from health issues such as asthma. Dennis Groce of Erie testified that “Several of my acquaintances have had children who suffered from asthma and need regular therapy and treatment. Cleaner air facilitated by RGGI can help reduce the frequency of those illnesses.” The DEP’s proposed rule, in conjunction with joining the RGGI would see a 25% reduction in emissions from 2022-2030. States already in RGGI reduced their emissions by 47% since 2009. Without the rule, emissions would be expected to rise. 

In addition to environmental benefits, RGGI membership has proven positive economic outcomes. States participating in RGGI have returned $2 billion in proceeds, helping those who are impacted by a transitioning energy economy and making low-income housing and small businesses more energy efficient to further drive down costs for consumers. By 2031 the average residential electric bill would be 35% lower than in 2017. The commonwealth would see a projected 27,000 net job gain, and an increase to the Gross State Product of $1.9 billion as well. State Impact Pennsylvania reports that in its first year alone Pennsylvania is expected to bring in about $300 million. The DEP has yet to officially indicate where it would allocate the proceeds, but it is planned to go to the Clean Air Fund in support of clean energy, energy efficiency, and greenhouse gas reduction measures. 

So how can the public weigh in on the question of joining the RGGI? The DEP held ten virtual hearings from December 8th to the 14th where private citizens and organizations could testify on their position. For those who missed this opportunity but would still like to weigh in, written comments are being accepted until January 14th, 2021. Instructions for submitting a comment can be found on the DEP’s website 

The voices of Pennsylvania’s Lutherans are of the utmost importance to discussion on matters pertaining to care for God’s creation. The ELCA’s social statement “Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope, and Justice” states:  

Our tradition offers many glimpses of hope triumphant over despair. In ancient Israel, as Jerusalem was under siege and people were on the verge of exile, Jeremiah purchased a plot of land (Jeremiah 32). When Martin Luther was asked what he would do if the world were to end tomorrow, he reportedly answered ‘I would plant an apple tree today’. When we face today’s crisis, we do not despair. We act. 

 As Pennsylvania grapples with its status as one of the nation’s worst polluters, the Lutheran faith tradition suggests that taking what may seem like slow and simple steps are, over time, monumental developments in stewardship of what God has given to humans. This can take the form of a lifelong commitment, as Marilyn Berberich, a retired educator and grandmother shows in her testimony. From growing up during the depression when waste was frowned upon, to educating children during the first decade of Earth Day, to retiring with the desire to leave a healthy planet to new generations, Berberich makes the case that it is long lasting commitment to change that makes a positive difference. Joining the RGGI surely qualifies as such a commitment. 

In his testimony, Pastor Metzloff reminds us that while neighboring states have already joined, Pennsylvania has a legacy of being the “keystone” to so many moments in the shared regional history. The commonwealth can once again be the keystone in caring for creation, and Pennsylvania Lutherans have a role to play in bringing that to fruition.

Read Pastor Metzloff’s testimony in full here.

Read Dennis Groce’s testimony in full here.

Read Marilyn Berberich’s testimony in full here.

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