ERLC leaders oppose bill to cap emissions

ORIGINALLY POSTED March 19, 2008

WASHINGTON (BP)--The leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention's ethics entity is opposed to climate-change legislation the U.S. Senate is expected to consider soon.

Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), and Barrett Duke, the commission's vice president for public policy, joined more than 70 other signers in a March 17 letter to all 100 senators urging them to oppose legislation requiring cuts in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. The collection of evangelical, pro-family, conservative and public policy leaders, as well as scientists, called for the Senate to defeat the America's Climate Security Act (ACSA), S. 2191.

The full Senate is expected to take up the bill, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, by June. It gained the approval of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in December.

The measure would establish a cap on emissions that many scientists believe contribute to global warming. It would permit a trading system among companies and other organizations, permitting those that produce more emissions to purchase credits from those producing fewer.

ACSA's "underlying assumption" –- that the world is undergoing catastrophic and human-induced climate change –- is "highly questionable," and its cap-and-trade proposal would result in an "imperceptible" effect on global warming "while doing grave harm to our economy, the poor and U.S. competitiveness," said the letter from Land, Duke and the others.

The ERLC leadership's endorsement of a warning of a detrimental economic impact from the climate-change legislation came out only a week after the release of a document calling for Southern Baptists to step up their commitment to combat climate change. The declaration, initiated by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary student Jonathan Merritt and signed by approximately 50 leaders, says Southern Baptists' "current denominational engagement with these issues [has] often been too timid, failing to produce a unified moral voice. Our cautious response to these issues in the face of mounting evidence may be seen by the world as uncaring, reckless and ill-informed. We can do better."

The letter from Land, Duke and the others –- including Tony Perkins of Family Research Council and Gary Bauer of American Values –- said estimates are that home electricity costs will increase under ACSA by "28 percent by 2015, 40 percent by 2020 and 58 percent by 2050."

A preliminary study cited by the letter and sponsored by the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF) said the enactment of ACSA would mean:

-- Increased energy costs, resulting in U.S. job losses of 3.7 million in 2020 and 13.1 million by 2050;

-- Dramatic growth in annual household costs of $1,760 in 2020 and $3,476 by 2050;

-- Greater energy prices, with consumers paying 49 percent more for natural gas and 30 percent more for retail gas by 2020.

In addition, the study showed slower economic growth would result and industries would fall in their production, according to the letter. The signers also expressed concern the bill would harm the poor by producing increased food costs.

The letter expressed doubt ACSA would have any impact on global warming. It cited a report from the European Environmental Agency it said showed European countries "committed to reducing emissions have accumulated significant costs without reducing emissions."

On March 14, however, Lieberman and Sen. John Warner of Virginia, the leading Republican cosponsor, commended an analysis by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) they said demonstrated their bill would reduce global warming without harming the American economy or consumers.

Among its findings, the EPA study showed:

-- Electricity costs would rise slowly, reaching a level of only 18 percent above the 2005 level 40 years after the bill's adoption;

-- America's gross domestic product would increase by 80 percent from 2010 to 2030, only one percent less than the growth without the bill.

These predictions could be achieved while making deeper cuts in emissions than one shown previously by the EPA "to be consistent with keeping global CO2 concentrations below 500 parts per million [ppm] in 2100," said a release from Lieberman's office. The release said maintaining a ppm level below 500 significantly reduces the risk of "severe global warming impacts" worldwide, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Warner said in a written statement after the release of the EPA analysis, "I am satisfied that EPA's analysis demonstrates what we have long known: You can control greenhouse gas emissions in a manner that leaves the economy whole and is not burdensome on consumers."

The ERLC's Duke, however, said, "We need to keep in mind that the EPA is under direction by the Supreme Court to treat CO2 as a pollutant. Since the EPA treats carbon dioxide as a pollutant, it makes sense they would consider any policy that reduces CO2 emissions as having a positive benefit.

"And regardless of whether or not the EPA determines the costs to be manageable doesn't change at all the hardship that it creates for the poorest among us," Duke said. The signers of the March 17 letter to the Senate believe a cap-and-trade bill, such as ACSA, "increases costs for industry, and industry will pass those costs on to consumers," he said.

Warner spoke on a news media teleconference held by Merritt and other Southern Baptist signers of the declaration released March 10. He said the United States "must lead, we must have a start, and this is the only bill that will go onto the floor" of the Senate this year.

Congress needs to pass climate change legislation, and it can be revised in the future "as the science comes in, as public opinion affects it," Warner said. "And I do hope your organization will come in behind us on the concept that we are the trustees of this planet and we should make that start so the rest of the world can see us leading and join us."

Merritt thanked Warner but said he wanted it to be clear the declaration endorsed by 46 Southern Baptists "is not a political statement and this does not endorse any particular legislation."

The March 10 document, which was signed by current SBC President Frank Page and two former convention presidents, followed by nine months a lengthy resolution on global warming adopted by messengers to the SBC's 2007 meeting at San Antonio.

That resolution encouraged Southern Baptists "to proceed cautiously in the human-induced global warming debate in light of conflicting scientific research." It called for public policies that guarantee "an appropriate balance between care for the environment, effects on economics, and impacts on the poor when considering programs to reduce" carbon and other emissions. It also affirmed Southern Baptists' responsibility to protect the environment.

The ERLC's Duke is a co-chair of the Cornwall Stewardship Agenda, a project of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. The Cornwall Alliance is a coalition of primarily evangelicals and scientists who say the cause of global warming is uncertain and have expressed concerns about the effects the policies proposed by those who believe in human-induced climate change would have on the poor.


Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press.

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