Sixteen S.C. religious leaders join 1,000 colleagues in nationwide call for steps toward energy conservation


COLUMBIA — As the U.S. Senate takes up energy legislation and in response to the announcement of President George W. Bush’s climate change plan, 16 religious leaders in South Carolina have joined more than 1,000 colleagues nationwide in a letter to every U.S. senator calling for “energy conservation, fuel efficiency, and alternate energy development to protect God’s creation and God’s children.”

Bishop Robert J. Baker is one of the signatories of the Palmetto State letter.

Nationally, 45 major faith groups and denominations support the effort, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Episcopal Church, the Orthodox Church in America, the Presbyterian Church of the USA, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

Against the backdrop of efforts against terrorism, 1,000 religious leaders stressed “the intimate link between the safety of our people and the reliability of our energy system,” the Rev. Robert Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Christ, said. “We’re telling our senators that energy conservation is necessary for homeland security as well as environmental protection and justice.”

Along with similar campaigns in 20 other states from Michigan to West Virginia, Oregon to Texas, South Carolina religious leaders have established a S.C. Interfaith Climate Change Campaign.

“Our message to Senators Thurmond and Hollings is that God calls us to protect all of creation and that energy conservation is an important way to honor our covenant with our God,” said Bishop David Donges of the South Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

As the U.S. Senate began debate on its energy legislation in late February, the 1,000 religious leaders and 21 state campaigns are specifically calling upon the Senate to:

— Substantially increase vehicle fuel efficiency, close the SUV loophole and encourage the auto industry to produce vehicles using hybrid-electric, fuel cell, and other clean technologies, and provide consumer incentives for their purchase.

— Oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve.

— Invest more resources in renewable energy sources such as wind, geothermal, solar, and biomass technologies.

— Include carbon dioxide as a regulated pollutant from power plants.

— Increase funds for low-income energy assistance and inner city rail and mass transit.

Rabbi Sanford Marcus of Tree of Life Congregation in Columbia said, “South Carolina is especially vulnerable to the effects of global climate change. As sea level rises, our beaches and coastlines are threatened, storms occur more frequently and are more violent. We need to act now to invest in renewable energy sources, increase vehicular fuel efficiency and provide for the most vulnerable citizens of our state.”

“As the U.S. Senate debates legislation, this is a time for Senator Thurmond and Senator Hollings to consider deeply this opportunity for faithful stewardship of God’s creation,” said Bishop Donges. “We’ll seek to do our part for energy conservation from encouraging action from our pulpits to education and organizing through our state interfaith campaign.”

The Rev. Brenda Kneece, executive minister of the South Carolina Christian Action Council, affirmed that the council is active on this and other environmental issues.

“It is in hope of God’s promised fulfillment that we hear the call to justice; it is in hope that we take action,” she said. “When we act interdependently and in solidarity with creation, we do justice. The principle of solidarity means that we stand together as God’s creation.”

The 1,000 religious leader signatories and 21 state campaigns represent a culmination of organizing and public education over the past two years — producing such initiatives as Energy Star congregations, a statement on climate change by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, entitled “Global Climate Change, A Plea for Dialogue Prudence and the Common Good,” and a “Let There Be Light: An Interfaith Call for Energy Conservation and Climate Justice” statement signed by more than 40 heads of major U.S. denominations and other senior leaders on the moral imperatives for energy conservation.