House Advances Environmental Good with Energy Bill


Partisan political power matters morally. Partisan politics are often necessary in a sinful world. That doesn't mean partisan politics equal moral perfection or that one party is the party of God. It does mean that partisan power has the potential to establish a more just society, one where the common good is valued more than corporate gain.

The passage of the House of Representatives' energy bill over the weekend provides an example of partisan political power advancing a more realistic moral agenda than the apolitical approach advocated by some religious leaders, who plead for non-partisanship.

Had the Democrats not had the political power, the needed, albeit less-than-perfect pro-environmental action would not have passed.

The newly passed 2007 bill requires utilities to generate 15 percent of their electricity from renewable, clean energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal and non-fossil fuels by 2020. It mandates much-more efficient light bulbs and establishes new requirements that will reduce the massive amount of carbon dioxide that the federal government adds to the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.

The House also removed $16 billion in special tax breaks to oil and gas companies, making more money available for research for renewable energy sources.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the bill "would close the 'Hummer tax loophole,' a quirk in the tax code that critics say has given businesses tax incentives to buy the largest gas-gulping SUVs."

"We are turning toward the future," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) "This beautiful planet is God's gift to us. We have a moral responsibility to preserve it."

The pro-environment bill passed by a vote of 241 to 172. Nine Democrats voted against the measure, while 26 Republicans voted for it.

The House bill unfortunately does not include fuel-efficiency improvements to 35 miles per gallon by 2020 for cars, a provision in the Senate bill passed earlier this year.

In early July, the Washington Office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) criticized the failure of the House bill to include increased fuel efficiency standards.

Presbyterian leaders warned about the nation's "dangerous oil dependence and harmful greenhouse gas emissions."

Senate and House members will meet to negotiate their differences in the bills. The White House has expressed opposition to the energy bills.

Yet pro-environmental and religious groups signaled their support.

"By passing the renewable electricity standard the House of Representatives has taken a real step forward in enacting the clean energy policies we need to reduce global warming pollution," said Karen Wayland, legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "This shows the House is ready to take strong action on global warming in the fall."

"By combining a strong renewable energy standard with the Senate's fuel economy improvements, this Congress can make a serious down payment on preventing the worst impacts of global warming," Wayland said.

The American Jewish Committee also commended the House bill.

"This measure, including a requirement that electric utilities increase their use of renewable energy to generate power, will put the United States on a more sustainable energy path, one that is essential both to our nation's security and our environmental health," said Richard Foltin, AJC's legislative director.

He urged House and Senate negotiators to support strong fuel-efficiency standards.

Political parties are neither thoroughly moral nor completely immoral. But sometimes, one political party will act in a way that is better for the common good than another party wishes.

Caring for the environment should be a universally held moral value within the faith community that requires concrete action in the real, although imperfect, world of politics.

Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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