EPA Should Stay as Emissions Regulator: Relief Group

Christian relief agency Church World Service (CWS) is calling on legislators to protect the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in monitoring the U.S.'s greenhouse gas emissions – an influence that one Alaska Senator is looking to remove.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has proposed diminishing the EPA's jurisdiction in climate legislation as an amendment to the 1963 Clean Air Act. Senators are scheduled to vote on the amendment next Thursday.

In a statement to the Senate today, Church World Service CEO John L. McCullough said that the amendment "threatens the well-being of at-risk communities, undermines efforts to shift to a sustainable energy future, and will inevitably impact the U.S. Government's commitment to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions."

"Legislation that emasculates the EPA's regulatory powers would be a major setback to addressing climate change," McCullough said, adding that "the EPA's authority now is currently the only legal foothold we have that can require emitters to meet responsible standards."

McCullough, whose agency works with some of the most vulnerable and climate-affected people in the world, says that instead of crippling the EPA, Congress should focus on passing "comprehensive climate change legislation" that sets effective levels for capping greenhouse gases and provides adequate adaptation funding for poor countries -- as a complementary and concurrent path to the EPA's regulation of greenhouse gases.

"U.S. goals for sustainable global development and poverty reduction cannot be achieved if climate change is not successfully addressed," he said.

Meanwhile, a group of 100 religious leaders in Virginia delivered a letter to their Senators on Wednesday clamoring for comprehensive climate legislation.

The group, which included adherents to Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Unitarian Universalism and seven denominations of Christianity, wrote to Democrats Jim Webb and Mark R. Warner to express their "alarm at the state of environmental stewardship here in Virginia, and nationwide."

"For us as people of faith, this is an issue of basic fairness and justice; not only because we are called to care for creation, but because of who will be harmed most by inaction: the poor and voiceless," the letter, organized by Interfaith Power and Light, reads.

The leaders went on to propose that greenhouse emissions be reduced by at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, and by 80% by 2050, noting that legislation that doesn't meet these goals "cannot prevent the worst impacts of climate change on people and the planet."
"In affirming the moral need for climate legislation, we are mindful that this may raise the cost of basic goods," they continued. "So we also ask that any such legislation include social safety net provisions for families that are already struggling."

The U.S. leaders' efforts come as British relief agency Oxfam made a strong call on climate negotiators today to deliver their promised $100 billion in aid to countries threatened by the effects of climate change in the form of grants and not loans.

"At a time of economic emergency, when several poor countries are slashing critical health and education budgets to avoid a debt crisis, rich countries are considering saddling them with climate debt for a situation they did not cause and are worst affected by," Oxfam senior policy advisor Antonio Hill said.

"It's like crashing your neighbor's car and then offering a loan to cover the damages," he added.

Hill's remarks were directed towards some 185 delegates currently gathered in Bonn, Germany for a 12-day conference on global climate legislation.

The Bonn meeting, which began on Monday, is part of an accelerated schedule negotiators have put forth in hopes of reaching a significant conclusion at December's climate conference in Cancun, Mexico.

Negotiators have felt additional pressure to reach an agreement as the current international climate agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, expires in 2012.

Two more meetings prior to the Cancun summit are scheduled to be held, but an announcement on Wednesday from outgoing U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer revealed that the secretariat is lacking sufficient funds to host the additional conferences.

"A number of countries made pledges for additional financial support. Some countries have followed up on those pledges and actually transferred the money, but we need more of those pledges to materialise before we can safely say there is enough in the bank to organise the additional meetings and fund the participation of people from developing countries," de Boer said.

"I can only spend money I have in my bank account," he added.

Meanwhile, a study released today in New Zealand revealed that low-lying Pacific coral reefs are not in danger of being wiped off the map due to climate change, although rising sea levels could render the islands uninhabitable.

The results of the 60-year study conducted by the University of Auckland showed that fears from inhabitants of islands such as Tuvalu, Kiribati, and the Federated States of Micronesia that climate change will destroy the physical existence of their current homes are misplaced.

"That rather gloomy prognosis for these nations is incorrect," Associate Professor Paul Kench told BBC.

Kench added, however, that rapidly rising sea levels could be "the critical environmental threat to the small island nations," and that such conditions would be a great threat to the livelihood of the island's inhabitants.

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