“No supportable basis for optimism” and “ever higher costs”: PUC Staff calls out PSNH’s failed business model

Jun 10, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

This past Friday, staff from the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission and The Liberty Consulting Group issued the results of their investigation (PDF) into the impacts of PSNH’s failing business model and “ever higher costs” to consumers. The Union Leader and NHPR were quick to quote the report’s damning conclusion:

In summary, the situation looks to worsen, as continuing migration from PSNH’s default service by customers causes an upward rate trend. We find no supportable basis for optimism that future market conditions will reverse this unsustainable trend, especially in the near term. To the contrary, the PSNH fossil units face uncertainties that combine to create a risk of further, potentially substantial increases in costs.

This underlines the benefits of abandoning PSNH’s residential energy service, noting that “PSNH’s default service rate has exceeded [competitive supplier] rates since mid-2009.” As PSNH itself stated in a filing before the NH Supreme Court in May, PSNH energy service ratepayers “have the legal right and ability to avoid payment of PSNH’s default energy service rate entirely by buying their electricity from a competitive electric power supplier.” The PUC staff’s report serves as a call to action for New Hampshire consumers to save money, protect their finances, and improve the environment by buying energy from lower cost and more efficient energy suppliers.

PSNH’s only public response to the report thus far has been to cite the dispatch of their coal units during extreme temperature events this year as evidence that the plants are necessary “insurance” against natural gas price increases. The report itself contradicts this, however, noting that even at this year’s levels of natural gas price spike frequency and severity in New England (due to a cold winter and a late spring heat wave two weeks ago), natural gas price fluctuations “have not served to give the PSNH fossil units enough of a boost to overcome their negative value,” and that PSNH has not offered any data or analysis to rebut this finding. That is, even with the extreme peaks of electric demand felt in the past year requiring their use more often than in the past few years, PSNH’s fossil fuel fired power units still lose ratepayer money.

The report assesses the real financial impacts of PSNH’s past and possible future decisions to invest in their coal units rather than shut them down, and demonstrates that the ratepayer money lost if PSNH’s electricity generation is sold off will be lower than many might fear. The key points raised by the report include:

  • Even in a best case scenario, PSNH’s already above-market rates will continue to climb. The investigation calculated PSNH’s energy service rates with a myriad of possible variables, including high natural gas prices and lower coal prices (the scenario that PSNH claims will validate its economic decisions) and a migration rate lower than PSNH reported this April. In all cases, the report found that PSNH’s default energy service rate would climb still higher than their current well above market 9.54 cents per kilowatt hour rate, to 10 or 11 cents per kilowatt hour.
  • Customers continue to flee PSNH’s energy service. CLF has been reporting the steep increase in residential customers rejecting PSNH’s high energy service rates for a while now. We’ve also noted that most large commercial customers had migrated away from PSNH years ago. The combination of these two trends led to the report this May that migration across all customers reached half of PSNH’s total load as of the end of April.
  • The full cost of the Scrubber Project has yet to be felt by ratepayers. PSNH has started recovering the cost of the ill-founded scrubber installation at Merrimack Station to the tune of 0.98 cents per kilowatt hour on a temporary basis. The report estimates that full recovery of the scrubber’s cost would nearly double that amount, to 1.8 cents per kilowatt hour added to ratepayers’ bills. This, of course, is a cost that competitive energy service providers don’t have to deal with.
  • Looming environmental compliance projects as Scrubber redux? PSNH is currently waiting for its new final permit from EPA for cooling water withdrawal and discharge at Merrimack Station. The final permit is likely to require cooling water intake structures (like those constructed at Brayton Point Station in MA), at a price tag of $111 million or more, in addition to other protections for water quality and wildlife. Costs associated with new or impending air quality requirements would require additional compliance at significant cost, and these estimates don’t even take into account the risk posed by CLF’s ongoing Clean Air Act citizen suit.
  • Potential ratepayer costs from divestment of PSNH’s electricity generation would be minimal. If PSNH’s generating assets are sold, New Hampshire state law allows PSNH to recover from ratepayers costs that are not covered by sale proceeds (“stranded costs”). The report roughly estimates that potential energy service rate increases to cover stranded costs would be no more than 0.9 cents per kilowatt hour and possibly much less, given the high value of PSNH’s hydro generation units.

The report ultimately recommends that the PUC initiate a proceeding to solicit formal feedback on the report and its conclusions. This proceeding would likely result in firmer value estimates for PSNH’s assets, interim steps that could be accomplished through the PUC’s existing authority, and more detailed recommendations for legislation.

As CLF and the Empower NH coalition have repeatedly noted, promoting and advancing competition in New Hampshire’s energy service markets yields only benefits for the state’s electricity ratepayers in the face of PSNH’s “ever higher costs” to ratepayers. While the PUC and the Legislature decide how to implement the recommendations of this report, ratepayers should continue to vote with their feet and leave PSNH’s energy service.

Success Story: Decoupling Utilities in Rhode Island

May 28, 2013 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

This month Rhode Island’s dominant utility, National Grid, made its second-ever filing with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) under Rhode Island’s “revenue decoupling” statute. Grid’s filing clarifies matters in a debate that swirled around the environmental community in Rhode Island (and the rest of New England) for years but ought now to be resolved once and for all – an argument over whether decoupling is a rip-off of utility rate-payers. CLF (and other environmental advocates) have argued for years that there are important environmental benefits to be reaped from decoupling. Opponents, including some ratepayer advocates, argued that decoupling would be bad for rate-payers because it would inevitably lead to unjustified rate hikes.

Grid’s highly technical, 59-page filing with the PUC this month is dense reading, with pages upon pages of complicated charts, but at the end of the day the filing resolves the controversy. Decoupling is good for ratepayers. In the year that ended on March 31, 2013, Rhode Island electricity ratepayers will receive a collective refund from National Grid of $4.2 million, including over $42,000 in interest on ratepayer overpayments.

Some explanation of what decoupling is and how this controversy has developed is in order.

Traditional utility regulation provides little incentive for utilities to promote energy efficiency. This is because reduction in sales equals a reduction in profits for the utility.

Decoupling is a way to address this problem and to align the utility’s pecuniary interest with the public interest in efficiency and conservation. Decoupling separates (that is, “decouples”) a utility’s income from the amount of commodity the utility sells. This effectively removes a major disincentive to utility enthusiasm for and participation in energy efficiency measures.

Decoupling is not all that is needed to achieve carbon-emission reductions through energy efficiency; but decoupling is one important and necessary ingredient. Many states have decoupled, and there is a high correlation between states that reduce carbon emissions the most (thereby lowering ratepayer bills the most) and states that have decoupled.

Work on “decoupling” is one aspect of CLF’s wider work on reducing carbon emissions in order to address the climate change emergency. More specifically, decoupling is closely linked to our work on energy efficiency. One of the most effective ways to reduce carbon emissions in the short- and medium-term is to work on energy efficiency.

In 2008, CLF participated in a litigation in the PUC in which we tried to get the PUC to decouple gas prices. The litigation, PUC Docket # 3943, took weeks, and CLF presented an expert witness, crossed examined witnesses of other parties, submitted briefs. But CLF lost the case; the PUC ruled that it would not decouple gas prices in Rhode Island.

In 2009, CLF tried again, this time trying to get the PUC to decouple electricity prices. This litigation, PUC Docket 4065, also took weeks – again, we presented an expert witness, cross-examined other parties’ witnesses, briefed the issue. Again we lost; the PUC ruled that it would not decouple electricity prices.

The main argument against decoupling was that it would hurt ratepayers. The Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (this is the statutory ratepayer advocate in Rhode Island, and is different than the PUC) opposed decoupling for this reason, as did others. One expert witness against decoupling put it this way: “[T]he plan would allow a broad range of automatic rate adjustments that would result in rate increases . . . .There is no down side to the Company. The only down side is to the ratepayers.”

In response, CLF introduced evidence that actually came from 28 natural gas utilities and 12 electric utilities in 17 states across the country that have operative decoupling mechanisms. This broad range of utilities showed two important results from decoupling. The first, and smaller point is that decoupling adjustments tend to be minor. Compared to total residential retail rates, decoupling adjustments have been most often under two percent, positive or negative, with the majority under 1 percent. The second, and larger, point is that decoupling adjustments go both ways, sometimes providing small refunds to customers, sometimes providing small surcharges.

Nevertheless, despite the evidence we introduced, we lost both cases. The PUC was persuaded that decoupling was just a trick whereby the utility could always ratchet rates upward.

In 2010, CLF, working with other environmental organizations supported a bill in the Rhode Island General Assembly that would require decoupling of both electricity and gas prices. On May 20, 2010, Governor Donald Carcieri signed the bill into law.

On October 18, 2010, the PUC opened a new docket in order to implement the new law that mandated decoupling. This time, the question wasn’t whether Rhode Island would decouple, but how. CLF participated as a full party in the docket in order to ensure that the decoupling mechanisms adopted would be designed to reap all the environmental benefits without unduly hurting or harming ratepayers. Nine months later, on July 26, 2011, the PUC approved an excellent set of decoupling rules for both electricity and gas.

A year ago, in May 2012, Grid filed its first-ever report under the then-new Rhode Island decoupling statute and under the PUC rules. That report showed that, on the electricity side, Grid needed to rebate to Rhode Island ratepayers just over a million dollars for the year that had ended on March 31, 2012.

This month, Grid filed its second-ever report under the now-not-so-new-anymore decoupling statute.  This year, the amount Grid is going to rebate to Rhode Island ratepayers has more than quadrupled, to $4.2 million.  Rhode Island ratepayers are getting rebates – not additional payments – in both of the first two years that electricity decoupling has been implemented in Rhode Island.

Remember the main point that CLF’s expert witnesses made in the decoupling dockets that we lost in 2008 and 2009: decoupling adjustments go both ways. Sometimes ratepayers pay a little extra; sometimes ratepayers get a rebate. Real-world results from the first two years of decoupling show that CLF’s main point was 100% correct.  And not only are Rhode Island ratepayers getting a rebate from Grid, but everyone in Rhode Island enjoys the savings and efficiency benefits that decoupling enables – and the environment enjoys lower carbon emissions.

As I suggested a year ago when the first-year figures came out, there may be two lessons that can be learned from this – one about CLF and one about the broader environmental movement.

About CLF: One of the things I love about working for CLF is the stick-to-itiveness that the organization (and my fellow and sister staff members) have. In 2008, we litigated decoupling, and we lost. So we tried again. When we lost again, we turned to a different forum, the General Assembly. When the law we supported passed, we were pleased – but we didn’t rest. We still had another litigation in the PUC to make sure that the law was properly implemented.

CLF is nothing if not persistent!

And about the broader environmental movement: So often our opponents argue that environmental protections are too costly to implement. Too often, the arguments made by environmentalists about the benefits and savings from environmental protections are just not believed by decision-makers and by ordinary citizens. With decoupling, everyone (including the PUC and so many others) just “knew” that decoupling would be an expensive rip-off. When evidence like this comes to light about the financial and pecuniary benefits of environmental laws, we should make sure that the public knows.

 

Vermont Gas Pipeline: A Bridge to Nowhere?

May 23, 2013 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

6134245430_6b7666d4d1

Photo: DWeller88 @ flickr

It is important to build bridges, but we need to make sure they get us where we need to go.

The proposed expansion of the Vermont Gas pipeline may be more a minefield than a bridge, as one recent Vermont weekly  and one recent national energy blog reported.

The project will cut through valuable wetlands and farmland in Addison County. Future plans include crossing Lake Champlain, moving Vermont closer to gas supplies from fracking that is ongoing now in New York and Pennsylvania.

Proponents of the project, including Middlebury College and Vermont Gas advance an overly simplistic evaluation suggesting more natural gas is needed in Vermont because it is cheaper and cleaner than the oil and propane it will replace. Others suggest natural gas is a bridge to cleaner supplies that are in our future.

All bridges are not created equal. Natural gas is still a fossil fuel. The proposed gas pipeline will be in place for fifty to a hundred years. In that timeframe we need to solidly break our addiction to fossil fuels – including natural gas.

So what part of the project is in place to make sure natural gas is actually a valuable bridge and not a new addiction? Nothing. And that is sad.

We can do better than throw up our hands and blindly accept expensive and environmentally damaging new pipelines at a time when we should be moving away from fossil fuels.

Here are some ideas to start moving Vermont in a cleaner direction when it comes to new pipelines:

  1. Provide a more sophisticated evaluation that answers where this pipeline is taking us in fifty years.
  2. Stop providing unqualified support. If this is a cleaner solution, make sure it lives up to its promise. Sensitive and valuable environmental resources should be off the table.
  3. Meet climate goals by dramatically increasing efficiency, prohibiting supplies from fracking and limiting the use and lifespan of any new pipeline.


If we build bridges, let’s make sure they get us to a place we want to be.

 

Fighting Bad Bills in Rhode Island

May 13, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

My colleagues in CLF’s Rhode Island office have been doing some important work that deserves attention this legislative session. Two of their efforts stand out: opposing the governor’s attempt to create special legislation to import power from Hydro-Quebec, and opposing the Rhode Island House leadership’s attempt to create a state Commerce Department that would take over permitting functions from the Department of Environmental Management and Coastal Resources Management Council.

Rhode Island State House

Rhode Island State House, courtesy of Mr. Ducke @ Flickr

You’ve likely read more here (or here, or here) about Hydro-Quebec. The company, which (unsurprisingly, given the name) produces power from large-scale hydroelectric dams located throughout the Canadian province of Quebec, has been making a strong push to sell this power to states throughout New England. Hydroelectric power might not be so bad on its own, but Hydro-Quebec has some serious issues. Not least of these is that the most prominent proposal for transmitting additional power from Quebec to New England is a proposed transmission project through New Hampshire – the Northern Pass – that is being developed by New Hampshire’s dirtiest utility and is, in its current form, a deeply flawed proposal that may not provide meaningful environmental benefits. And, also distressingly, Hydro-Quebec has sought special legislation in each of the states it has been courting.

Here in Rhode Island, the governor has been pushing one such piece of special legislation; CLF Staff Attorney Jerry Elmer has been pushing back. The governor’s bill would require National Grid (Rhode Island’s only major electric utility) to solicit proposals and then enter into a long-term contract for a large-scale, 150-megawatt hydroelectric project. This requirement would not only displace but likely eliminate local, small-scale renewable projects that the current long-term contracting statute was designed to benefit. At the same time, it would likely drive up energy costs, sending Rhode Island dollars to Canada. And, again, importing more power from Quebec through this mechanism seems calculated to advance the poorly conceived Northern Pass project in New Hampshire. As Jerry told the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, it is rare that environmental organizations, energy utilities, existing renewable and conventional power plant owners, and ratepayer advocates unite so seamlessly and forcefully as they have in opposition to the large hydropower bill. And the representatives from these diverse interests all recognized Jerry’s leadership, frequently introducing their own testimony with the phrase, “As Mr. Elmer said …” – certainly a sign of effective advocacy.

Meanwhile, Rhode Island House leadership has been touting an “Economic Development Package” of bills designed to enhance the business climate in Rhode Island. Unfortunately, one of these bills would move DEM’s permitting functions and all CRMC programs and functions to a newly created “Executive Office of Commerce.”  The purpose of these moves would be to ensure that environmental permitting delays do not hold up business development.

At a hearing before the House Finance Committee, CLF Vice President Tricia Jedele pointed out the many reasons this proposed bill makes no sense whether viewed through the prism of policy or law. (You can view her testimony here, beginning midway through minute 162.) The bill ignores the reasons for permitting delays under the current regime: some delays are the result of the severe staff cutbacks DEM has suffered in the last several years; others are perfectly justified as a way to protect Rhode Island’s greatest asset – its natural resources – against exploitation. Moving permitting functions to a new Executive Office of Commerce would not restore DEM staff or better prevent exploitation.  Moreover, the bill suggests a tension between business and environment, even though a robust business climate and a clean, healthy environment can peacefully coexist under an adequate permitting regime. Perhaps most importantly, though, the bill could throw Rhode Island’s environmental permitting programs into total disarray. Many permitting programs are founded on authority delegated to the state by EPA under a host of federal environmental laws. These programs are subject to EPA oversight, and tinkering with them could easily result in EPA’s withdrawing approval and taking over permitting functions itself. Needless to say, this is not the goal of the commerce bill. Instead, Tricia told the Finance Committee, a simple solution would be to leave DEM and CRMC’s functions alone, to staff them adequately, and to add staffers to the new Department of Commerce who can help guide businesses through the permitting process. This argument was well-received, and CLF now has the opportunity to work with the House to reform the bill.

Again, my colleagues have been too busy doing this work to call attention to it, but I think it’s important to take a moment to recognize just how valuable they are to Rhode Island and its environment.

EPA Must Follow the Law, Set Rules for Power Plants

May 10, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

While harm from climate change becomes more apparent every day, EPA is dragging its feet in setting much-needed limitations on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants. This failure is a plain violation of the Clean Air Act. So CLF recently took the first step to spur EPA into action. Working with attorneys at Clean Air Task Force, we let EPA know that if it does not act, we will sue.

Kite on Marconi Beach

Kite on Marconi Beach, courtesy of EandJsFilmCrew @ Flickr. Recent extreme weather caused significant damage at Cape Cod’s Marconi Beach.

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to issue regulations limiting emissions of air pollutants that may “endanger public health or welfare.” We know well that greenhouse gases drive climate change and therefore endanger public health and welfare in many ways: droughts pose risks to our food supply; sea level rise increases flooding of vulnerable communities; and extreme weather events threaten to wash coastal infrastructure out to sea. Nevertheless, during the early and mid-2000s, EPA all but ignored greenhouse gases. Many states and environmental groups (including CLF) sued to make EPA do something.

First, we argued, greenhouse gases are air pollutants subject to EPA regulation. Second, we said, EPA had to decide one way or the other whether greenhouse gases were dangerous; if so, the Clean Air Act imposes an absolute duty on EPA to regulate them. In a fine opinion by now-retired Justice Stevens, the Supreme Court agreed with us: greenhouse gases are pollutants subject to EPA regulation, and EPA had to decide whether they are dangerous. Two years later, EPA decided that greenhouse gases do, in fact, pose a danger to public health. This means EPA is required by law to regulate them.

After all that, EPA did begin to regulate greenhouse gases. However, it did not limit emissions from the single largest category of greenhouse gas polluters – power plants – which account for nearly 40% of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions. If any polluters need robust regulation, power plants do. Finally, after more pushing from CLF and other environmental organizations, EPA published proposed standards for greenhouse gas emissions by power plants.

Under the Clean Air Act, these proposed standards started a clock – EPA had one year to issue final rules. Instead, EPA announced on Day 364 that the final rules would be delayed indefinitely. This delay is both illegal and wrong. EPA now has sixty days to fix its error and issue final rules that seriously address the most pressing problem of our time.

If it does not, CLF and Clean Air Task Force will turn to federal court to compel EPA to act.

Spring Peepers: The Sounds of Spring

Apr 24, 2013 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

spring peeper new england

Spring peepers are the sounds of spring. Photo: Leslie Science & Nature Center’s photostream @ flickr

Do you ever wonder, when spring begins, what that chorus of what sounds like sleigh bells, loud crickets, or young cackling chicks is? It is that sound that I look forward to every spring.

Here in New England, we call the sound spring peepers: a frog that is tan or brown in color with a cross on its back whose size is one inch to one and one-half inch weighing 0.11 and 0.18 ounces. The subspecies in the north is called Pseudacris crucifer but some common nicknames are pinkletinks, tinkletoes, and pinkwinks. They live in forests and regenerating woodlands near ephemeral or semipermanent wetlands.

The male spring peeper makes the call on warm days and nights via a vocal sac located by its throat, which expands and deflates like a balloon beginning in March and carrying on through June during their breeding season to entice the females. Pseudacris crucifer lays around 900 to 1000 eggs per clutch under vegetation at the water’s base. Once hatched, they will transform into tadpoles and will become adult spring peepers in about 8 weeks and are ready to leave the water to spend the rest of the year in the woods.

Due to the loss of wetlands, climate change, pollution, and habitat loss their populations are significantly decreasing which has negative effects on the overall ecosystem since birds and snakes often prey on frogs. It has been reported that toad embryos appear to be dying due to climate change and, as temperatures vary unpredictably, the frogs’ immune systems lose potency causing them to succumb to a disease known as chytridiomycosis which has been killing amphibians around the world.

This is just another example of what climate change is doing to our amphibian friends and why it is so important to do what we can to stop climate change and the extinction of yet another species.

So, open up your windows on those warm nights and enjoy the sound of those little peepers with the big voice.

Energy: Out with the Dirty, In with the Clean

Apr 23, 2013 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Come join Conservation Law Foundation and our allies THIS SATURDAY in Burlington, Vermont for a discussion on Vermont’s Energy Choices.

Vermont’s Energy Choices: Old Dirty Problems and Clean Energy Solutions
Saturday, April 27th, 1:30 PM at the Billings Auditorium at UVM in Burlington

The time is NOW to move away from dirty sources of energy such as tar sands, nuclear, oil and coal. Solutions are available now to move us away from expensive, dangerous and polluting energy.

Come hear national and international experts on the problems of dirty energy – from fracking to tar sands – and  the real-world successes of renewable power – including community based renewable power in Europe.

Throwing up our hands is not an option. Come find out how to make a clean energy future our reality.

You can sign up and more information here:  See you Saturday!

Massachusetts Fosters Electric Vehicles with New Municipal Program

Apr 22, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Massachusetts Electric Vehicle Incentive Program DEP Municipal

MA DOER Commissioner Sylvia, Chelmsford Town Manager Paul Cohen, MA EOEEA Secretary Sullivan, and MA DEP Commissioner Kimmell at the Earth Day announcement in Chelmsford. (Photo credit: Emily Norton)

Today the Patrick Administration took an important step toward meaningful deployment of electric vehicles (EVs) in Massachusetts. Building on momentum from the Massachusetts Electric Vehicle Roundtable that CLF co-hosted with the Administration in March, the Patrick Administration launched a new incentive program yesterday: the Massachusetts Electric Vehicle Incentive Program for Municipalities. The Administration announced this new program on Earth Day at events in Greenfield and Chelmsford. CLF attended the announcement, and you can watch a video clip of MA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Kimmell and MA Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Sullivan announcing the new program in Chelmsford here and here (pardon the occasional wind!).

Following the MA EV Roundtable in March, the Administration created the Massachusetts Electric Vehicle Initiative to promote EVs in the Commonwealth. The new incentive program, focused on helping increase use and visibility of EVs in Massachusetts towns, is a noteworthy first step for the MA EV Initiative. This program will help municipalities purchase EVs as well as fund installation of charging stations. The program offers $7,500 grants per EV and $15,000 per publicly accessible charging station to eligible communities. The program, which is administered by the MA DEP,  has $2.5 million available for these grants.

At yesterday’s Earth Day launch for this program, Secretary Sullivan noted that increased deployment of EVs is an essential step toward meeting the climate commitments contained in the MA Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA). Increased EV deployment is indeed an important step if the Commonwealth is to meet its mandatory greenhouse gas emission (GHG) reduction targets, and CLF is pleased to see the Commonwealth taking initiative with this measure. At the same time, the big picture for GHG reductions in Massachusetts still requires significant progress that can only be achieved through markedly stepped up action. The Administration has not met the GWSA’s deadlines for adopting and implementing regulations to reduce GHGs commensurate with the requirements of the GWSA across all sectors – including transportation. While steps to promote EVs will help move the needle, the newly announced Initiative must complement, rather than serve as a substitute for, much more expansive action that is urgently needed across the transportation sector and beyond.

The Commonwealth’s press release following the launch indicated that this program “is the first of what the state plans will be other state incentive programs to increase electric vehicle deployment and ease their use.” CLF is pleased that the Patrick Administration is taking its commitment to fostering meaningful deployment of EVs in Massachusetts seriously, applauds the Commonwealth for this important first effort, and is optimistic for meaningful next steps for the MA EV Initiative. We hope that the successful launch of this program will help fuel a broader effort to reduce GHGs and ‘green up’ all of our transportation options!

Going to Church in the Senate: The Ministry of Responding to Climate Change

Mar 25, 2013 by  | Bio |  6 Comment »

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has made a number of passionate speeches throughout the week regarding climate change impacts and the dire need to address climate change. He is establishing himself as a courageous leader on the single most important issue facing this country – the reality of a changing climate and our moral, economic, and human obligation to respond to the threat we continue to blindly build. He will not let his colleagues (or the country) forget the seriousness of this issue and the need to respond to it.

Interestingly and importantly, this past week, Senator Whitehouse spoke with strong references to Pope Francis and his call to Catholics to care for Creation – a connection we rarely hear in the Senate. In fact, a more common theme these days, among congressmen and clergymen alike, has been to invoke the Bible to justify a do-nothing approach to climate change, arguing that the idea that we can irreparably harm our environment runs contrary to scripture.

As a Roman Catholic myself, I can confidently say that the Church’s call to advance social justice on the one hand (i.e., protecting the poor, caring for the Earth and its creatures) and protect human life (i.e., opposing abortion, birth control, etc..) on the other hand, creates a conflict for voters that has often been exploited and manipulated by the dominant political parties in the United States. Indeed, there even have been a number of masses I have attended during election years past when I have been made to feel that a candidate’s position on abortion is the only deciding factor when voting. This isn’t because the Church asked me to vote one way or the other, but it was because “life” was only viewed through the single issue of abortion, and not the global lense that would allow one to consider the disproportionate impact that our continued reliance on fossil fuels, and our steadfast refusal to respond to climate change is already having on the poorest of the poor and on Earth’s natural systems.

I hope that by choosing the name Francis, our new Pope has done more than signal a concern for the poor and the environment. I hope that by choosing this name, and by being a former student and teacher of chemistry, Pope Francis’ mission will be to remind Catholics everywhere that they can believe in the science of climate change, advocate for the protection of all creation, and for social justice and the poor, and still be a good Catholic. Indeed, without such advocacy “justice will be unachievable.” http://conservation.catholic.org/u_s_bishops.htm

St. Francis of Assisi preached the duty of men to protect and enjoy nature as both the stewards of God’s creation and as creatures ourselves. On November 29, 1979, Pope John Paul II declared St. Francis to be the Patron of Ecology. During the World Environment Day 1982, Pope John Paul II said that St. Francis’ love and care for creation was a challenge for contemporary Catholics and a reminder “not to behave like dissident predators where nature is concerned, but to assume responsibility for it, taking all care so that everything stays healthy and integrated, so as to offer a welcoming and friendly environment even to those who succeed us.”

It would be truly inspirational if the Church would begin to pray during its Prayers of the Faithful that our political leaders make the right choices when it comes to caring for our natural world; and then, perhaps, Catholics would learn as much about the ministry of our new Pope during mass as they might from the Senate floor.

Page 4 of 19« First...23456...10...Last »