When, in 2012, EPA official Al Almendariz likened his enforcement strategy for federal drilling policies to Romans’ peacekeeping tactics in the Mediterranean — “Crucify them,” he quipped — he was only exhibiting what many already knew: that the Environmental Protection Agency performs its work with an almost religious zeal. But the agency’s latest effort — a massive clampdown on the nation’s coal industry — is receiving actual religious imprimatur. This week 28 religious leaders, representing not only a number of Christian denominations (Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Quaker, Baptist, and more) but other faiths (Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and Bahāʾī), testified in support of proposed regulations on coal power-plant emissions.
David Kepley, elder and deacon at Providence Presbyterian Church, read from Leviticus: “God said, ‘The land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants. Throughout the land that you hold, you shall provide for the redemption of the land.’”
“To me this means that to be wasteful of the land’s bounty or to despoil it with substances that are harmful to people or other life forms is not just unproductive but is an affront to God,” his exegesis went. “In my view, the EPA has identified one of those areas where we humans have ignored our role as good stewards of the Creation.”
Meanwhile, Ashley Goff, minister for spiritual formation at the D.C.-area Church of the Pilgrims, part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), told the Religion News Service that her church does its part caring for the earth and that the EPA’s role, in RNS’s words, “is to regulate and care for the rest of the country.”
Few articles of faith ought to raise doubts like the notion that the EPA operates under divine ordination. The good Lord moves in mysterious ways, but goings-on at the EPA might be too convoluted for even the great I Am. This is, after all, the former employer of Lisa “Richard Windsor” Jackson.
Since Barack Obama’s inauguration, the EPA has issued more than 2,800 new final regulations. According to a 2012 Competitive Enterprise Institute report, the agency has somewhere north of 125,000 rules on the books. The actual number, incidentally, God only knows.
The rule currently under debate would force power plants nationwide to cut carbon emissions 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Hundreds of workers protested the changes at the Colorado capitol this week, and thousands marched in West Virginia, where they were joined by the state’s governor and Ohio’s lieutenant governor. Opponents of the proposal contend that it will decimate the coal industry, increase energy prices, and leave thousands jobless.
Presumably these miners are not heathens intent on despoiling God’s green pastures. Perhaps it is even as an official said at an Alabama Coal Association news conference: “Who has the right to take what God’s given a state?”
To one side the Lord hath given. To another he recommendeth taking away. Behold, the Lord your God is an indecisive God.
Certainly there is a Biblical case to be made that Christians should be faithful stewards of God’s earth. That he took the time out of his busy schedule to create it, ex nihilo, because of an outpouring of love is not a bad reason to think that we should refrain from pillage and plunder.
But the Bible draws no clear lines between holy cultivation and ecological rapine. In fact, exactly how to apply most Scriptural principles is a mystery. There are certain things about which Christians get to be certain: the elements of the Apostles’ Creed. But there are lots of others — an enormous swath of the decisions of daily life, for instance — about which Scripture leaves one in a full-on cumulus cloud of unknowing. Processes of discernment can help to clear the air a bit, but beyond very general precepts, the mind of God is inscrutable.
I don’t put it beyond the Almighty to have a preference about how coal power is employed in America. But if he does, no doubt it is a touch more nuanced than is acknowledged by Creation Justice Ministries or the Alabama Coal Association. The first rule of religion is that you, vermis, are not God. Any person who thinks God votes his ticket would do well to remember that.
As would the EPA. Had the agency patrolled suburban Sinai, the Israelites would never have reached the Promised Land. That cloud of smoke was probably a nightmare for the ozone layer.
— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at National Review.