Over the last year, the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in ads promoting as “pro-life” new power plant regulations from the Obama Administration. The aim is to persuade America’s largest religious demographic to embrace ardent environmentalism as intrinsic to their faith.
This week, EEN’s chief testified before a Congressional committee ostensibly on behalf of a “growing” number of evangelicals who are now “consistently pro-life” by adopting political causes of the left on poverty and the environment, according to my assistant Kristin Rudolph who listened in. Reverend Mitchell Hescox insisted that faithful Christians should back new rules potentially costing over $9 billion annually so as to defend the “unborn” from mercury.
Evidently the plan is that evangelicals, whom The Washington Post once infamously called “'poor, undereducated and easily led, will enlist in the zealous green movement after understanding that the “unborn” are now the beneficiaries. Seemingly, evangelical lemmings are expected not to think through such complexities as cost/benefit analysis or whether the expensive and expansive new regulations actually address a real threat to large numbers.
Expanding the definition of “pro-life” to include environmentalism, for starts, ultimately neutralizes the label altogether. For this reason, secular left-wing philanthropies, like the Rockefellers Brothers Fund, are possibly shrewd to back EEN’s drive for “pro-life” elasticity. One EEN television ad portrays a pastor warning: "I expect members of Congress to protect the unborn." An EEN’s radio ad featured the pastor asking Michigan voters to thank their liberal Democratic Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow “for their leadership, and let them know you support continued efforts to keep the unborn safe from mercury pollution.” By implication, members of Congress who are pro-life on abortion but don’t succumb to the mercury scare campaign are actually less than pro-life.
Congressional staff noted the latest EPA proposal has been “characterized as the most expensive rule ever imposed by the agency on the power sector.” Its implementation would reportedly cost the average family in some areas over $80 annually in increased electricity costs. (Critics allege the cost could be twice as high.) This cost must seem minor to elitist environmentalists. But are increased electricity bills for the poor and working class really “pro-life?” And could that over $9 billion annually in direct costs to the power industry, which critics claim will actually be much higher, be better spent?
Congressman John Shimkus (R - IL) told Rev. Hescox, as recounted by Kristin Rudolph: “You are masquerading for an environmental cause which I reject and which many in the pro-life community [reject].” And he declared: “We in the pro-life community take great offense when an evangelical movement tries to usurp the meaning of ‘pro-life.’” Rev. Hescox countered that “pro-life” must include “environmental health” and “anti-poverty.” But toxicologist Julie Goodman, a Harvard adjunct professor, testified: “The vast majority of the benefits [from the EPA rule] … are not from mercury reductions, but rather from highly imprecise estimates of mortality reductions from decreasing emissions of fine particulate matter.”
Right before the congressional hearing, pro-life leaders released a letter rejecting EEN’s attempt to appropriate the term for its environmentalist agenda as “disingenuous,” “dangerous,” bound to “confuse voters,” and to “divide the pro-life vote.” They added: “This doesn’t mean we should ignore environmental risks. It does mean they should not be portrayed as pro-life. Genuinely pro-life people will usually desire to reduce other risks as well—guided by cost/benefit analysis. But to call those issues ‘pro-life’ is to obscure the meaning of the term.”
The organizer of the pro-life letter was the Cornwall Alliance, which itself disputes the dire claims of the mercury scare campaign, which asserts that 1 in 6 U.S. babies is over exposed to mercury. Cornwall counters that actually only 1 in 1000 babies is exposed to a level above the EPA’s “reference dose.” And no harm has been detected at a level below even 14 times that reference dose. Even at that higher level, the harm in delayed neurological development is overshadowed by normal variation. Cornwall also points out that most mercury in babies comes from natural sources. And it notes that even EPA admits that its new limits would be “unlikely to substantially affect total risk.” Cornwall reports that EPA’s target demographic is a tiny sliver of American pregnant women who “consume over 300 pounds of self-caught fish per year—and all those fish have to come from the very highest mercury-content freshwater sources in the country.” Cornwall forecasts that EPA’s proposed regulation would cost the U.S. economy over $40 billion and result in several thousand additional deaths from diminished wealth.
Critics might compare the mercury scare campaign to a smaller version of apocalyptic Global Warming claims. Both demand expenditure of vast sums without evidence of guaranteed outcomes or consideration of unintended harmful consequences from their policies. And of course both depend on animosity not just towards fossil fuels but to development and economic growth.
Persuading evangelicals that “pro-life” conviction demands embracing the latest EPA regulations is a clever marketing gimmick. But most discerning pro-lifers will resist the attempted manipulation of their cause.
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