Last June the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a rule change on carbon-dioxide emissions that would affect energy producers, especially in states that rely on coal-fired power plants.
The change is being sold as an attempt to curb global warming, though even it’s supporters grudgingly admit it won’t have much, if any, effect. The change is so small—equivalent to a roughly 6 percent cut in overall US emissions, a 1 percent cut in total global emissions—that’s it’s impact may not even be measurable.
One impact that can be measured, though, is the increase in average monthly electricity bills that will be caused by the change. Depending on who you ask, the increase could be anywhere from 6-7 percent (EPA estimates) to 80 percent (National Mining Association estimates).
While all Americans will be impacted by the increase, our most vulnerable neighbors—the poor, the sick, the mentally ill—will be most affected. As civil rights leader Charles Steele, Jr., president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, says, Christians should find increased energy costs due to this regulation deeply troubling:
I am neither an engineer, nor a weatherman, so why does this issue concern me? I am concerned because changes to the reliability and affordability of electricity disproportionally impact vulnerable, lower-income Americans. These regulations single out those who deserve our compassion and our aid and place the greatest cost on their shoulders.
Energy costs are already on the rise, and they are projected to increase exponentially in the coming years. In fact, energy costs as a percentage of overall household income are rising at a higher and faster rate for low-income Americans. Dealing with these increased costs is just one part of the equation, as health and safety issues are part and parcel of the problem. People’s health conditions are impacted if they are forced to live without air conditioning or heat, or if meals are skipped just to foot the bill for energy.
During last year’s winter storm, many hourly workers were unable to go to work, with most absences averaging five days away during the storm. As schools were closed and kids were home, families realized an even greater burden for their grocery budgets. When businesses face rising energy costs, they’ll be forced to make cuts themselves, and workers across the board could be left without a job at all. Multiply the cost of not working by increased utility bills, and the outlook is deeply troubling.
A fair and honest debate about religious responses to environmental issues should always distinguish theological principles from prudential judgments.nt.