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Local Bishop Among Faith Leaders Supporting EPA Carbon Rule

S Bence

Jeff Barrow heads the Great Milwaukee  Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He added his signature to a letter urging President Obama and the EPA to take action.Barrow joined nearly 400 individuals representing multiple denominations.

Their letter included: “Climate change significantly exacerbates issues on which our congregations and faith communities are already working: issues like hunger, clean water, disaster relief, refugee services, and conflict resolution. It it the role of faith leaders to help others connect the dots between climate change and its impacts, and to advocate for meaningful solutions. We believe that limiting carbon pollution from power plants is a key part of that solution.”

Their message was sent to Washington  on May 27.  Days later, on June 2, the EPA released its long-anticipated “Clean Power Plan.” Agency administrator Gina McCarthy describes it as achievable state-by-state goals to cut carbon emissions from coal-burning power plants.

Wisconsin would be required to reduce its levels by more than 30 percent by 2030. Since the report’s release, support and criticism have flooded air, newsprint and social media.

Bishop Jeff Barrow says when the environmental group called Clean Wisconsin asked him to co-sign in support of the carbon reduction measure he felt compelled to agree.

“The environment has been a topic that’s been very important in the life of the church in the world. You go back to the tradition of our bible camps; our bible camps were often leadership development for us, but they were also at the groundbreaking level of looking at the environment through different eyes.”

Barrow says he is struck and concerned about the lack of constructive conversation around environmental issues in Congress.

“You get up onto Capitol Hill and you realize there is great silence about environmental issues today and you wish there would be some kind of honest dialogue about a topic that affects everybody.”

I met Barrow at his office on Layton Boulevard.  It is  just south of the Menomonee Valley and a coal-burning power plant. Barrow dismisses arguments that its close proximity to urban neighborhoods does not increase those residents risk to health impacts.

“That’s like saying smoking has no impact on your lungs. It doesn’t matter if you use ultra-light filtered or ultra-light cigarettes, you’re still exposing yourself. That’s my reaction to that.”

Yet, Barrow says as a church leader, he walked a fine line in deciding to speak out in support of the EPA’s proposed carbon rule.

“It’s more difficult today to speak into a charged political environment, that is so polarized, because you have people in your congregations on both sides of issues and usually radically on both sides of issues and they’re all God’s children; you’ve got to walk with them all.”

It was his conviction that climate change is undeniable and life-threatening that drove Barrow’s decision and sense of urgency.

So, while Barrow's  faith holds that  God will take care of everyone and  the world is not designed to be eternal  “but goodness gracious that doesn’t mean we should waste what we have, or exploit what we have, because we’re still called to be caretakers of the creation.”

Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.