Letters from My Catholic Church to the EPA

BY ON July 25, 2011

Throughout my 34-year-old life, I have had an up and down relationship with the Roman Catholic Church.

 Elisa BatistaAs a kid, the church was instrumental in baptizing me, educating me — for nine years, I attended Catholic school largely tuition-free — and, along with my parents, giving me my moral outlook and strong work ethic. As a kid from a large family in a working class neighborhood in Miami, I was still expected to hand-deliver meals to the elderly woman across the street, feed the homeless in Overtown — a tough neighborhood — and volunteer in my parish, even during school hours. It’s something that has carried into my present life where despite a hectic schedule of children and work, I still find the time to deliver a meal to a person in need and volunteer my time for various causes.

Then there is the politics, which is complicated. No, I don’t like the way the church initially handled the sex abuse scandals, or the way it bars women from becoming priests. For a while I stopped going to mass because I did not like the way Catholic parishioners would park themselves in front of the Planned Parenthood in Boston, which at the time is where I received all of my pap smears and subsidized birth control pills. (I was broke and uninsured.)

Yet, there is still so much that I agree with the church, including its stewardship of all life on earth. Ultimately, that’s what brought me with my two young children back to a wonderfully progressive Catholic Church in Oakland, California.

Most recently, the social justice committee at the church organized a letter-writing campaign to the EPA in support of proposed Mercury and Air Toxics Rules. I was heartened and overwhelmed by the response as parishioners swarmed our table to write personal letters to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on index cards. Here were some of my favorite letters:

“Dear Ms. Jackson,

“Please know that I stand with you in support of the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. As one who has children and expects to have grandchildren, I want to create a world that is beautiful, abundant and healthy for my own family as well as for the families of our world — since we are all really ONE family.

Yours truly”

“To Administrator Jackson,

“As a father of two young children in an urban environment, I am very concerned with the effects of airborne pollution on their development. Please consider the long term benefits of the passage of the Clean Air Toxic Mercury legislation. Thank you! Danny.”

“Dear Ms. Jackson,

“As a physician, I fully support reductions in the level of airborne mercury. Sincerely, Brian”

“Dear Ms. Jackson,

“Thank you, thank you for proposing the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards! Most of us feel so powerless about emissions from plants. My son — a veteran — recently became ill, I believe triggered somewhat by nearby oil company emissions. The entire neighborhood feels dirty and unhealthy.

“Often we see such emissions and cannot do anything. Judy, Oakland”

I heard from several parishioners that they did not know that our air contained mercury. That was my reaction, too, before I joined the Moms Clean Air Force. I assumed that mercury was only in our oceans, which is equally disturbing!

Parishioners were also disappointed to hear that oftentimes plants will sue the EPA to keep it from doing its job. I was heartened that so many people were interested in this issue and acted on their concerns. It’s like this sleeping giant was woken!

Only one parishioner expressed doubt that this action would accomplish anything, and she did not fill out a postcard. I responded: “If the EPA only hears from the power plants, then nothing will be done.”

That said, I was also respectful of her opinion as this is her house of worship, too. No one should have to fill out a petition or write a letter they don’t feel comfortable with, which is why we gave our parishioners the docket number and information, and told them to write whatever they wanted.

If you belong to a church, a mom’s group or any community organization, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of on-the-ground action to clean our air. I did not do this alone in my Catholic parish in Oakland. I told a social justice committee member who then printed out flyers and had index cards, pens, and copies of information by the EPA as well as the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference who endorsed the new clean air standards. Parishioners were able to read the material, ask questions and write letters, which were then mailed out by me. I just made sure that the parishioner’s mailing addresses were included as well as the EPA docket numbers for the proposed rules:

#EPA-HQ-OAR-2011-0044
#EPA-HQ-OAR-2009-0234

As with any institution or loved one, I am not always going to agree with all of the politics and positions of the Catholic Church. But this is one issue I can really get behind!

TOPICS: Activism, Latino Community, Mercury Poisoning, Pollution, Religion, Social Justice