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The Persistent Widow, the Climate Crisis and Environmental Justice

Among the passages of scripture that Christians are inspired by is the parable of the Widow and the Judge found in Luke 18:1-8. The passage informs the Christian call to social justice and the importance of persevering in the face of discouragement.
This story describes a judge who respected neither God nor human beings. There was a widow, who believed she had been unfairly treated by someone. She came to the judge seeking justice. The judge at first refused to find a just solution. Yet the widow persisted and persisted and persisted. The judge said to himself: I don’t respect God nor human beings, but this woman is a pain. I’ll give her what she wants, because I am tired of her bothering me.  Jesus interprets the parable by saying: Won’t God give his children what they want if they keep asking for it? 
The recent change in the makeup of congressional power in the U.S has left some people speculating whether we have seen the last effort for the next two years to make headway on the US climate goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by achieving a 50%-52% decrease from 2005 levels by 2030.
The nation simply cannot afford these additional delays, if we’re going to meet our country’s climate and environmental justice goals.
However, there is still a pathway to that climate goal. The Biden Administration can use its authority to ensure that the Environmental Protection Agency quickly issues regulations that would affect the power sector – companies that make electricity. The need for speed is real. Out of the 10 regulations that need to be proposed that have to do with companies that make electricity, nine of the 10 are now delayed at the EPA. These include: carbon standards for new power plants; mercury and air toxics standards; water pollution standards, and the national soot standards. The nation simply cannot afford these additional delays, if we’re going to meet our country’s climate and environmental justice goals.
The story of the persistent widow provides a wonderful model for all of us as we consider Christian responsibility in responding forcefully and quickly to the climate crisis and the need for environmental justice - the concern that pollution disproportionately harms communities of color. 
The good news is that the EPA is currently working to strengthen the national ambient air quality standard for fine particulate matter, otherwise known as soot. Soot comes from smokestacks, construction, diesel-fueled 18-wheelers, power plants and other industrial activity. It has a diameter of no more than 2.5 micrometers, one-30th the width of a human hair, and can become embedded in the lungs. It is linked to heart attacks, stroke and respiratory ailments.
The draft rule recently proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency would tighten the current limit, which has been in place since 2012, by as much as 25%. The Administration estimates that it could prevent as many as 4,200 premature deaths annually, as well as 270,000 missed workdays per year, and result in up to $43 billion in net health and economic savings by 2032. But the proposed rule needs to go further. 
The story of the Persistent Widow can lead us to continue to advocate
Experts estimate that every year, soot is responsible for 85,000 to 200,000 excess deaths in the United States, with a death rate three times higher for Black Americans over 65 than for white Americans in the same age group.
Last summer in 2022, however, more than 100 groups, following the example of the Persistent Widow, urged the EPA to cut both the annual and daily soot limits to the lowest levels recommended by the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, a group of outside experts that urged a cut in the daily exposure limit to between 25 and 30 micrograms. The majority also recommended a reduction in the annual limit to between 8 and 10 micrograms. 
The EPA’s report,  issued Jan. 6, inches toward tighter regulation of this pollutant, but does not go as far as agency expert advisers recommended. It would cut the current annual exposure limit for soot from 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air to either 9 or 10 micrograms. The proposal leaves the current daily standard – set in 2006 – unchanged at 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air. A decade has passed since the EPA last tightened its exposure standards and the new proposal would overturn a bitterly contested Trump-era decision to leave those limits unchanged.
Two things need to happen. The soot rule needs to be as strong as possible, so that the lives of thousands can be saved. And the EPA and the rest of the Biden administration needs to move quickly with all of the power-sector regulations and its efforts to reach the nation’s climate goal. 
The story of the Persistent Widow can lead us to continue to advocate to reach our climate goal and put in place pollution standards that enable environmental justice. 

Photo by Brendan O'Donnell on Unsplash

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