Turn Up the Heat, and Support Land and Water Conservation


As the story goes, the Maccabees had a dire situation — only one day of power to light the way to rebuild the desecrated Temple in Jerusalem. While a miracle extended their power supply — oil — to eight days, our current conservation policy is going to need more than a miracle to help protect our future generations.

Although it's easy to focus on what has failed this year and what we want from the next Congress, the current Congress is still in session and continues to legislate. It seems as if they've run out of power but, much like the way that one-day's worth of oil made a lifelong impact, their decisions still count.

That's why the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, known as COEJL, is involved in an important effort to support full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The fund was established in 1965 to finance the conservation of America's natural resources by using a portion of the profits gained from the extraction of oil from federal waters.

The fund has since created local parks and playgrounds, and protected important wild places in every single state, ensuring access to nature for citizens across our country. National parks, forests, monuments and other public landscapes are all supported by the fund. Whether we live in urban or rural areas, in the East, West, North or South, chances are that we have benefited from the Land and Water Conservation Fund without even knowing it.

Despite its vital role, the fund, since its inception, has never received sufficient appropriations to fulfill its enormous potential for all of us and for our environment. More than enough oil revenue is available for the fund at no cost to the American taxpayer — yet Congress has failed to use that money for its intended purpose. Over the years, the fund has been shortchanged by some $17 billion — a huge loss for our communities and the environment.

Now we have a chance to change that. With bipartisan support, the House of Representatives passed the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic (CLEAR) Act, which includes full funding for the fund. Now the Senate must move forward to pass related legislation that is pending.

Another example of the growing support for conservation can be seen in this year's midterm elections — Americans passed 28 of 35 state and local conservation funding measures.

President Barack Obama declared this past September to be "National Wilderness Month" stating that "together we must ensure that future generations can experience the tranquility and grandeur of America's natural places."

Our Jewish values teach us this very responsibility, as in the Psalms, which speak to our experience of divinity through Creation. Protecting natural resources impacts our immediate quality of life and helps preserve our air, land, water and heritage for future generations.

While advocating full funding for the fund, we at COEJL are also deeply committed to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, increasing our economic and national security, and pursuing renewable energy and green jobs. With governments currently gathered in Cancun for international climate negotiations at the end of the hottest recorded year in history, our Congress' inability to advance comprehensive energy and climate policy is especially glaring.

Our spiritual contribution to the national and global conversation on environmental policy is more necessary than ever.

We must turn up the heat in a sustained effort against the scourge of climate change, which harms not just our land and water, but also people here and now — and our human future.

We can't be so preoccupied with our Congress-elect that we forget about our incumbents' ability to influence the future. After all, to quote Rabbi Hillel, "If not now, when?" Let's make this lame-duck season count.

Sybil Sanchez is director of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life. She spoke recently at Beth Sholom Con-gregation in Elkins Park and B'nai Jacob in Phoenixville.


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