From the Hill:  One Step Forward, Two Steps Back - The Administration’s Answer to Reducing Carbon Emissions 

*Photo: Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant, central Wyoming/2006

"From the Hill" is the Columban Center's recap of some of the month's most pressing issues. Staying up-to-date on current events seem especially overwhelming these days, so we're here to offer the Columban take on what's happening in Washington, DC and around the world. 

This month, we discuss...

The Clean Power Plan Replacement

Last week the Trump administration announced their intended replacement to the Clean Power Plan.  

As a quick refresher: 

The Clean Power Plan (CPP) was devised by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Obama administration and announced in 2015. The CPP sought to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants - one of the country’s largest sources of carbon pollution. The EPA is legally required to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act.  

The CPP aimed to cut those emissions by 32% below 2005 levels by 2030. This would be accomplished by requiring every state to establish an emissions reduction plan with ambitious goals. A crucial piece of our commitments under the Paris climate agreement, the CPP was a historic step in reducing our contributions to climate change.  

What happened to the CPP? 

It was never implemented. Legal challenges delayed its rollout but the final blow came last October when former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the repeal of the plan after President Trump ordered the EPA to review it back in January. Check out the reaction from the faith community here. Over 1 million comments were submitted in response to the repeal. The EPA, as mentioned above, is required to regulate carbon emissions and so cannot repeal the plan without replacing it.  

What does the replacement look like? 

Dubbed the "Affordable Clean Energy" rule, the replacement plan allows states to decide not only how but if they will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It also allows for decreased reduction goals. Based on the EPA’s own implementation scenarios, the replacement could cause up to 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030 due to increased air particulates. 

Carbon emissions and climate change do not stop at state lines. The Clean Power Plan set out a national, accelerated shift to clean energy in order to reduce our contributions to climate change. Its replacement plan stalls this shift, thereby threatening public health, and exacerbating the effects of climate change that we are already seeing.  

What happens now? 

The EPA must now publish the proposed plan and open it up to public comment for 60 days after it is published. All members of the public are able to comment on the plan.  

What is the Columban perspective? 

When the CPP was initially repealed, Columbans urged that any replacement match or exceed the CPP’s reduction goals. The replacement plan instead takes the focus away from climate change and onto ‘eliminating burdensome regulations’. Columbans know this is the time to think creatively about how to replace fossil fuels with clean energy. We can no longer afford to ignore the realities of climate change by placing the interest of a small few over the good of everyone.  

From our statement: Columbans know firsthand the consequences of a weakened commitment to climate action. Emissions and their impact on vulnerable communities know no borders. Columbans feel the heat of intensifying desertification from California to Pakistan. We served communities destroyed by extreme storms in the Philippines and Fiji. Our moral obligation to eliminate carbon pollution is the same as our obligation to be our sisters and brothers’ keeper (Gen 4:9). 

Stay tuned for instructions on how to comment and messaging guidance from the Columban Center soon!  

Read the Columban Center’s full statement in response to the plan here and coverage on the Catholic response to the plan here.  


DACA: Still No Solution 

Next week marks one year since the president announced the phase out of the DACA program. This announcement threw the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people who came to the US as children into uncertainty. In the aftermath of this announcement, Congress scrambled to put together a legislative solution to ensure continued protections for DACA recipients.  

Unfortunately, most of these ‘solutions’ paired DACA protections with increased immigration enforcement (including border enforcement) and decreased protections for others, such as asylum seekers. Both the House and Senate held votes on bills this past year but nothing passed. The administration created this crisis, threw fuel on the fire, and Congress was unable to put it out. Aid came in the form of court decisions.  

A recent ruling from the DC circuit court affirmed the DACA program and ordered the administration to fully reinstate the program. This implementation of this decision is pending. During this time, however, the administration is required to continue accepting DACA renewal applications.  

On the other hand, the decision on another DACA court case, which attempted to block the government from processing any DACA applications, is expected to be announced very soon. If this decision halts the program, the case could reach the Supreme Court.

In the meantime, the lives of Dreamers will hang in the balance - their ability to work, contribute to their communities, raise a family, go to school all unknown. Congress needs to pass a permanent solution that does not jeopardize other migrant communities.    


Family Separation 

The practice of family separation at the border, carried out by the administration, sparked outrage across the country. Intended as a deterrent, this incredibly inhumane policy instead caused massive traumas while simultaneously having negligible impact on the numbers of families seeking protection in the U.S.  

Through decisions from court cases, the administration was required to reunite the children and parents it had separated. Not only did the administration miss the deadline to fulfill this requirement, hundreds of parents had already been deported without their children and approximately 519 children still remain in government custody.

Additionally, reports continue to surface that government officials coerced parents, though threats and intimidation, into waiving their rights to reunification in order to deport them.  

As we covered in From the Hill two months ago, the administration and Congress attempted to address the backlash against family separation with a different tactic: expand family detention. Billed as necessary to keep families together, family detention is not a new practice. It is also not a solution to family separation. The administration is now seeking to make it easier to detain families for longer and without proper standards. Check out this backgrounder from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops for more information. Congress is also considering legislation that would expand family detention. People of faith must continue to raise the message that detention is not the answer for those coming to this country seeking protection.  



The Columban Center has created a "Border Solidarity Toolkit" designed to help you and your faith community live out the call to be in solidarity with border communities. It includes a number of activities for prayer, education, and action. Click here to sign up for a copy of the toolkit.