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Synagogues take aim at power plant pollution
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Synagogues take aim at power plant pollution

Two congregations enter policy arena as part of GreenFaith

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel board member Lynne Crawford, right, and Green Team cochair Sue Hoch with their synagogue’s petition to support EPA rules to reduce mercury emissions.
Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel board member Lynne Crawford, right, and Green Team cochair Sue Hoch with their synagogue’s petition to support EPA rules to reduce mercury emissions.

Two area synagogues are rallying support for a new national rule aimed at reducing the emission of mercury and other toxins from power plants nationwide.

Signatures gathered by Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange and Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston will be added to a petition from faith-based sites gathered by GreenFaith, an ecumenical environmental group based in Highland Park. They will be delivered to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Proposed on March 15 by the EPA, the new rule would require coal-fired power plants to install widely available pollution controls.

The synagogues learned about the issue through their participation in GreenFaith’s environmental programs for houses of worship.

“This rule will prevent thousands of people from serious illness and death — particularly those in poor communities near many power plants,” said TSTI’s Rabbi Daniel Cohen. “It’s the right thing to do, and we are proud to support it.”

TSTI is participating in GreenFaith’s environmental certification program for houses of worship. The GreenFaith certification process requires houses of worship to get involved in environmental advocacy, although it does not dictate stands on specific issues.

TSTI formally began circulating its petition at a board meeting on April 6. B’nai Abraham started its petition April 12.

GreenFaith certification requires synagogues to make environmentally friendly changes in their physical plant, introduce ecology themes in their teaching and programming, and become more active in policy issues.

Policy advocacy on behalf of environmental issues and, more specifically, environmental justice, is new to TSTI.

“We want to think more broadly — it’s not just the internal building of our temple,” said Phil Hoch, a board member who chairs the temple’s Green Team. “There are power plants around us. Environmental issues are not only about our plant and facility. This really opened our eyes to another part of environmentalism we were not focused on.”

B’nai Abraham has a long history of involvement with GreenFaith and was one of the houses of worship to install solar panels early on through one of its programs. This latest advocacy effort, said Rabbi Faith Dantowitz, “is an opportunity to educate people about what’s going on in the environmental world. The environment is a constant issue and at this time of year, with spring and earth renewal, it’s a good time to be really aware of the issue.”

The petitions will be available for signatures through May 31.

Following the signing of the proposed rule, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson met privately with GreenFaith’s executive director, the Rev. Fletcher Harper, and stressed the importance of support from people of faith.

“This rule will save lives as soon as it is implemented,” said Harper in a prepared statement.

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