Lighting the Way: Environmental Justice Influences Religious Congregations

Through the power of the pulpit, many electric consumers in New Jersey are becoming aware that choosing a utilities provider can be an important moral decision. Partners for Environmental Quality (PEQ), an interfaith organization in New Jersey, is using its network to “raise consciousness of environmental issues and push renewable energy,” explains the group’s president, the Rev. Franklin Vilas.

An Episcopal priest, Vilas spearheaded PEQ eight years ago to reflect “the growing concern of a number of religious leaders of different faiths about global warming and other crises.” Focusing primarily on environmental justice issues, the group recently took up the cause of renewable energy in New Jersey, where deregulation allows consumers to choose environmentally benign power sources over the Midwestern coal plants that spew pollution across the Atlantic seaboard. “Making electricity causes more air pollution than any other industry,” Vilas says. “We’re urging people to buy electricity based on principle, not just price.”

In alliance with Catholic, Episcopal, Jewish, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Quaker, and Unitarian churches representing 6,000 New Jersey congregations, PEQ has entered into a yearlong agreement to promote Green Mountain Energy, a Vermont company that sells electricity generated mostly by wind, water, and landfill gas, to the New Jersey market. Green Mountain, in turn, is giving religious institutions a financial return for every congregation member who signs up through church or synagogue.

The Episcopal Diocese of Newark was among the first to commit to GreenE certified energy, Green Mountain’s highest quality product, and the bishop is now promoting it in that diocese’s 120 churches. “We consider this financial commitment to be an outreach mission expense that can make a real difference in the quality of life for our members and neighbors,” states Rt. Rev. John P. Croneberger, bishop of the Newark Diocese.

PEQ has also reached out to other faiths. “What unites our community, whether we are Protestant, Evangelical, Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or one of many other faith groups, is our belief in our collective responsibility as earth stewards,” states PEQ executive director Pamela Frank. “The earth is not something we own, but something to be tended to, cared for, and left as we found it for future generations.”