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Op-ed: For West Virginia, climate action is a matter of faith

This past year challenged West Virginia in unforeseeable ways. Our faith has been tried and tested by not one, but four converging crises: the public health crisis, economic recession, racial inequalities, and the climate crisis. As the nation hoped and prayed for a better future, it was the wisdom and guidance of our faith, spiritual, and religious advisors that guided so many of us forward. These faith leaders include the United Methodist Women of the West Virginia Conference, who support women, youth and children and create a supportive fellowship to help them develop as whole persons.

It was on that path forward we found we can accomplish incredible things when we come together, just as we did along with our Disaster Relief Team last February when our state was struck by a devastating winter storm. Downed power lines, flooding and food insecurity created problems for thousands, and the COVID-19 pandemic only added to the stress. Our faith teaches us to look out for one another and guides us. And right now, it leads us to understand that there is more work to be done to address long-standing injustices like pollution and the climate crisis.

In our faith communities, including the West Virginia United Methodist Church, we look to our religious and spiritual leaders to unite and to lead us forward through this pivotal moment of recovery for our nation. We must fulfill our moral obligation to leave a habitable world for future generations. With the American Jobs Plan as it was originally proposed, we have an opportunity to invest in clean infrastructure and energy, while working towards environmental justice and improving public health in the process.

West Virginia’s 2020 infrastructure report card gave an overall grade of D to our bridges, dams, roads, drinking water infrastructure, and wastewater systems. President Biden’s American Jobs Plan places our most marginalized communities at the center of this historic infrastructure package, mandating that at least 40 percent of the benefits of investments target disadvantaged communities.

Access to clean drinking water and clean air to breathe should not be a luxury reserved for the few. That’s why the full American Jobs Plan invests in electrifying clean transportation and clean energy to reduce carbon pollution and create jobs and invests in clean water infrastructure for all communities. The good news is U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm joined West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin last month to promote the state’s role in developing clean energy. This package will lead to significant improvements to our public health and quality of life. By modernizing our electric grid and expanding 100 percent renewable, pollution-free energy, we will see far fewer deadly climate disasters and extreme weather events such as floods, heat waves and wildfires.

Faith leaders from across the country have united in their call for a recovery and infrastructure package that will help us rebuild in a way that makes us stronger than ever before. Just as our faith leaders guided us through the darkest, most uncertain moments of the past year, they can also guide our nation in building back better. That’s why I have joined over 3,400 other faith leaders from around the country in adding my name to a letter to Congress calling for a bold economic recovery and infrastructure package that creates family- and community-sustaining jobs while caring for our climate and our neighbors. We need the full investments outlined in the American Jobs Plan, and we’re counting on Senators Manchin and Capito to turn this vision into a reality. They must fully support passing this monumental legislation and help families get back on their feet while protecting our public health and beloved environment. This common sense plan will make a difference in our state and across the nation.

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Elizabeth Bailes is the Social Action Coordinator for the West Virginia Conference of United Methodist Women.

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