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Time to RESTORE the Gulf

oil_well_sunset.jpgI’ve heard the axiom around Washington that when disaster strikes, Congress responds. But in the case of the BP Gulf oil spill, the worst environmental disaster of our time, this axiom has failed – until now. Still, advocates and activists have not given up, and momentum is building behind legislation crucial for the Gulf and our national energy and environmental future. This week is the time to speak out and urge Congress to invest in restoring the Gulf, empower citizens and community leaders to work effectively with oil and gas companies to protect their communities, and enhance health and safety across the offshore drilling industry.

Today you can join advocates from across the Gulf and people of diverse faiths from across the country by making a call for the future of the Gulf. This nationwide call-in day urges the Senate to pass the RESTORE Act, a bill supported by nine Gulf Coast Senators and designed to ensure that the Clean Water Act penalties collected from BP as a result of the spill are invested in Gulf restoration. This legislation would provide a desperately needed infusion of funds for restoring the ecosystems and economy hit hardest by the spill, many of which feed and fuel our nation. Nearly 500 miles of Gulf coastline in four states remains oiled, and the need for restoration is immediate.

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Jews Eating Well – Not as Obvious as it May Seem!

gtjt.jpgThe old axiom of Jewish holidays, “they tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!” isn’t so simple these days, as Jewish communities across North America work to redefine “Jewish food justice” through local, national and global efforts. Synagogues, JCCs and Jewish non-profits have long led efforts to fight poverty by feeding those in need in our communities. However, we’ve recently started inverting the service model of distributing pre-processed and packaged foods at the end of a long supply chain, choosing instead to grow food and serve it locally, and tackling the root causes of our inequitable and unsustainable food system. And Reform congregations and camps are proud leaders in this work.

A recent article on going “beyond canned food drives” highlights the work of Fain Award honorees KAM Isaiah-Israel in Chicago and Temple Shalom of Aberdeen, NJ, congregations leading innovative, interfaith garden projects that distribute food locally. The article also highlights Jewish food groups like Urban Adamah, a new initiative in California that combines Jewish teaching and innovative techniques through farming in the city of Berkley. Urban Adamah takes a unique approach to food service as well, delivering their locally-grown produce to hospitals and health clinics to ensure that patients receive fresh and nutritious food along with medical treatment, supporting recovery and long-term health. As Tali Weinberg explained, “It felt really good to me to partner with a health clinic, because food is about medicine..Sure, food is about celebration, but for many people it literally saves lives.”

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Another Energy Band-Aid

rj_greening_final logo.jpgEnding months of speculation, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced last week that the Obama Administration will sell 30 million barrels of oil from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) in an attempt to stabilize oil supply and prices. The option has been on the table since March, when the strife in Libya and a combination of global economic factors began driving up oil prices at a frightening pace. When gas prices hit $4/gallon, Washington responds – whether or not such a response will help.

The SPR, the world’s largest emergency oil supply, is designed as an insurance mechanism against supply shocks that drive up the price of gas. While current global unrest has had only moderate impacts on global oil supplies, the Administration decided – following months of high prices and political pressure – that the release was warranted heading into the most travel-heavy summer months.

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Summer Eating

rj_greening_final logo.jpgMemorial Day has passed and summer is upon us, and that means barbeques, farmers’ markets and lots of other fun ways to eat! And as we prepare to celebrate Shavuot (a harvest holiday with agricultural origins that are too often ignored), it’s a perfect time to talk about food. Luckily we have new resources, initiatives and programs to help your community engage in education, action and advocacy for food justice and sustainability. Here’s a menu of ways to get to work for food justice this summer:

Now is the time to register for the Sixth Annual Hazon Food Conference, taking place in northern California August 18-21. Reform Jews from across North America will join farmers and rabbis, chefs and nutritionists, activists and advocates to explore food, Jewish tradition, and contemporary social justice issues through lectures, workshops, hands-on training and a joyful Shabbat celebration (and four days of delicious food, of course). This year’s program will include a farm tour, classes on the 2012 Farm Bill, do-it-yourself cooking classes, bike rides and an eco-fair and shuk. Register by June 7 for the Early Bird discount, and use the discount code “URJFOOD” for an additional $50 discount. Contact Anna Hanau at Hazon for more information, including scholarship opportunities.

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Ending Oil Subsidies…or Not

Oil_Drum_Stuffed_With_Money1.jpgThe good news: a bipartisan majority in the United States Senate voted last night to close tax loopholes for the five biggest oil companies in the country, a move that would yield over $20 billion in revenues to help balance the federal budget in the next decade. The bad news: the 52 Senators who voted to move ahead with debate on S.940, the Closing Big Oil Loopholes Act, were not able to bring along the 60 vote majority needed to move to a final vote on the bill. Despite the fact that the bill recruited nearly 30 Senators as co-sponsors in just one week and was fast-tracked to the Senate floor, a minority of Senators were able to block the debate from moving ahead.

It’s almost unbelievable to me (I say almost with an understanding of the influence that big energy companies have on Congress) that in a time of fiscal crisis and widespread anger at oil companies over profits and gas prices, the Senate voted against closing loopholes for the richest producers. I found it particularly striking that dozens of Republicans decried the bill as a tax hike despite the fact that it would lower the deficit by billions of dollars, while Democrats shied away from populist claims about lowering gas prices and framed the bill as pure fiscally responsible policy. Either way, the fact that we cannot close these outdated and unnecessary loopholes in the midst of a conversation about Big Oil profits and even bigger federal deficits is discouraging.

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Failing to Move Forward on Energy

The House of Representatives voted yesterday to pass H.R. 1230, the first in a series of bills that supporters claim will lower gas prices and create jobs, but would in fact endanger people and the environment while doing little to alleviate short- or long-term energy challenges. As our Associate Director Mark Pelavin said in our statement on the bill, “We are disappointed by Congress’ failure to move our nation toward a safe and sustainable energy and environmental future, acting instead to accelerate dangerous offshore oil drilling.”

I could not agree more. We are one year out from the Deepwater Horizon explosion, which killed 11 men and spilled five million barrels of oil – and communities across the Gulf Coast are still feeling the impact. Yet rather than act to restore the Gulf, prevent future oil disasters and move our nation to clean energy (don’t forget to urge your members of Congress to support these efforts!), some legislators insist on expanding and accelerating dangerous drilling.

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On Earth Day and Every Day

rj_greening_final logo.jpgLast week we celebrated the 41st Earth Day and commemorated the one-year anniversary of the BP oil spill disaster. Earth Week might be over, but our work for a cleaner, more sustainable future is not.

Jewish and environmental leaders continue to urge us all to action on the critical environmental challenges of our time, on Earth Day and every day. Each day, month and year that goes by without action on climate change,
clean water and toxic pollution is an increasing threat to our
communities and our world. As our own Rabbi Saperstein said last week, “We have made tremendous progress since the first Earth Day, yet we know that it will take broad support and expedited effort to curb the impacts of climate change and to protect all of God’s creatures.”

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The Oil Spill Disaster – One Year Later

gulf-coast-sunset-300x162.jpgThis week we mark one year since the Deepwater Horizon exploded, killing 11 men and beginning the dumping of five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. There are dozens of events taking place across the Gulf and across the country (more here) to commemorate the disaster and raise awareness about the on-going impacts of the spill for the environment, economy and health of communities on the Gulf Coast.

Their message: despite the TV ads and media messages, this crisis is not over for the most impacted communities and ecosystems across the region, and we must continue to pay attention and take action. That is why we as faith communities began the After the Spill campaign, and why we will work throughout this anniversary week – and in the weeks and months to come – to focus attention from across the nation on the lasting impacts of the BP oil spill disaster.

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