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United Methodists seek children's environmental protection

5/9/2003

WASHINGTON (UMNS) - In a pre-Mother's Day letter, the Children's Environmental Health Network has called on President George W. Bush to protect children from environmental health hazards.

The nearly 70 organizations that signed the coalition's letter include the United Methodist Board of Church and Society and the United Methodist Appalachian Ministry Network.

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), a United Methodist, declared her intention to reintroduce the Nationwide Health Tracking Act. That legislation would "establish a nationwide network to improve and integrate health and environmental data - including nationwide data on childhood asthma, cancer and birth defects," she said in a statement read at a press conference May 8.

John Hill, a staff executive with the Board of Church and Society, spoke at the press conference, asking the Bush administration to protect all children from environmental threats.

"We believe each and every child is a precious and priceless gift, created in the image of God and entrusted to our care," he said of the communities of faith. "All too often, our government's actions - or inactions - quite literally devalue the lives of children."

John Wesley, founder of Methodism, campaigned 250 years ago to end the practice of children working in coal mines, Hill observed. Wesley fought for clean air and clean water, and he urged his followers not to work in the arsenic and lead industries long before science recognized the risk they posed.

Hill cited a pilot project the board has developed in collaboration with the Mississippi and Louisiana annual (regional) conferences to study, educate and advocate about the effects of the environment on children's health. The project found that, in Louisiana, 335,000 children live within a 30-mile radius of dirty, coal-fired power plants. More than 17,000 of the children have asthma.

"Policies that 'discount' children and consider premature deaths, developmental disorders and epidemic rates of asthma as simply unavoidable 'costs' of our current lifestyle are immoral," Hill declared.

He accused the Bush administration of pursuing policies "that, under the guise of regulatory relief and streamlining, would broaden exemptions and loopholes in the Clean Air Act, resulting in more, not less, air pollution" and more, not fewer, cases of asthma.

Clinton, in her statement, noted that a Columbia University study found a childhood asthma rate of 26 percent among children in Harlem. "How can children learn in school or enjoy life if they are struggling simply to breathe?" she asked.

"I also plan to introduce legislation that addresses lead exposure, asthma and the other most significant issues in children's environmental health," Clinton said. In addition, she pledged to fight to curb harmful pollution from power plants and school buses.

In its letter, the Children's Environmental Health Network and co-signers asked the president for "policies that consistently put children's health before narrow economic interests"; "research programs that consistently invest in long-term, child-focused programs"; and "consistent application and enforcement of laws and regulations affecting children's health."

The complete letter may be found at http://www.cehn.org/cehn/Bushcoalitionletter2.html, and the complete text of John Hill's statement may be found at http://www.umc-gbcs.org/news/viewnews.php?newsId=399.

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