(Editor's note: Corrects party affiliation of Sen. Susan Collins, who is a Republican from Maine.)
Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - A coalition of religious activists, led by the National Council of Churches and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, rallied on Capitol Hill Tuesday to protest President George Bush's national energy plan.
The groups sent an open letter to the president on Thursday calling for "moral reflection on the country's energy policy." Among the event's speakers were Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), both of whom have voiced strident opposition to the president's plan.
Rabbi David Sapperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism commended the president at the rally for "parts of his plan that offer some new programs and investment in conservation, new technologies, and energy assistance to low-income Americans."
But Sapperstein highlighted his objections to Bush's plan as well. "This plan would expand our reliance on oil, coal, and nuclear energy," he said, "which destroy land, pollute the air, and harm or threaten public health."
Speaking to the groups' members, Melvin Talbert, a bishop of the United Methodist Church, said the president's energy plan "stresses only more fossil fuels and nuclear power," and it "diminishes the health and well being of our children and grandchildren."
"We know that many of the current proposals are not solutions that will result in our being good stewards of God's creation or doing justice for future generations," Talbert added.
Lieberman, who declared in a May 10 press release that the United States was in "a real crisis," said at the rally Tuesday, "We don't have a crisis. If we use our heads, our brains, and we conserve - if we develop new technologies without going back to old fuels, and use a balanced approach, we can move forward, not back."
Lieberman's call for greater conservation was echoed by Collins. "Our best strategy for dealing with our energy crisis, particularly in the short term," she said, "is to increase conservation."
In addition to focusing on conservation, the rally tried to draw a connection between energy policy and climate change.
The activists created a "human bar graph" on the Capitol lawn, illustrating that while China and the European Union were responsible for 11 percent and 15 percent of the world's CO2 emissions, respectively, the United States was responsible for 25 percent of the emissions.
Rev. Dr. Robert Edgar, general secretary of the NCC, charged Bush with ignoring global warming in his plan. "U.S. energy use is causing global warming," he said, "and the president's plan is only going to make the planet hotter."
In their letter to the president last week, the religious coalition clamored for Bush to "join in binding international agreements, such as the Kyoto Protocol."
But Myron Ebell, director of global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, thinks the treaty would be wrong for America.
"Kyoto is a great plan for forcing the world to lower its energy consumption," he told CNSNews.com, "but it does almost nothing to address the alleged problems."
"Complying with the protocol," he adds, "will cost the U.S. economy $300 billion to $400 billion a year. And the impact of the protocol on the alleged problem is so small, it's almost not measurable."
The gathering of religious activists disturbed Heather Cirmo, spokeswoman for the Family Research Council. She said she's curious to know why this is a religious issue.
"We don't take a position on energy policy because it's not a black-and-white issue," Cirmo said. "Honest, moral people can disagree on this issue."
"Obviously we want to have a good balance of using our resources but also not tearing our earth apart," she added. "But to say that this is a Christian - or even a moral - issue is being very audacious and presumptuous."
Ebell agreed. "I find the involvement of these groups interesting," he said. "They typically get involved in issues they don't know much about."
But the religious leaders who wrote to the president maintain that, "We have a moral obligation to choose the safest, cleanest and most sustainable sources of energy to protect and preserve God's creation."
According to Ebell, however, "Most people in the world live in an energy starvation diet, and I think it's immoral for requiring the world to move to the most expensive forms of energy when most people in the world don't have access to the cheapest forms of energy."