Washington (CNSNews.com) - The director of an Environmental Protection Agency energy program told a meeting of environmentalists Thursday that the White House's faith-based initiative should include federal grants for religious groups that advocate green causes.
A critic of the green movement called the idea "obscene" and warned that the federal program would be inundated by environmental activists who will start "finding religion" in order to qualify for the faith-based grants.
Jerry Lawson, director of the EPA's Energy Star program, told a meeting of environmentalists and religious groups in Washington that the EPA is informally seeking "ideas" regarding how religious groups who promote green causes like climate change and pollution controls, can qualify for the White House's faith-based funds.
"A couple of days ago, one of the higher-ups at EPA called me, and we talked about grants. This person said to me ... 'look if you hear of good ideas of faith-based groups that are environmental proposals, let me know,'" Lawson told the gathering.
"So, I would like to offer myself as a conduit," he told the 40 participants at the Worldwatch Institute symposium, called "Invoking the Spirit: Religion and Spirituality in the Quest for a Sustainable World.
President Bush has heavily promoted his administration's faith-based plan, which he believes is necessary to eliminate the barriers now hindering religious-affiliated groups from participating in government-funded community and welfare services.
The EPA's Energy Star program is an energy-efficiency program directed at small business and religious institutions.
Even though Lawson conceded that the faith-based initiative was originally designed to address unmet social needs, he said the federal grant program can be expanded to include green causes.
"The original vision and the current vision [of faith-based initiatives] is still social services ... What I am doing and other people at EPA are doing is looking at the programs we have available today that can benefit faith-based groups," he said in an interview with CNSNews.com.
"Those of us at EPA and the environmental movement are recognizing that the faith community is also interested in the environment," Lawson said.
When asked how green causes could qualify for faith-based grants, he was open to suggestion.
"We are trying to figure that out at this time. I have become somewhat of a student of White House faith-based initiatives ... The money can't be used to proselytize or promote your religion, but the money can be used to meet objectives that EPA has out there anyway, such as addressing climate change or water pollution," Lawson explained.
"And you can work through your faith-based group to achieve these things," he added.
Gary Gardner, director of research at Worldwatch, thought Lawson's proposal was worthy of consideration.
"There is a role for the government to bring religious groups and environmental groups together," said Gardner, a sponsor of the meeting.
But Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the free-market environmental think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute, said using faith-based grants for environmental issues is contrary to President Bush's original intent.
"President Bush had the opposite in mind. He had a pro-people, pro-human agenda," Horner told CNSNews.com.
"If you look at green's agenda, it is all about suppressing economic growth, standards of living and therefore population," he explained.
"Bush is talking about social services, but the [environmentalist's] agenda is filled with a lot of loathing of the human species," Horner added.
He predicted that if the EPA is successful, there would be a rise in green advocacy groups suddenly "finding religion" in order to qualify for the grant money.
"I think it's obscene ... [Green groups] will simply add a Judeo-Christian face in order to provide themselves a deeper pocket," Horner said.
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