GA 2010: Gulf oil spill “new business” for General Assembly committee

MINNEAPOLIS -- “There’s a need for the church to address the environmental catastrophe in the gulf and our Christian response to it,” said Amber Ellington, Theological Student Advisory Delegate (TSAD) from McCormick Theological Seminary.

Ellington brought “Proposed Actions Regarding Deep Water Horizon Oil Disaster,” new business, to General Assembly Committee 11: Social Justice Issues B: the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the World. In order, to pass, new business brought to an assembly committee must receive a three-fourths vote. The vote was unanimous.

The oil disaster recommendation directs the moderator of the 219th General Assembly to send condolences to each of the families of the workers who lost their lives in the explosion of the Deep Water Horizon oil rig, directs the General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC) to make a one-time special fundraising appeal to support long-term recovery efforts, directs the stated clerk to write a letter to the CEO of British Petroleum urging BP to insure the safety of all workers, directs the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) to communicate with oil and gas companies urging them to conduct a thorough review of operations, and seeks to work in partnership with local impacted communities.

This “working in partnership” with local communities is a response to requests from those communities themselves and includes developing sustainable subsistence food supplies, equipping community members with the knowledge and technology to monitor water, air and soil quality, and supporting the creation of sustainable green jobs for those who have lost their livelihoods due to the oil disaster.

The new business brought before Committee 11 also urges the Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C. to urge Congress and the executive branch to hold BP and other responsible parties morally and financially accountable for this disaster and for the socio-economic and environmental recovery.

Initially the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) had included a statement regarding the oil spill as an amendment to item 11-03, On Making Resources Available Regarding Destruction and Loss of Coastal Wetlands. The committee decided to split these two issues, also passing 11-03 without including the oil spill, and adding the new business to address it. The ACSWP Advice and Counsel included a request to call on Congress and President Barack Obama to stop offshore drilling and exploration in the Gulf Coast region. During open hearings Jean Marie Peacock, associate presbyter of South Louisiana Presbytery urged the committee not to amend the initial overture, suggesting that a moratorium on oil drilling would drastically change the intent of the overture.

Marvin Grope, interim general presbyter for South Louisiana echoed this concern. “The areas of oil drilling and fishing are intertwined, with the same people doing both occupations, and both have been taken away from these folks,” said Grope. “I cannot imagine what it would be like to go back to the Presbytery of Southern Louisiana if we were to approve a moratorium on oil drilling, because it is their livelihood.”

The committee’s recommendations will be presented to the whole General Assembly later in the week for its affirmative or negative votes during plenary session.