Evangelical group holds firm on ‘pro-life’ link to EPA rule

A green evangelical group won’t bow to conservative anti-abortion-rights leaders or Republicans who are pressuring them to stop casting support for new EPA pollution rules as a “pro-life” position.

The Environmental Evangelical Network (EEN) is under attack from the religious right over its campaign in favor of EPA’s new restrictions on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants — rules the EEN calls vital to protecting the health of the unborn.

Alexei Laushkin, an EEN spokesman, said in an interview Thursday that the group won’t back off the way it frames support for the rules issued late last year.

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“We believe protecting the unborn from mercury poisoning is a consistent pro-life position,” he said. “An issue that impacts the unborn – that’s where we resonate as a pro-life organization.”

Laushkin noted the group’s work with the National Association of Evangelicals and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in support of cutting mercury emissions.

EEN, in a statement, noted that its position is to protect the unborn from both abortion and “pollution that will harm their quality of life.”

The group, whose president testified in favor of EPA’s rules on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, is under attack from Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser and a suite of other prominent religious conservatives.

The 30-plus religious-right advocates, in a joint statement Wednesday, said that “most environmental causes promoted as pro-life involve little threat to human life itself, and no intent to kill anyone.”

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) criticized the Rev. Mitch Hescox, EEN’s president, at Wednesday’s House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the EPA rule, which Republicans and some business groups call burdensome.

"The 'life' in 'pro-life' denotes not the quality of life, but life itself. The term denotes opposition to a procedure that intentionally results in dead babies," said Shimkus, echoing the statement from the conservative leaders.

Sen. James InhofeJames InhofeFunding bill rejected as shutdown nears Senate Dems: Add Flint aid to spending deal Shutdown risk grows over Flint MORE (R-Okla.), a persistent critic of EPA regulations, also joined the religious-right leaders in bashing EEN's campaign.

The controversy has added a new wrinkle to the battle over EPA’s power plant rule.

Republicans are continuing to attack the regulation after the House voted last year to scuttle it (the Senate didn’t follow suit).

EEN’s campaign in favor of the regulations has included TV ads, radio spots and billboards that urge lawmakers — including several pro-life senators — to defend the rule because it protects the unborn.

Mercury harms the nervous systems of children exposed in the womb and can impair learning and early development, among other harms associated with emissions of the toxic substance, according to EPA.

"EEN strongly disagrees with Rep. Shimkus that being pro-life does not include one's quality of life," Hescox said in a statement.