Eric Backus Testimony at EPA Hearing

Testimony of Erik C. Backus on the EPA Clean Power Plan

30 July 2014, 7:45 pm


Good Evening ladies and gentlemen.  [if not introduced, or having to recite it for the record:  I am Erik Backus, a resident of Burke, Virginia].  This evening I am representing Lutherans Restoring Creation, a grassroots organization supporting efforts to care for creation among the members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  As you will hear in my testimony, I am a man who wears many hats, but when it comes to the issues of the world, its goodness, and our role as care takers of it, I am called deeply by my faith to speak out and to take action.  As a professional engineer, and contrary to popular opinion, I hold faith both in our creator as well as science to explain the creation that has been provided.


Let me begin with a dialogue between “an expert of the law” and Jesus in the 10th Chapter of Luke’s gospel:


Jesus asks “What is written in the Law?” … “How do you read it?”

He [the legal expert] answered, “Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“You have answered correctly.” Jesus replied, “Do this and you will live.” [1]


This should not be foreign to any of our ears; it’s the citation for the Golden Rule.  And we know from any study of the religions of the world and schools of philosophy, the vast majority have this precise tenant within them.  But for me, it is personal to my core, that we as humanity heed these words carefully.  And for me our call to care for creation stems directly from our call to care for our neighbor and to obey our orders to take care of creation so we are able to live and thrive for generations to come.


As a boy from Upstate New York, I can speak to the impact of this in my own life.  I lived in Liverpool, NY, a village that resided next to the most polluted body of water in the world; Onondaga Lake[2].  Syracuse and Liverpool were well known for their history as the “Salt City” because of the production of salt that was shipped world-wide from the beds that resided next to this lake.  But by the time I was growing up there, you couldn’t swim in the lake, fish in the lake, or practically think about touching its waters (never mind the stink that came off the lake each summer), because of decades of dumping raw sewage from Syracuse’s combined sewer system and the dumping of around 6 million pounds of salty wastes per day[3] by chemical industries that lined the southern edge of the lake.  The costs were devastating to the lake, to the people around it then, but even more so today when those once powerful industries (and the jobs that came with them) are but a mere memory, leaving over $450M in costs[4] to implement an engineered clean-up of the lake.[5]  I have learned from this first-hand experience, that our failure to perform as God’s charged caretakers of this earth, leads to devastating and costly consequences.


Today we are considering the EPA’s proposed rule[6] that will effect existing power plants in the United States.  We have a chance to stem the tide of damage we are currently doing to our environment through the emission of carbon into our atmosphere.  Just like in Onondaga Lake, where perpetual waste dumping had a real and tangible detrimental effect on the environment I grew up in, our insatiable dumping of carbon is having effects on every part of our lives.  Sea levels are rising[7], ice shelves are breaking off[8], desertification is on the rise[9], and more and more people and property are effected by severe weather the world round, and right here at home[10].  As former Treasury Secretaries Hank Paulson and Robert Rubin have said[11], we cannot afford to repeat the failures of the past, we must learn from those costly errors and do something while we can.  This proposed Clean Power Plan represents just that, a chance to do better.


In closing, I want come back to my place and my person.  Two weeks ago I sat with a group of faith leaders[12] talking to US Senator Mark Warner about this proposed rule.  And what he said struck me.  He said we need to see also the plight and challenge this rule will bring to people in places like southwest Virginia.  To that point I agree.  I have a fellow battle buddy, who served with me in Iraq[13], doing everything he can to help the people of Logan County and the 3rd Congressional District of West Virginia[14].  He ran and lost his primary, but had a huge impact.  Why?  Because he centered his campaign not on the desires of the coal companies, but on the coal workers.  He saw the need to give them opportunities and options in their lives that moved them from their coal dependent past to the future of innovation and entrepreneurship.  And he made his case that it was time to have leadership that takes risks and makes keen investments in new technologies to see a fruitful future[15].  To me this is all about loving our neighbor and being American.  We have proven time and time again, that as a people we can overcome obstacles; we merely need to see the path forward[16].  This rule, the Clean Power Plan, sets before us such a path; it will stir innovation[17] and drive the next great wave of American energy ingenuity.  I pray for this rule to go forward and that we come together to help build a more sustainable planet for each generation to come.


Thank you.

[1] Citation from the New International Version, 1984

[2] This lake and Lake Baikal in the Soviet Union/Russia swapped places in my life time for this dubious distinction.  Not insignificantly, Onondaga is named after the Haudenosaunee (or Iroquois) Nation, deriving its meaning and name from “The Great Peacemaker” and Lake Baikal’s name derives from Mongolian and means “nature lake”.

[3] Cited from the Onondaga Lake Partnership website,, retrieved on July 26, 2014.

[4] Cited from the Onondaga Lake Partnership website,, retrieved on July 26, 2014.

[5] As a registered Professional Engineer (MO 2005000948) I can speak more to the solution discussed here and the potential additional cost that may yet be realized.

[6] Specifically, the EPA Clean Power Plan, June 2, 2014,

[7] See NOAA’s sea level trends:

[10] See the American Meteorology Society paper on this topic:

[11] See “Risky Business: A Climate Risk Assessment for the United States”, June 2014

[12] As a part of a group organized by Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light.  I also participate regionally as a part of the ELCA Metro DC Synod Creation Care team and as a member of the Community Council of the Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions in Fairfax County, VA

[13] MAJ(R) Richard Ojeda and I served in Iraq during the surge, from 2007-2008.  I still serve as an Army Reservist.

[14] Richard Ojeda, “OJ” received 34% of the vote in the primary in his first ever race.  For an unknown running against a 20 year veteran of the Congress, getting 1/3 of the vote is significant.

[16] For example, World War II

[17] Innovations can certainly include those that have been already researched:

Note also work being done at institutions like George Mason University where I work as the Engineering Planner for all Campuses and Sites of that Institution.