Prominent religious leaders and educators in the United States, in an “open statement” to policymakers last week, signaled their opposition to the expansion of oil and natural gas drilling on public lands.

The statement, which was signed by more than 70 religious leaders and educators, was sent to outgoing Interior Secretary Gale Norton, state Bureau of Land Management offices in the Rocky Mountain region and to members of congressional committees with jurisdiction over energy issues. The effort was organized by the National Council of Churches USA, which represents a wide spectrum of Christian-based faiths in the U.S.

“We are concerned by the recent surge in energy development on public lands. Oil and gas drilling — with its requisite network of drill pads, pipelines and roads — can present a major threat to the health of public lands and wild places,” Episcopal, United Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Unitarian and Baptist leaders and representatives of other faiths told key policymakers.

“As people of faith, we are called to manage God’s lands justly…not as a commodity to be exploited or reserved for a privileged few. We also believe that stewardship of the land is a responsibility shared by all citizens and leaders.”

The religious leaders called on policymakers to “exercise prudence” when making decisions about energy development on public lands, and to “err on the side of caution” when in doubt about the environmental consequences of expanded energy development. They urged state and federal officials to embrace energy conservation and renewable energy resources over fossil fuel development to “reduce pressure” on public lands.

“We join our voices to call for a new ethic for management of public lands,” the religious leaders wrote. “We must consider the impact of energy development, such as damage caused by oil and gas drilling. We cannot remain silent about poor stewardship of these lands held in the public trust,” said Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches USA.

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