WASHINGTON - In a bid to bolster the Obama administration's "moral" case for combating climate change, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency will meet senior Vatican officials Friday to enlist papal support for its policies.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said Pope Francis, who has become a vocal climate advocate since his 2013 election, can be an ally for President Barack Obama's Climate Action Plan.
"As one of the world's most respected and influential leaders, Pope Francis, and those who advise him, will play a crucial part in advancing climate change [action] domestically and overseas,'' McCarthy, a Roman Catholic, said in an e-mail.
This marks the second time the administration has sought the Vatican's help on a controversial issue. The pope helped mediate the effort by the United States and Cuba to reopen diplomatic relations.
Francis has become an emerging voice on climate change, saying on a recent trip to the typhoon-vulnerable Philippines that "man has gone too far damaging the environment."
The EPA is finalizing a series of regulations targeting carbon emissions and air pollution amid strong resistance from the Republican-led Congress and industry.
To counter that, McCarthy has done extensive public outreach to win support for EPA proposals, touting their economic and public health benefits. She said the pope could help make her case.
"Focusing our attention on the communities that need it most is at the core of EPA's mission to protect public health and the environment, and there is no voice more credible than the church's to speak to our moral obligation as stewards of our planet,'' McCarthy said.
In June, the pope is expected to issue an encyclical on environmental degradation and its effects on millions of people, especially the world's poorest. The encyclical is aimed at pressuring world leaders to secure a United Nations climate agreement in Paris next December that would require rich and poor countries to halt, slow or slash their carbon emissions.
Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, said the encyclical will "add some wind to the sails'' of the Paris talks.
"What he says carries significant weight as he tries to live what he teaches," Misleh said. "There is moral authority to Pope Francis that is undeniable."
Added John Grim, a director of Yale University's Forum on Religion and Ecology: "It is very appropriate that Gina McCarthy is visiting with the pope. Francis I is so widely respected that he will change the dialog on this issue.''