On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day, 25 million people joined around the country to demand a safer, cleaner and healthier world. The impact of this global environmental awareness day was astonishing. In large part due to raising the public’s awareness, with large, bipartisan majorities, Congress passed in rapid succession of landmark environmental laws: the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and the Superfund Act.
Thanks to these policies, thirty-six years later, the American people enjoy cleaner air, safer drinking water, rivers that no longer catch fire, and our national emblem, the bald eagle, is back from the brink of extinction. But despite the public good that has come from enactment of these landmark laws, they have been under attack in recent years by a Republican controlled Congress and White House looking to put short term economic interests over that of the environment. Under their leadership, the threat of global warming, perhaps the most pressing environmental issue with the greatest potential impact for the future of humanity went largely ignored.
The outdated energy policies continue to be advanced that rely almost exclusively on boosting production of fossil fuels, much of it on environmentally sensitive public land while cleaner renewables and conservation receive only token investment. Over the last five years, the dependence of the U.S. on oil imported from other countries, including countries in unstable parts of the world, has grown – rather than decreased.
But after last November’s election ushering in a new Democratic Congress, there is hope for our country to pursue a new, “greener” strategy for the 21st century. The critically important environmental goals of: moving towards energy independence by dramatic investments in clean, sustainable energy; promoting our Clean Air protections; promoting our Clean Water protections; and protecting our national parks, national forests, and other public lands look to be at the forefront of a new environmental agenda.
Speaker Pelosi has already created a new Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming which is preparing to hold hearings and investigations locally, nationally, and internationally to gather the information needed to protect our national security and the environment. The committee will recommend to the Congress policies, strategies, technologies and other innovations to reduce our country’s dependence on fossil fuels and prevent global warming.
This year, as we celebrate the 36th Earth Day, we must look to the achievements that have been made since that momentous day in April of 1970 as inspiration for what a nation can do when it puts its mind to achieving positive results. Preserving our environment for future generations, those of our children and grandchildren should be one of our foremost goals. With a Congress willing to bring about a new direction in environmental policy, the future is looking greener.