Thursday, April 22, 1999
Walking around this
park earlier today and enjoying not just the awesome vistas, but also the
smaller treasures, like the awakening Hickories and Oaks, and the blooming
Redbud and Serviceberry I thanked God that there were people who thought enough
of our land and our water to take steps to preserve the natural beauty of
America for future generations.
And I thought to myself: will my four children, and their
children, be able to stare with awe and wonder at the same things?
Today -- as we mark not only the 30th anniversary of Earth Day,
but also the very last Earth Day of the 20th Century -- we must ask ourselves:
will we have the courage to meet the great environmental challenges of the 21st
Century, just as Teddy Roosevelt and others set us on a course of conservation
and environmental reason in the 20th Century?
Can we make our air and water cleaner, and our food safer, even
as we grow our economy faster, and create high-paying jobs for our people?
At a time when environmental challenges now spill across
national borders, can we forge new worldwide coalitions to fight global
warming, and foster free and fair trade in ways that also advance environment
Will the 21st Century be the time when we finally right the
environmental wrongs of our past -- by cleaning up poisonous waste dumps and
abandoned lots in our communities, and creating more parks and playgrounds for
our children and families?
To me, these are more than public policy issues they are
profoundly moral issues. They speak to the very fabric of life itself -- the
lifeblood that connects our communities, the lifeline that binds us together
neighbor to neighbor, nation to nation, generation to generation.
These are lessons I learned at home. My earliest lessons on
environmental protection were about soil erosion on our family farm back in
Tennessee. I still remember clearly how important it is to stop a gully "before
it gets started good."
I also remember my mothers troubled response to Rachel Carsons
classic book, "Silent Spring," about the dangers of pesticides. It made me
think about threats to the environment that we cant even see and it made me
believe that by working together, we could protect and preserve our air and
Thats the idea that Earth Day was founded on back in 1970. And
weve made a lot of progress together the past 30 years. Today, our rivers and
lakes are cleaner. Our air is easier to breathe. DDT has been banned, and the
bald eagle is back. Weve reduced the amount of lead in our childrens blood.
Weve made recycling second nature. And weve increased by tenfold the number of
acres preserved as wilderness.
I've been proud to work alongside many of you -- since my
earliest days in Congress, to turn the goals of Earth Day into a reality:
whether it was working to pass the original Superfund law to clean up toxic
waste, promoting early research into global warming, or helping speed the
phase-out of chemicals that are eating away at the ozone layer.
Over the past six years, Ive been proud to lead a team with
President Clinton that has helped create not just the cleanest environment in a
generation, but the strongest economy in a generation.
Now we meet at a place today that represents both the triumph of
Earth Day and our continuing challenge. There are few parks where the beauty of
Gods creation is more evident than Shenandoah National Park.
In 1886, it was a sixteen-year-old named George Freeman Pollock
who realized that this place had a value far beyond the ore that could be mined
from its slopes something his fathers company had done years before. He
described what he saw this way: "cool, up among the clouds, sparkling springs,
glorious sunsets, majestic views." It was because of those stunning vistas that
his first camp, about 40 miles South of here, came to be known as "Skyland."
There are over 70 overlooks along the length of Skyline Drive. Shenandoah is
rightfully called a "park of views."
But here in Shenandoah and across America, we have more work to
do. The views that frame this extraordinary land are better than they were 30
years ago, but not as good as what they once were. The first surveyors here
said they could actually see the Washington Monument. Today, average visibility
is about 22 miles. During episodes of severe haze, it can drop below one mile.
In my beloved Great Smoky Mountains, which run through Tennessee, the natural
mistlike clouds for which they are named are routinely obscured by a veil of
pollutants. Even in one of Americas crown jewels, the Grand Canyon, the air no
longer carries the beauty of the Canyon -- it dulls it.
Air pollution does more than wash out crisp spring colors and
obscure landscapes, it threatens the health of our parks, and ultimately it
threatens our health as well.
Today, we are taking a major step forward to ensuring that all
Americans can see their national parks in all their natural splendor.
I am proud to announce today that we are launching a new
national strategy that builds on the many anti-pollution efforts already
underway -- including our tough smog and soot standards -- to restore the views
in 156 national parks and federal wilderness areas nationwide. As part of this
strategy, we will be working with states to create ten-year plans that will
meet real benchmarks and produce real progress in cleaning the air around our
national parks. Working in cooperation with the states and in collaboration
with industry and air quality experts, we will ensure that future generations
can see the Grand Canyon, Half Dome, and the Great Smoky Mountains just as the
first explorers did.
Cleaner air will make a difference to millions of children and
families. And there are other steps we must take right now, in this Congress.
I call on Congress to fully fund our Lands Legacy Initiative --
to protect and restoring natural and historic lands across our nation, such as
Civil War battlefields, remote stretches of the historic Lewis and Clark trail,
and additional lands in and around Mojave and Joshua Tree National Parks. It
will also help states and local communities protect the meadows and seashores
where our children play, the streams where we fish, and the rich farmland that
sustains our nation. Whats more, President Clinton and I are calling for
permanent funding of at least $1 billion a year to continue these efforts.
While we work to protect our land, we must also confront the
most profound environmental challenge of the coming century the challenge of
global warming. That means we need a global response to this global challenge,
which we have begun to forge. And we are continuing our work on the home front
as well. President Clinton and I are proposing a record $4 billion to expand
research into climate change, and provide new tax incentives for consumers and
businesses to purchase more energy-efficient cars, homes, and appliances.
Congress should pass our plan into law. We know that by acting now, we can meet
the challenges of global warming without economic cooling.
But that is just beginning of what we must do to honor the
meaning of Earth Day, and to deepen it for a new century.
One hundred years from now, when our great grandchildren gather
to mark the last Earth Day of the 21st Century, I want them to say that we were
thinking of their time with the same vision, the same dedication, and the same
commitment as people like Teddy Roosevelt thought of our time.
I want them to know that we closed the chapter on 30 years of
Earth Day not by looking back, but by looking forward
To a 21st Century where we invest in new technologies that
actually create high-paying jobs while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and
making our products more energy-efficient.
To a 21st Century where we have parks instead of poison in every
community and a clean environment and a high quality of life are a source of
dynamism, attracting new businesses and families.
To a 21st Century where not a single child has to worry if the
water he or she drinks or the air he or she breaths is safe.
That is the 21st Century I want to help create. Because God only
created this one earth. And if we live up to our obligation to protect and
sustain it, it will be ours to cherish and enjoy for centuries to come. Thank