TALKING IT OVER
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
April 19, 2000
In 1970, many of America's rivers and lakes were dying. Smog and toxic
waste threatened countless communities. Our wilderness system contained
only 12 million acres. And our cherished national symbol -- the bald eagle
-- was on the brink of extinction.
At least one member of Congress, Wisconsin's Gaylord Nelson, was frustrated
by the sense that the nation's elected leaders were far behind the American
people in environmental awareness. He felt the country needed a demonstration
of environmental concern dramatic enough to wake up the political establishment.
It was his idea to stage an event modeled on the anti-war teach-ins of the
1960s. On April 22, 1970, some 20 million Americans took part in the first
Earth Day -- a response that exceeded his wildest expectations.
This week, 500 million people around the world are expected to participate
in activities marking the 30th Earth Day. Here in Washington, the occasion
will be marked by a major event on the national Mall, calling for action
on global warming.
Elsewhere around the country, a wide variety of activities marking Earth
Day are planned. Residents of Trenton, Mich., will hold a prayer vigil outside
a dirty, coal-fired power plant. Elementary school students in Seattle will
present their hopes for the environment to local elected officials. And
in St. Louis, 150 members of The Earth Angels, an environmental group of
"at-risk" 7- to 12-year-olds, will take part in their city's Earth
Day Festival. In addition to planting 300 trees, they will unveil a 3-D
display of 79 everyday objects that convey different ways to save the Earth.
In Italy, more than 2,000 streets around the country will be closed to raise
awareness of air pollution and the need for better transportation options.
And in South Africa, residents will call for a national transition to cleaner
fuel production and clean energy technologies.
A lot has changed in the 30 years since Sen. Nelson came up with the idea
of Earth Day. Twice as many of our rivers and lakes are safe for fishing
and swimming. Millions more Americans enjoy clean air and safe drinking
water. Many of our worst toxic dumps have been cleaned up. Nearly 100 million
more acres are permanently protected as wilderness. And the bald eagle thrives
In 1995, Sen. Nelson's efforts to protect our planet earned him the nation's
highest civilian honor -- the Presidential Medal of Freedom. When my husband
bestowed the award, he said of the senator, "As the father of Earth
Day, he is the grandfather of all that grew out of that event -- the Environmental
Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking
Water Act." In fact, Congress passed some 20 major environmental laws
in the decade following April 22, 1970.
There are, of course, those committed to undermining environmental progress.
In 1995, certain members of Congress dedicated themselves to repealing key
provisions of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts, and
to slashing support for environmental enforcement and toxic cleanups. And
in each of the past three years, they have pursued their efforts to sacrifice
public lands to private interests.
But each time, the President and his administration have stood firm and
In the last seven years, this administration has achieved an unparalleled
record on the environment, including adoption of the strongest air quality
protections ever, and the cleanup of three times as many Superfund sites
as the two previous administrations combined. Just this week, to mark the
anniversary of Earth Day, the President traveled to California, where he
announced the creation of a new 350,000-acre national monument to protect
the groves of giant sequoia trees in the Sequoia National Forest.
Of course, if we care about the planet we leave for our children and grandchildren,
our job is not done.
The President's budget includes an unprecedented proposal that would ensure
ongoing support for his Lands Legacy initiative -- money that would help
states and communities protect wildlife and local green spaces, support
federal efforts to save natural and historic treasures, and expand efforts
to protect ocean and coastal resources.
And we must act now to tackle the greatest environmental challenge of the
new century -- global warming. The President has proposed funding to develop
clean energy sources at home and abroad, and to reduce the emission of greenhouse
gases. If we fail to take immediate action, the President warned in his
State of the Union Address, "deadly heat waves and droughts will become
more frequent, coastal areas will flood, and economies will be disrupted."
The American people, who have learned over the course of the last seven
years that a healthy environment and a healthy economy can go hand in hand,
care about these issues. Now, it is up to Congress to listen and respond.
As the world celebrates the 30th anniversary of Earth Day this week, let's
hope that our elected officials get the message: We want our planet protected
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns,
visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2000 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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