For the last 35 years, since Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970, we have come together as a global community to celebrate our planet and recognize the importance of a clean and healthy environment. The theme of Earth Day this year, “Protect Our Children and Our Future,” is an important reminder that our responsibility to build a cleaner, healthier and safer world is a long-term commitment to our children and the planet they will inherit.
The Bay Area has long been a beacon of leadership on environmental issues, where people know that protecting our planet and our environment is a year-round commitment.
In my district, businesses in Oakland, Berkeley and Albany have been working with public and private agencies to develop green business models, using cost-saving measures that reduce waste, conserve resources and add to their bottom line.
In West Oakland, community residents, environmental groups, businesses, public agencies and elected officials are taking a collaborative approach to improving air quality and reducing asthma rates among local residents.
These creative, collaborative efforts are examples of the sort of forward-thinking work going on in the Bay Area and around the country that should be informing our nation’s environmental policies.
Sadly, that far-sighted vision is not shared by the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress, who continue to prioritize short-term corporate profits over the long-term health and safety of our children and the world they will live in.
Just this week in the House of Representatives, we voted on an environmentally irresponsible energy bill that was conceived by and for the energy industry in secret meetings with Vice President Cheney.
Instead of encouraging the development of clean, renewable energy, this pro-polluter piece of legislation gives over $37 billion in tax breaks and subsidies to the oil, nuclear and coal industries; opens up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other pristine public lands and coastal areas to oil and gas drilling; and endangers the public health by postponing the ban on MTBE and eliminating the product liability for the companies that produced it.
The fact is, in the four years that President Bush has been in office, he has put together one of the worst environmental track records of any president in modern-day history. Instead of declaring and ensuring that no mother should have to worry about her children getting asthma, or that no company who pollutes our air, our land or our water will escape prosecution, or that no soldier should have to be deployed to the Middle East to be sacrificed for oil—he has done exactly the opposite.
President Bush has rolled back countless environmental regulations designed to prevent pollution, weakening the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. He has consistently slashed funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, undermining its core function to protect our health and the environment, and he has lobbied for massive giveaways of public lands and resources to the energy extraction and logging industries.
In effect, the Bush administration has been an environmental disaster.
We need to change the dynamic in Washington. Instead of putting big business first, we need to put our children’s health first. We need to defend and protect the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. We need to protect critical habitats, and endangered species. And we need to empower the EPA to do its job.
Let’s use the energy and dedication of Earth Day to recommit ourselves to changing that dynamic, so that in the future, when we celebrate Earth Day, we will be celebrating our successes in defending the environment, protecting our children’s health and securing our nation’s future.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee represents California’s Ninth District.ô