Today is the 35th anniversary of the first Earth Day in 1970. For those of us working to protect the environment, we hear a lot of bad news about the state of our air, water, and habitats. Earth Day is a good day to look back and acknowledge all the progress that we’ve made since 1970.
Here’s a short list of major Illinois victories to be proud of:
-No more dangerous levels of lead in Chicago’s air
-New parks and refuges like the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie
-No more nutrient pollution of Lake Michigan
-No more garbage incineration in Illinois
-Once-endangered populations of species like the Bald Eagle and the River Otter returning to healthy levels
-Going from a statewide recycling rate of virtually zero to 37%
And the list goes on.
Not a bad record of accomplishment, and many people and institutions share the credit - citizens for changing behavior and subsidizing government programs; business for investing in pollution controls.
Also crucial to this progress has been a partnership between the state and federal government. Generally the federal government sets minimum standards and the states ensure that they are met in the most efficient way.
Now this partnership is in trouble. The Bush Administration is proposing to weaken key requirements of the Clean Air Act, and has stopped protecting over half of Illinois’ remaining wetlands. Congress is poised to pass an energy policy that subsidizes oil, nuclear, and coal companies.
It used to be that states like Illinois were forced to protect the environment, or face the threat of the feds coming down on them and revoking their authority. Increasingly, however, Illinois needs to protect our air and water because it’s the right thing for our health and for the future, not merely a requirement of federal law.
Our leaders – Governor Blagojevich, Attorney General Madigan, and the General Assembly now, more than ever, are responsible for making our air and water safe.
In this space, we’ll talk about efforts to upgrade Illinois’ environmental protection policies. I’ll highlight the work that Sierra Club volunteers are doing around Illinois to build support for environmental protection, and pass on opportunities for new people to get involved. During legislative session, we’ll have updates from the Capitol on pollution control and conservation legislation. We’ll talk about the intersection of politics and the environment as we head into a big election year in 2006.
I welcome your comments and your input. And, at least for today, be proud of what we’ve all done so far.