In hindsight, the year 1970 was a major turning point in the environmental movement. Across the nation, citizens worked together to solve the problems which had tormented our natural habitats. On April 22, the first Earth Day was observed, involving 10,000 schools, 2,000 colleges and universities and virtually every community in the United States. This outpouring of grassroots conviction and energy led to tangible results in the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. America's collective voice was heard over the backroom protests of corporate polluters, and positives results emerged. These gains were achieved because of the democratic nature of our country, as the will of the people was heeded by our representatives, and made into law. Twenty-five years have passed, and these popular legislative reforms are now on the brink of destruction. In one quarter of a century, our nation's leaders have succeeded in stumbling backwards, shirking their democratic, ethical, and moral obligations to both their constituents and our earth. It has been said that an economist knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. That appears to be the case of our government, obsessed with the short term economic virility of big business above all other concerns. It is the practice of the business leaders in this country to focus on the quick profit, a criticism sounded many times before in an effort to explain our recent slip from international economic preeminence. Destroying our environment through the stripping of natural resources, while providing temporary raw material stimulus, will have devastating long-term effects. Coupled with this economic environmental slaughter, and embodied in the "Reagan-omics" of the 80s, comes the dismantling of the legislation created in part by Earth Day 1970. Some important facts that you might not be aware of: In the U.S., only 10 percent of old growth forests still stand. More than 50 percent of our lakes and 30 percent of our rivers are not safe for fishing, swimming, and other uses. More than 163 million Americans now live in cities which violate federal air pollution standards and over 900,000 Americans get sick every year from drinking contaminated water. Finally, the U.S. alone generates 582 billion pounds of garbage every day. These grim statistics prove that 25 years have not solved anything, and the time is ripe for actions to save our environment. It may surprise you to know that our "representatives" in Washington are on the opposite track. On second thought, that should not surprise you at all. By using the rationale of "less government," the Reagan presidency formed a concerted attack on environmental protection. Vice President Bush's regulatory reform task force led the head of the EPA, Anne Gorsuch, to ease the burdens of government regulation on business by ending "unnecessary" regulation; also, inviting the regulated industries to take part in rule-making decisions. Environmentalists' hopes of a cooperative Clinton administration have been dashed, and the crisis exacerbated with the continuation of a complete lack of national leadership on environmental protection. Already, in the interest of deregulation, legislators have begun the process of impeding the use of Federal "unfunded mandates," the vehicle of implementation for major environmental policies. Last November the voters of America swept a GOP dominated Congress into power. Led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his "Contract With America," firm ideas were laid out along with a promise for legislative action within the all-important first 100 days. As it turns out, the legislation that would turn these ideas into policy will do nothing less than dismantle environmental laws and turn the "polluter pays" concept upside down. Is this really what the American public wanted when they placed into Speaker Gingrich's hands the power of our legislature? Apparently not. Jessica Mathews, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, reports a staggering 83 percent of those who voted in the November elections describe themselves as "an environmentalist." Nearly 40 percent call themselves strong or very strong environmentalists. Among the high school educated, conservative, white males (stereotypically unsympathetic to environmental concerns) -- only 18 percent say they are not environmentalists. These figures bring to light the environmental concerns of our public, and provide a strong base from which to charge the government with not acting in the interest of the people. Keep them in mind as you continue reading. The centerpiece of the near majority, the "Contract With America," is rapidly swinging into action -- as promised. Interestingly, a survey in December found that more than 70 percent of Americans say they know nothing about the contract, and the contract -- created with detailed polling -- is specific in not mentioning the word "environment." Regardless of the devastating impact the contract is capable of inflicting upon the environment, the term is not even used once. The main offending section of this contract is the "Job Creation and Wage Enhancement Act." The problem, among several others, is about the definition of private property rights. First, the proposed legislation would require the Government to compensate property owners if a Federal environmental law is found to reduce the property's value by more than 10 percent. Currently, the balance that exists between neighbors and the community at large limits what one can do with private property to ensure that it does not harm the larger public's right to health, clean air and water, and safety. The contract completely dismisses this balance. It would also require 23 new sets of cost analysis before any regulation could be issued. Together, these provisions will nearly eliminate the ability to impose most regulations concerning the environment, health and safety. This shifts the cost of pollution from the polluter to the public. A majority of those who voted for Mr. Gingrich's leadership of our government did not know that the health and safety of families, communities, and a nation would be sacrificed for big business. Furthermore, they could be held financially responsible for this potentially disastrous "Contract With America." A government of the people, by the people and for the people? I think not. There is no time to spare in this environmental crisis. Our leaders in Washington must understand the urgency and necessity of continued and improved environmental protection. The short-term rape of our natural resources and the pollution of our seas will only cripple the future of our economy. Apparently Mr.Gingrich has difficulty looking past his present-day goal of appeasing the American people before 1996. Those who strove to achieve protection of America's people and natural resources in 1970 need to be supported by this generation's ability to reach even greater heights. This weekend, student leaders and environmentalists are coming together to share ideas about Earth Day events, learn more about pressing environmental issues, and receive skill training. The situation calls for action, and this conference has received it loud and clear. It is not merely the desire for some of us to improve our environment, but rather the responsibility of this generation, to guarantee that our children do not have to fight for the basic, inalienable rights of health safety and a clean earth that we are in the process of defending. The situation is too dire, the consequences are unimaginable, and the time is now. Mathews describes the issue of children's welfare, labeled "Boys Town," as reversing our government into a 19th century debate about how best to care for children. "The Job Creation and Wage Enhancement Act would take us back to 19th century environmental protection, which is to say, none."Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.