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Kohl Column on Earth Day


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The first Earth Day was observed in 1970 and was the brainchild of Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson. In a time before the Clean Water Act and fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, Senator Nelson organized Earth Day with a simple goal -- to raise public awareness about environmental problems and bring those issues to the national political agenda. While we have made progress on environmental issues in the 38 years since the first Earth Day, much work still remains.

This Earth Day, we face dwindling natural resources, the challenge of preserving our country's incredible natural beauty, and the threat of global warming. To find solutions to these problems, we have to avoid the gridlock of partisan politics and find common ground and bipartisan solutions.

Recently, my colleagues and I in Congress took an important step towards protecting our environment, as well as our economy and national security, by passing into law the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. This legislation raises the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for cars and light trucks to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, the first increase in our fuel efficiency standards since 1978. Increasing CAFE standards is a critical step towards reducing pollution and curbing greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. Additionally, higher CAFE standards will benefit families in Wisconsin and across the country who will have to fill their gas tank less often. The money saved can help working families afford necessities such as food, health care, and housing. I believe we can reach that goal without jeopardizing jobs or safety.

The Energy Independence and Security Act also provides a much needed boost to the economy by creating jobs and helping households save money. I am pleased that this bill included provisions of the Green Jobs Act, which will provide grants to train our workforce for new "green-collar" jobs. This is a great example of when Congress and the President can work together to craft a law that helps the United States become more energy efficient in a cost effective and responsible way.

Here in Wisconsin, we are blessed with some of our country's most beautiful natural splendors and critical resources, but we cannot take them for granted. Wisconsin is a great place to live and we owe it to future generations to keep it that way. I have worked hard in the Senate to advance many environmental initiatives that would benefit our state.

As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I have worked to direct funding to Wisconsin cities and towns for critical water-related projects, including removing radium from our water supply and constructing new wastewater facilities. I have been able to secure $7.5 million in federal funding to help develop the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. When complete, hikers can explore and enjoy a 1,200-mile footpath with some of the world's finest examples of glacial features. The trail will create recreational opportunities in 31 Wisconsin counties. It will become one of eight National Scenic Trails in the United States.

Our conservation efforts in Wisconsin demonstrate what we can accomplish when government works with farmers to preserve their land. The Conservation Reserve Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program are two excellent examples of these efforts. These programs compensate farmers for their efforts to restore their land to its natural condition. These program help preserve millions of acres of magnificent country across the United States. Although some have tried to cut funding for these programs or eliminate them completely, I have fought successfully to make sure funding continues for these valuable conservation efforts.

As we look ahead, this Congress faces important decisions on environmental issues. While the Energy bill Congress passed in 2007 was a good first step, more work must be done to ensure our energy security and to protect our environment, particularly in the area of renewable energy. Congress missed an opportunity by failing to increase our use of renewable energy technologies. Such a step would have dramatically diversified our nation's energy portfolio. I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress on both sides of the aisle to pass legislation building incentives for the development and use of clean, renewable energy.

I am pleased to continue the legacy of Senator Nelson. Wisconsinites have a long tradition of being stewards to the land -- guarding it for future generations, and this Earth Day that is more important than ever.

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