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Public Statements

Gaylord Nelson And Earth Day

Location: Washington DC


Mr. KOHL. Madam President, today I rise to recognize one of our most prominent Wisconsinites, Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, the man who fundamentally changed the way American people view the environment.

Before Gaylord Nelson came along, pollution and ecology were fringe subjects, a concern of only a few academics. After Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day in 1970, environmental issues exploded into our public debate. In that first year, almost 20 million people participated in Earth Day events-an instant success. By last year, 500 million people in 167 countries took part in Earth Day, spreading the message of environmental stewardship.

Earth Day laid the foundation for landmark environmental legislation. All over the country, Americans heard about the dangers of lead in our water, pesticides in our drinking water, and chemicals in our soil. An informed public brought pressure on Congress and the President to act. The movement that started that first Earth Day led to the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and Superfund legislation. These are the foundations of environmental law today, and they would not have been possible without the work and the vision of Senator Gaylord Nelson.

That vision is still necessary today as we struggle to complete the work Gaylord Nelson started in 1970. Congress and the administration still must address arsenic in the water, mercury in the air, and the impact of outdated coal-burning powerplants, just to name a few outstanding environmental problems.

Gaylord Nelson's dream is not yet a reality, but it is worth fighting for, as is so much Gaylord Nelson has championed.

Senator Nelson entered public service in 1948 after serving 4 years in the military during World War II. He served as a Wisconsin State senator, Governor, and then as a U.S. Senator for 18 years. As Governor, he was known for conservation efforts and preserving wetlands long before those causes became popular nationally. As a Senator, he built on his environmental reputation to further issues, including the preservation of the Appalachian Trail corridor and the creation of a national trail system.

While he left the Government in 1981, Gaylord Nelson never stopped fighting for the environment. He joined the Wilderness Society where he has worked tirelessly ever since. Even today at age 87, he is an active advocate for fragile lands around the country.

This year, Earth Day is a reminder of how much progress we have made and how much further we have yet to go. In the 1970s, the symbol of environmental decay was the burning Cuyahoga River, a waterway turned into a drainage ditch for industry. While Cleveland suffered much ridicule for that ecological disaster, they were not alone. At that time, our natural resources were being squandered and scarred in community after community.

Today such obvious examples of irresponsibility are harder to find. Now we struggle with pollution that is more diffuse and harder to track, but still dangerous. In Wisconsin, our northern lakes contain so much mercury the fish caught there are often unsafe to eat. And in the southeastern part of my State, the air is contaminated with pollutants, many of which traveled hundreds of miles before impacting our environment.

Challenges such as these require everyone in the region, the country, and even the world to work together to lower emissions and limit discharge. Global connectedness was what the original Earth Day was all about, and that message still needs to be heard today. Gaylord Nelson wanted us all to realize we could not escape the consequences of pollution by burying our garbage somewhere else or sending it up ever taller smokestacks.

Earth Day also reminds us we need to work internationally. We need to engage developing economies, such as China, India, and Russia, to head off major environmental disasters. We are not on this planet alone, and we can no longer pretend environmental damage around the globe does not come back to haunt us here at home. Senator Nelson understood that lesson almost 40 years ago, and he has been teaching it to the rest of us ever since.

We have made progress in heeding Gaylord Nelson's call to action over the last 34 years. Water quality is better off than it was in 1970. Many dangerous toxins are off the market, and some large environmental disasters of the past are clean today. But we certainly are not ready to declare we do not need Earth Day anymore, and we are not ready to let Gaylord Nelson retire. We are more aware today of the global and long-term impact our actions have on our Earth, and with that greater awareness comes a greater responsibility to leave the planet cleaner and healthier.

Earth Day is an opportunity for Members of Congress to recommit ourselves to that goal, and Earth Day is a day to thank Gaylord Nelson for focusing us on how we impact the environment that sustains us and the legacy we owe to the generations that follow us.

Thank you, Madam President. I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Nevada.

Mr. REID. Madam President, there is no one here from the majority. I know this is time that has been set aside for morning business, and we have assigned speakers on this side. Senator Durbin came over early this morning and expressed a desire to speak regarding Mary McGrory, who was a friend of a number of people in this body and thousands of people around the country. Senator Dorgan also came here to speak on her behalf. We have some extra time now.

Since there is no one here-and if the majority needs additional time, we will give that to them-I ask unanimous consent that there be an additional 10 minutes in morning business so that Senators on this side may speak about Mary McGrory. We also add that time in morning business for the majority. That will be an additional 20 minutes if, in fact, the majority wants that time.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
The Senator from Illinois.

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