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Public Statements

Earth Day

Location: Washington, DC

EARTH DAY -- (House of Representatives - April 22, 2004)


Mr. KIND. Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend and colleague from Oregon for, first of all, taking time this evening for this Special Order to commemorate the 34th anniversary of Earth Day, and for the leadership he has shown on a variety of conservation and environmental measures that we have a chance to work on in the United States Congress.

But I want to take a moment to pay a special tribute and give special thanks to a terrific statesman, a former Governor and former United States Senator from the great State of Wisconsin, the father of Earth Day, Senator Gaylord Nelson.

It was his vision that led to the first Earth Day in our country over 34 years ago. During his maiden speech in the United States Senate, he came out with 11 specific proposals on policy changes that we needed to pursue as a Nation in order to enhance the protection and the quality of our environment and our natural resources.

He was one of the first public officials that recognized that economic growth and development could go hand in hand with the protection of our natural resources and the protection of our environment; that they did not have to be mutually exclusive.

But he also recognized that public opinion was way ahead of public officials in this area; that it was the policymakers that needed to catch up with where the American people were; and recognizing the value of doing a better job, of being the stewards of our lands and our water and our air that we breathe, the environment in which we raise our children; and it is to him we owe a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.

This is a person who today if you talked to him, and he is still very active in the environmental field, working at the Wilderness Society here in Washington, delivering countless speeches every year, traveling extensively throughout the United States and parts of the world, who would probably be a little surprised to realize that last year, during the 33rd anniversary of Earth Day, there were hundreds of millions of people in over 180 countries all joining together to celebrate Earth Day, something that he gave birth to.

He is also someone that recognizes that there is still so much more work that needs to be done. He has been invaluable to me personally with the conversations that I have had, the privilege of going to him for advice, whether it is on work and how better to preserve and protect the Mississippi River Basin, what we can do to guard against the global warming phenomena, which generations, unfortunately, will have to wrestle with today, and the unfinished business he left when he left the United States Senate many years ago, which is our calling today.

There was a very good biography written about Senator Gaylord Nelson by a very talented former journalist and writer in Wisconsin, Bill Christopherson, entitled The Man From Clear Lake. That is the small town in which Gaylord Nelson was born and raised in. It is in northwestern Wisconsin, and it is small-town America. It is not too far from my wife's small town of Cumberland, where she was born and raised.

But Gaylord Nelson is living testimony to the idea that one person with a great idea can have a profound change in the direction of our Nation and of the world. It was that idea of what we needed to do in working together, those of us in decision-making positions, but also all of us as citizens of this planet of ours, what we can do working together to better preserve and protect the natural resources so we leave a better legacy for our children to inherit.

I come from a State with a very proud legacy of giants, like Gaylord Nelson, like Bill Proxmire, like Fighting Bob LaFollette, that gave birth to the progressive tradition in this country. But there is no one who I have idolized with greater esteem or have greater admiration for than that man from the small town of Clear Lake, Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, and the idea that he gave the Nation and the world 34 years ago today in envisioning the need for Earth Day celebrations, and the constant reminder to us that there is so much that we need to do to protect our environment, especially during challenging days like today when, unfortunately, there is an administration in power that seems quick to roll back much of the progress and much of the achievement that has been made over the last few decades, rolling back provisions of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts; releasing those 5 p.m. press releases from the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday afternoons when they think no one is paying attention or when people are starting their weekends or going to their Friday night dinners or whatever.

But it is up to us to shed light on what is taking place, and it is up to us to try to foster the bipartisan atmosphere in which we have to work in order to make great strides in this area.

So, again, I thank my colleague from Oregon for yielding me some time on this very special day and for the opportunity to pay tribute to a very special American, a great citizen, former Senator Gaylord Nelson.


Mr. KIND. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in commemoration of the 34th anniversary of Earth Day. Started in 1970 by Wisconsin's own Senator Gaylord Nelson, this annual celebration marks the birth of the modern environmental movement.

For much of the 20th century, people accepted pollution as the inevitable price of progress. That began to change in the early 1960s. In 1970, when Senator Nelson saw that few U.S. leaders were paying attention to public concern about the environment, he announced a series of teach-ins across the country to be held on April 22. That year, 20 million people participated in the first Earth Day.

Soon after, the Congress passed and President Nixon signed a series of unprecedented laws creating the Environmental Protection Agency, establishing national limits for air and water pollutants, and requiring environmental impact assessments before federally funded projects could begin.

Sadly, the current administration seems to be doing all it can to reverse decades of bipartisan progress on the environment at the behest of large special interests. Landmark legislation that has successfully protected the public health such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act are under assault.

It would appear that Senator Nelson's visionary efforts to build a grassroots movement to demonstrate the public's insistence on a clean and healthy environment for themselves and future generations, is needed as much today as it was 34 years ago.

And, in fact, Earth Day continues to be an event that unites people concerned about their environment, and who strive to protect it for our children's future. Last year, hundreds of millions of people in more than 180 countries around the world came together to celebrate the progress that has been made over the past 33 years.

Today, the vast majority of Americans do not believe that pollution is a necessary price for our progress, and want clean air, clean water and pristine public lands for their children. People want their government to improve, rather than undermine our country's public health and environmental protections. Instead of taking steps backwards, I urge the President to engage in the bipartisan work needed to build on a positive environmental agenda that Senator Gaylord Nelson envisioned when he started Earth Day.


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