SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK,
FRONT ROYAL, VIRGINIA
Thursday, April 22, 1999
And I thought to myself: will my four children, and their children, be able to stare with awe and wonder at the same things?
Today -- as we mark not only the 30th anniversary of Earth Day, but also the very last Earth Day of the 20th Century -- we must ask ourselves: will we have the courage to meet the great environmental challenges of the 21st Century, just as Teddy Roosevelt and others set us on a course of conservation and environmental reason in the 20th Century?
Can we make our air and water cleaner, and our food safer, even as we grow our economy faster, and create high-paying jobs for our people?
At a time when environmental challenges now spill across national borders, can we forge new worldwide coalitions to fight global warming, and foster free and fair trade in ways that also advance environment protection?
Will the 21st Century be the time when we finally right the environmental wrongs of our past -- by cleaning up poisonous waste dumps and abandoned lots in our communities, and creating more parks and playgrounds for our children and families?
To me, these are more than public policy issues they are profoundly moral issues. They speak to the very fabric of life itself -- the lifeblood that connects our communities, the lifeline that binds us together neighbor to neighbor, nation to nation, generation to generation.
These are lessons I learned at home. My earliest lessons on environmental protection were about soil erosion on our family farm back in Tennessee. I still remember clearly how important it is to stop a gully "before it gets started good."
I also remember my mothers troubled response to Rachel Carsons classic book, "Silent Spring," about the dangers of pesticides. It made me think about threats to the environment that we cant even see and it made me believe that by working together, we could protect and preserve our air and water.
Thats the idea that Earth Day was founded on back in 1970. And weve made a lot of progress together the past 30 years. Today, our rivers and lakes are cleaner. Our air is easier to breathe. DDT has been banned, and the bald eagle is back. Weve reduced the amount of lead in our childrens blood. Weve made recycling second nature. And weve increased by tenfold the number of acres preserved as wilderness.
I've been proud to work alongside many of you -- since my earliest days in Congress, to turn the goals of Earth Day into a reality: whether it was working to pass the original Superfund law to clean up toxic waste, promoting early research into global warming, or helping speed the phase-out of chemicals that are eating away at the ozone layer.
Over the past six years, Ive been proud to lead a team with President Clinton that has helped create not just the cleanest environment in a generation, but the strongest economy in a generation.
Now we meet at a place today that represents both the triumph of Earth Day and our continuing challenge. There are few parks where the beauty of Gods creation is more evident than Shenandoah National Park.
In 1886, it was a sixteen-year-old named George Freeman Pollock who realized that this place had a value far beyond the ore that could be mined from its slopes something his fathers company had done years before. He described what he saw this way: "cool, up among the clouds, sparkling springs, glorious sunsets, majestic views." It was because of those stunning vistas that his first camp, about 40 miles South of here, came to be known as "Skyland." There are over 70 overlooks along the length of Skyline Drive. Shenandoah is rightfully called a "park of views."
But here in Shenandoah and across America, we have more work to do. The views that frame this extraordinary land are better than they were 30 years ago, but not as good as what they once were. The first surveyors here said they could actually see the Washington Monument. Today, average visibility is about 22 miles. During episodes of severe haze, it can drop below one mile. In my beloved Great Smoky Mountains, which run through Tennessee, the natural mistlike clouds for which they are named are routinely obscured by a veil of pollutants. Even in one of Americas crown jewels, the Grand Canyon, the air no longer carries the beauty of the Canyon -- it dulls it.
Air pollution does more than wash out crisp spring colors and obscure landscapes, it threatens the health of our parks, and ultimately it threatens our health as well.
Today, we are taking a major step forward to ensuring that all Americans can see their national parks in all their natural splendor.
I am proud to announce today that we are launching a new national strategy that builds on the many anti-pollution efforts already underway -- including our tough smog and soot standards -- to restore the views in 156 national parks and federal wilderness areas nationwide. As part of this strategy, we will be working with states to create ten-year plans that will meet real benchmarks and produce real progress in cleaning the air around our national parks. Working in cooperation with the states and in collaboration with industry and air quality experts, we will ensure that future generations can see the Grand Canyon, Half Dome, and the Great Smoky Mountains just as the first explorers did.
Cleaner air will make a difference to millions of children and families. And there are other steps we must take right now, in this Congress.
I call on Congress to fully fund our Lands Legacy Initiative -- to protect and restoring natural and historic lands across our nation, such as Civil War battlefields, remote stretches of the historic Lewis and Clark trail, and additional lands in and around Mojave and Joshua Tree National Parks. It will also help states and local communities protect the meadows and seashores where our children play, the streams where we fish, and the rich farmland that sustains our nation. Whats more, President Clinton and I are calling for permanent funding of at least $1 billion a year to continue these efforts.
While we work to protect our land, we must also confront the most profound environmental challenge of the coming century the challenge of global warming. That means we need a global response to this global challenge, which we have begun to forge. And we are continuing our work on the home front as well. President Clinton and I are proposing a record $4 billion to expand research into climate change, and provide new tax incentives for consumers and businesses to purchase more energy-efficient cars, homes, and appliances. Congress should pass our plan into law. We know that by acting now, we can meet the challenges of global warming without economic cooling.
But that is just beginning of what we must do to honor the meaning of Earth Day, and to deepen it for a new century.
One hundred years from now, when our great grandchildren gather to mark the last Earth Day of the 21st Century, I want them to say that we were thinking of their time with the same vision, the same dedication, and the same commitment as people like Teddy Roosevelt thought of our time.
I want them to know that we closed the chapter on 30 years of Earth Day not by looking back, but by looking forward
To a 21st Century where we invest in new technologies that actually create high-paying jobs while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and making our products more energy-efficient.
To a 21st Century where we have parks instead of poison in every community and a clean environment and a high quality of life are a source of dynamism, attracting new businesses and families.
To a 21st Century where not a single child has to worry if the water he or she drinks or the air he or she breaths is safe.
That is the 21st Century I want to help create. Because God only created this one earth. And if we live up to our obligation to protect and sustain it, it will be ours to cherish and enjoy for centuries to come. Thank you.
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