Celebrating Earth Day in The First State
Forty-nine years ago, I stood side by side with thousands of people to celebrate our country’s first-ever Earth Day. Back then, I was a young naval flight officer stationed in the San Francisco Bay area, preparing for my first of three tours of duty in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.
All these years later, I can still vividly remember that day and the urgency we felt to save our planet. On this Earth Day, I see a new generation of Americans rallying together for clean air and clean water. I hear a rising chorus from every corner of our country urging Congress to fight climate change and reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions. The 49th Earth Day has arrived on the brink of yet another watershed moment. This Earth Day is about our future.
You have to look no further than Delaware to meet people who understand the urgency of the moment. During three stops in Sussex County today, I had the opportunity to meet Delawareans who work every day to make the First State a healthier and more beautiful place to live, work and call home.
In the morning I joined preschool students at Delaware Technical Community College’s Child Development Center in Georgetown for a nature scavenger hunt and trash pick-up. It was an inspiration to see some of our youngest citizens already practicing good stewardship of our planet, cleaning up litter and leaving a healthier Earth behind them.
I continued my day in Georgetown by boarding a RideShare Delaware bus, part of an innovative program run by DART First State. RideShare Delaware is a free commuter services program that improves air quality and reduces traffic congestion by promoting “clean commutes” like carpooling, biking and public transit. Using the smartphone app “Rideshare DE” Delawareans can log clean commutes and earn points redeemable for prizes. During the ride to Lewes, I was able to talk to commuters and program leaders to learn more about how this initiative is working to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality.
I finished my Earth Day celebrations by visiting Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes, where I joined DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin to discuss federal and state efforts to protect migratory birds and endangered species. Just days before the start of Delmarva Bird Week 2019, I went to the beautiful “point” at Cape Henlopen, where piping plovers will soon begin to lay eggs. This bird species is one of many unique species that attract tens of thousands of birders to coastal Delaware each year. The Endangered Species Act and other laws protecting migratory birds have come under attack by this administration, and I intend to keep fighting back against dangerous proposals both from the White House and Congress.
As the lowest-lying state in the country vulnerable to rising sea levels and extreme weather, we understand all too well the urgent need to fight climate change and protect our natural resources. It was inspiring to meet so many Delawareans today who are rolling up their sleeves to do the hard work of environmental protection.
Today also reminded me of the sad truth that the meaningful progress we’ve made over decades to clean our air and water has not been distributed equally. That’s why I’m proud to announce the creation of the Senate Environmental Justice Caucus, which I co-founded with Senator Cory Booker and Senator Tammy Duckworth. A disproportionate number of lower-income, minority and indigenous communities across the country are in the path of pollution that degrades quality of life and puts human health at risk. Far too often, the concerns of these communities is addressed at a woefully inadequate pace, especially in comparison to more affluent communities with ample resources. That’s not right, and this caucus will be a great forum to generate new ideas to address this public health inequality head-on.
It’s not lost on me that today – almost five decades from that day in Golden Gate State Park – I now have the opportunity to serve as the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. It’s not a responsibility I take lightly. But as I saw today, it takes teamwork – both in the halls of power and people in their own communities – to make sure we’re leaving behind a healthy planet for future generations.