Forty-eight years ago, when I was a young naval flight officer stationed near San Francisco, I was fortunate enough to join tens of thousands of my fellow citizens in Golden Gate State Park to celebrate our nation’s very first Earth Day. It was a transformative experience that has inspired me ever since.
Our world was a different place 48 years ago. Back then, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio was so polluted that it actually caught fire. Polluters were allowed to spew dangerous pollutants like mercury, lead, arsenic and sulfur into the air we all breathe and dump toxic waste into our waterways without consequence. Thick smog enveloped many of our cities and suburbs, and garbage littered our shores.
The first Earth Day was a much-needed wakeup call – a reminder that we only have one planet that we all share, and we need to take care of it.
Just months later, Republican President Richard Nixon signed legislation creating the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because, as he noted, “The Congress, the Administration and the public all share a profound commitment to the rescue of our natural environment, and the preservation of the Earth.” Since its establishment in 1970, the EPA’s mission has been to protect our water and air and other natural resources, as well as public health. The agency, along with its state agency partners, has been so successful that we have the luxury of forgetting why we celebrated Earth Day in the first place.
But we can’t afford to forget. It’s true that we have made incredible strides since 1970, but that wasn’t just by accident. It was the result of hard work, innovation, smart and bipartisan regulations and a commitment to leave a better world for our children and grandchildren.
There is still more work to be done, but, unfortunately, the Trump Administration has spent much of the past 15 months trying to move us backward and undo decades of progress.
It is obvious, especially in low-lying states like Delaware, that our climate is changing, causing extreme weather events around the globe and threatening us all, but especially the world’s most vulnerable populations.
But this administration has made clear that dealing with climate change, the greatest environmental challenge of our lifetime, is not a priority. Instead, they have chosen to bury their heads in the sand, abandoning a global pact to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions that is supported by literally every other country on Earth, while declaring an all-out war on climate science and scientists.
Here at home, in the wealthiest nation on Earth, we are too often seeing drinking water crises in communities across this country that put families, especially growing children, at risk. Every family in America should be able to turn on their tap and be confident that their water is safe to drink.
However, the Trump Administration is attempting to weaken protections under the Clean Water Act that have been used for nearly a half-century to hold upstream polluters accountable for the dangerous pollution that makes its way into groundwater and can contaminate larger bodies of water, including our drinking water sources.
Just this past week, the American Lung Association released their annual ‘State of the Air’ report, which shows that far too many counties in this country, including New Castle County, experience high levels of particle pollution in the air. It is a measurable fact that over 90 percent of Delaware’s air pollution comes from upwind states.
We need to make sure our clean air protections are holding polluters in neighboring states accountable for the pollution that crosses state boundaries and negatively impacts Delawareans, through no fault of our own.
Unfortunately, earlier this month, the Trump Administration made alarming changes to the standards that EPA sets in order to reduce the most common, and the most dangerous, air pollutants, like ozone, particulate matter and lead.
President Trump and his EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt have repeatedly sought to undermine the bedrock environmental protections put in place decades ago that have saved countless lives, protected our environment and spurred economic growth. Far too often, this administration seems to be more than willing to side with polluters rather than the public.
I am determined to fight these shortsighted rollbacks every step of the way. With the Trump Administration at the helm, this 48th Earth Day is just as important and timely – if not more so – than the first one nearly a half-century ago.
In the 48 years since I joined that first Earth Day celebration, I've been fortunate to have a number of different jobs, but my most cherished and important job has been, and will always be, being a father. My wife and I are blessed with three wonderful sons who make us incredibly proud every day. My love for them, and my desire to make the world a better place for them, is what motivates me in my work, especially on this Earth Day.
For all of our children, grandchildren and for all those who will come after us, we cannot abandon the progress we have made, and we cannot stop fighting to make our world a better, safer, healthier place for everyone.
On this 48th celebration of Earth Day, let's recommit ourselves to the efforts that we know are working in states and local communities across the country and vow to do more – not less – to protect the only home we all have. This is not just a necessity. It is a moral obligation, and there is no time left to waste.