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Earth Day Rally On The Mall

Saturday, April 22, 2000

Earth Day has always been a recognition of our most powerful common link: the air, the water, and the planet we share. And for 30 years now, strand by strand, we have strengthened that link.

In the beginning, on that first Earth Day, many still believed that pollution was the inescapable price of prosperity. They were wrong.

Back then, if you believed in global warming, people thought you were part of the flat-earth society. But now we know that those who deny global warming are flat-out wrong.

Back then, we could never have imagined the day when leaders of industry, leaders of the labor movement, and lifelong environmentalists could stand together and work together as they are now, for a cleaner, stronger America.

We have miles to go, but in these 30 years we have traveled far on this journey. We now have the cleanest air and water in a generation - in the midst of the single longest economic expansion in American history.

Some of you may remember the fierce criticism I received when I wrote "Earth in the Balance" almost a decade ago. I certainly remember the criticism. Well, let me tell you: I expected that criticism then, and I wear it as a badge of honor to this day.

When I wrote that book, I was relentlessly attacked for suggesting that America could end its reliance on the internal combustion engine.

Today, that's conventional wisdom not just at Earth Day celebrations, but in the heart of our auto industry. The big three auto markers are working on concept cars that run on water - with no greenhouse gas emissions at all.

They know that it's not extreme, but mainstream to champion cleaner fuels. And they know that protecting the environment is the right thing to do. It will create jobs, not destroy jobs. And it can save the Earth as we know it.

When it comes to our air, our water, and the Earth itself, we all have a responsibility to look not just to ourselves, not just to the politics or profit of the moment, but to future generations.

We have to make the next ten years the Environment Decade, in America and around the world. We have to stand against the apologists for pollution - those who believe in the old politics of environmental irresponsibility.

In the Environment Decade, we have to protect our forests, our rivers, and our public lands - so that families have places where they can hike and climb, and reach out toward the stars.

In the Environment Decade, we have to encourage smarter growth, and more livable neighborhoods - so every community can grow according to its own values, in a way that preserves its own precious character.

In the Environment Decade, we have to invest more in conservation, in renewable energy, and in fast-growing technologies that combat pollution.

In the Environment Decade, we must take decisive steps - not just in this country, but everywhere in the world - to reverse the rise in global warming.

As with the new generation of fuel-efficient vehicles, we can combat global warming in ways that create jobs - by pursuing a global market for new energy technology that is expected to reach $10 trillion in the next two decades.

In the Environment Decade, we need to enforce tough, realistic, achievable air quality standards -- to protect our children's health.

We are fighting for tough new standards to reduce smog and soot - because we will no longer accept an America where child asthma is on the rise.

But other dangerous toxins and pollutants still cloud our air - seeding the acid rain that threatens our forests and waters. Adding to global warming. And threatening human health. There are many sources of this pollution - including the nation's power-generating plants.

We can and we must work with the power industry to solve this problem - through a new and comprehensive approach. We don't want to micro-manage businesses. We have to set clear, enforceable performance goals, but we have to give industry the flexibility to meet them. We have to rely on market-based approaches like emissions trading - to make the free market a friend of clean air, not its enemy. And when utility companies improve their efficiency; when they use new, clean technology - we have to encourage them, not put barriers in their way. Because that is the way to cleaner air - while saving money and creating new jobs.

On this Earth Day, we welcome the bipartisan talks that are now taking place on Capitol Hill, and among environmental and industry leaders. The challenge is real and the solutions are not easy.

But together we can and will do what's right for our environment, because it is right for our children and America's future.

The issue involves all our lives - from the simple security of knowing that our drinking water is safe, to the more ominous change in our global climate.

One hundred years from now, when our great grandchildren gather to mark the first Earth Day of the next century, I want them to know that we were thinking of their time with the same vision, the same dedication, and the same commitment that we see here today on the Mall.

The earth is in the balance. Save it we can, and save it we must - for this is the great responsibility of our generation. Together, let's resolve to finish the journey. Thank you.



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