In many ways, this Earth Day is a particularly somber occasion. After all, in the past year, we've seen repeated environmental debacles--most notably, the decision to open the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) to drilling for oil. But, with the determination of environmental activists and state legislatures that refuse to bow down to Bush, there are, as always, reasons for hope. Here are five of our top environmental victories in the last year.
** Clear Skies Initiative Dropped: Thanks to a 9-to-9 vote by the Environment and Public Works Committee, Bush's Orwellian-labeled bill--which would have loosened air pollution restrictions for power plants, factories and refineries--did not advance to the Senate. Without Clear Skies, we'll be much more likely to see, well, clear skies.
** Colorado Passes Renewable Energy Initiative: Colorado's Amendment 37, a precedent-setting victory for renewable energy, requires the state's largest electric companies to increase their use of renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and small hydro from less than two percent today to 10 percent by 2015. Amendment 37 is expected to save Coloradans $236 million by 2025, create 2,000 jobs, and significantly reduce gas prices in the state.
**Cleaner Cars: Clean Car legislation--requiring the reduction of harmful auto emissions--is being adopted in California and seven other states, and is gaining traction in five more states. With Canada adopting a similar program, a third of North America's automobile market will require clean cars. Meanwhile, heavy-hitters on the right, including former CIA head R. James Woolsey and uber-hawk Frank J. Gaffney Jr., have been lobbying congress to implement policies promoting hybrid cars, hoping to cut oil consumption in half by 2025.
**Challenging Mercury: In March, the EPA issued a loophole-laden policy that, in effect, deregulates controls on mercury emissions from power plants. In response, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey have implemented stronger controls on mercury--which is linked to nerve damage and birth defects--than the EPA, Meanwhile, nine state attorney generals have filed lawsuits against the agency, arguing that the lax rules jeopardize public health.
**International Victories: Ultimately, there are too many to list, but it's worth starting with the six enviro-activists who won this year's Goldman Prizes, the environmental equivalent of the Nobel.
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Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker, and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.