With Obama, is it the 1970's Again?

Barack Obama Ba-rocked the Iowa caucuses last Thursday and judging by today's polls coming out of New Hampshire, he is in a very good position to win the "first in the nation" primary.

Obama's theme is that he is the candidate best equipped to unite the country behind a non-partisan set of ideals. Hopefully, one ideal in that set is the creation of innovative solutions to our modern environmental challenges so we can have a healthier planet, create new jobs, and lead the world in green technology development.

There have been times in the history of this country when politicians did unite behind the goal of protecting our environment. In fact, the modern environmental movement, and the laws we rely on to protect our environment, were born from a shared interest by the political parties to legislate solutions to America's pollution challenges in the early 1970's.

It is difficult to pin down exactly what singular event caused politicians to finally realize something had to be done about the condition of our environment. Some believe that the Cuyahoga River fire was the symbolic beginning of the environmental movement.

In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland was so polluted and filled with oil that when a passing train threw a small spark into the river's water, a large fire ignited and burned for 30 minutes. This was the 10th major fire in the river. Not long after that highly publicized event, the country's first Earth Day was held on April 22nd, 1970. The first Earth Day was marked by massive rallies and marches.

Reading the writing on the wall, many politicians (including Richard Nixon) began campaigning on a platform of conservation and environmental protection. The strategy for both parties was to peel moderate voters away from their rivals by emphasizing the environmental issues. In 1970, President Nixon signed the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), which required federal agencies to submit thorough assessments on environmental impact prior to any new federally approved development.

Quickly after passing NEPA, the United States Congress amended the clean air laws to create the Clean Air Act. The Clean Water Act, Consumer Product Safety Act, the Environmental Pesticide Control Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Superfund legislation to clean up hazardous waste sites, and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act all followed. Although Nixon was President during the passage of several of these important environmental laws, he didn't receive much recognition at the time for his work. He muddied his environmental record by supporting subsidies and less regulations for pollution creating industries like the oil and automotive industries.

As the years have passed, environmental laws have not adapted to new challenges facing our planet. Many environmental groups and environmental attorneys have tried to squeeze modern issues like global warming into existing environmental laws through law suits in an attempt to bring these laws into the 21st century.This is a bad strategy because these older laws are simply not equipped to properly regulate such diffuse threats to our environment.

The best strategy is to convene a meeting of the best scientists and environmental experts to design a new set of environmental laws that comprehensively confront the greatest challenges to our planet and its inhabitants. We've learned a lot about the successes and failures of statutes like the Endangered Species Act and we can put that knowledge to work in new legislation.

Like in the 1970's the public is very concerned about the state of our environment and has united behind the idea of finding solutions to stop the destruction of our planet. Like the 1970's a bipartisan group of politicians, including Obama, Clinton, McCain, Huckabee, Schwarzenegger, etc., are campaigning on platforms of protecting the environment. And like the 1970's there are environmental catastrophes all around us that are sounding the alarm about the need for immediate attention.

If Barack Obama is the only candidate who truly can organize the country and its leaders to make important changes, I hope he is elected. I'm not sure our planet can wait much longer.

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