Earth Day 2003 Across the USA

WASHINGTON, DC, April 22, 2003 (ENS) - The Earth Day Network, coordinator of the 33rd annual Earth Day, is using today's spotlight on the environment to inspire one million new people to register to vote. "If you want to do one thing for the environment, register to vote!" the organization says on its website, which provides a page to download voter registration forms.

Denis Hayes, organizer of the first Earth Day in 1970 and chair of Earth Day Network, is attending an Earth Day event in Boston today with Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who has endorsed the One Million New Voters campaign.

Hayes

Attorney Denis Hayes chairs the Earth Day Network in addition to his work as president of the Bullitt Foundation, a philanthropic organization. (Photo © Jim Crabtree)
Senator Kerry has announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, but the presence of Hayes on the podium with him does not mean the Earth Day Network is supporting his candidacy, a spokesperson for the organization said.

The campaign information for the One Million New Voters campaign was sent to all presidential hopefuls in early March, and the campaign has been endorsed by Senator Joeseph Lieberman of Connecticut, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, Congressman Dennis Kuchinich of Ohio, Congressman Richard Gephardt of Missouri, and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, all Democrats, and Senator John McCain of Arizona, a Republican. President George W. Bush also received the campaign materials, but he has not responded.

Theresa Thames, Earth Day Network director of diversity outreach and new initiatives, who with Earth Day Network president Kathleen Rogers created the One Million New Voters campaign, says the goal is to get more people of diverse backgrounds involved with environmental issues that affect them directly.

"When they started Earth Day in 1970, it was really a middle class movement, said Thames today. The crowd got older and whiter as the years have gone by. This campaign aims to really engage youth and people of diverse backgrounds."

To encourage new voter registrations, the Earth Day Network has formed partnerships with Project Vote, the Southwest Voter Registration Project and the NAACP Voter Project organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

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Inner city youth in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (Photo courtesy WSRM)
Thames says the campaign is not just to register people to vote, but also to educate people, to reframe and repackage environmental issues in terms that relate to their lives. Minority youth bear the brunt of environmental contamination, suffering diseases such as asthma and lead poisoning, Thames, said. They may never visit the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but the Thames says the Earth Day Network voter registration campaign can get them interested in environmental issues in their own communities.

The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) has its own Earth Day voter registration page. "There are over 8.5 million environmentalists in the U.S., more than the size of the Christian Coalition and NRA combined! We have the strength and numbers to make our elected officials in Washington pay attention - if we are organized and if we vote!" the LCV says on its website.

LCV president Deb Callahan said today, "The next 559 days - from Earth Day 2003 to Election Day 2004 - might turn out to be the most important year and a half in American environmental history. The next 559 days may spell the difference between whether Earth Day in the future is an event to celebrate or a day of disappointment."

"Americans have watched the Bush administration dismantle environmental laws that have improved the health and security of families for decades," Callahan said. Americans have watched President Bush consistently place the desires of powerful corporate interests ahead of the needs of regular people. And Americans are not happy."

Americans who have complaints about Bush administration environmental policies will have an Earth Day opportunity to get answers to their questions tonight. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman will be in the hot seat this evening on "Ask the White House," an online interactive forum that debuted last week where citizens can submit questions to White House officials. Questions will be accepted from 5 pm Eastern Time at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/ask

Interior Secretary Gale Norton visited the Kuenzler family farm and wildlife habitat preserve in North Carolina for Earth Day. Ed and Jutta Kuenzler bought a 154 acre property in Orange County in 1965 and have since turned the whole farm into a conservation easement. They have restored a degraded wetland and turned it into a wildlife refuge for migratory birds, amphibians, reptiles and native plants.

"The environmental challenges we face in the 21st century are in many ways more subtle and more difficult than we have faced in the past," Norton said. "They deal with managing the increasing demands on the land and the conservation of our resources - how do we meet the need to develop and expand our economy while conserving our land and its rivers, lakes, forests, and abundant wildlife?" For Norton, the answer lies in "cooperative conservation."

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Restored wetland on the Kuenzler family farm in North Carolina (Photo courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)
"We need to empower Americans to become citizen-conservationists on their own land," she said. "The best thing federal and state governments can do is to empower people like the Kuenzlers to take conservation into their own hands."

Several agencies of the federal government are participating in Earth Day this year. Find out more at: http://www.earthday.gov/

The energy company BP today inaugurated the largest solar field on the East Coast in Paulsboro, New Jersey, to facilitate productive reuse of a 130 acre former petroleum and specialty chemical storage and distribution facility located east of Philadelphia on the Delaware River. The solar field produces an estimated 350,000 kilowatt-hours a year, enough to power about 50 typical homes. The power is generated by an array of 5,880 solar panels and provides up to 30 percent of the energy needed for environmental remediation equipment at the former terminal.

"This project takes land that has served it purpose for heavy industry in the 20th century and provides an adaptive reuse with 21st century technology, making clean electricity without a smokestack," said Paulsboro Mayor John Burzichelli, who also serves New Jersey as Assemblyman for the 3rd Legislative District.

Several environmental organizations are using Earth Day 2003 to object to Bush administration environmental policies. U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) released a new report today detailing how Bush administration has intensified its attacks on environmental protections after the 2002 mid-term election which gave Republicans the balance of power in Congress.

"Since the 2002 elections, the Bush administration has worked behind closed doors with polluters to craft one proposal after another to weaken environmental and public health protections," said U.S. PIRG Legislative Director Anna Aurilio. "This Earth Day, we call on the Bush administration to listen to the public, not the polluters, and to uphold, not uproot, America's environmental laws."

As an example, USPIRG notes that earlier this month the Bush administration announced that the Interior Department intends to halt all reviews of public lands for new wilderness protection. "This is a sweeping change in wilderness policy that will leave millions of acres of pristine lands open to mining, drilling, road building and other development," the organization says.

In Berkeley, California, Environmentalists Against War, a coalition of environmental organizations and individuals who came together in opposition to the U.S. war on Iraq, is encouraging environmental groups to use Earth Day to talk about the environmental impacts of war and what can be done to promote peace. "Now that the war is winding down, it's important to focus on environmental restoration in Iraq," said Peter Drekmeier, coordinator of Environmentalists Against War and former executive director of Earth Day Network. "The cleanup of depleted uranium and the reconstruction of water and sewage treatment plants should be a priority."

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Parades, workshops, concerts, and other events are taking place across the United States like this parade on Earth day 2002 at Earthplace in Westport, Connecticut. (Photo courtesy Earthplace)
Former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley released the key findings of a poll conducted by the American Zoo and Aquariums Association (AZA) that shows children are keenly aware of the environmental problems facing the planet, and believe they themselves are a potent force for saving the Earth. AAZ's Opinion Poll attracted 60,000 respondents, 84 percent of whom were children. The children said they want information and opportunities for action. They want to know what they can do to help. They also want to know who is helping, what is being done, what is working. Bradley and AZA are making the full report available to leaders from the public and private sectors at no charge.

Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich today signed into law a bill that repeals the 300 year old Maryland prohibition on Sunday hunting, drawing instand criticism from The Fund for Animals. The bill was opposed by diverse constituencies including horseback riders, hikers, campers, wildlife watchers, animal welfare advocates, and religious groups.

“It is ironic that Governor Ehrlich chose Earth Day to sign a bill that threatens all the Maryland citizens who want to enjoy nature and the outdoors on Sundays without fear of being shot,” said Michael Markarian, president of The Fund for Animals. “It is also ironic that during a budgetary crisis Governor Ehrlich thinks it is appropriate to increase spending for recreational hunting opportunities at the expense of public safety.” It will cost Maryland taxpayers nearly $50,000 each year for the Natural Resources Police to enforce hunting regulations on Sundays.

Finally, former Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day, said today, "The President must begin a national dialogue on the issue of sustainability by beginning a tradition of a biennial State of the Environment address. This biennial message would be in addition to the traditional State of the Union address. Congress must undertake a comprehensive series of educational hearings on the concept and significance of sustainability."

"The public must encourage serious Presidential and congressional attention to the issue of sustainability," Nelson said. "The youth of America are also involved, making it clear to the President and Congress that sustainability is essential to the security of our nation."

The Earth Day Network lists many Earth Day events from now through June online at: http://www.earthday.net