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Earth Day: More Important Than Ever

A Wisconsin environmentalist says threats to the Earth's environment have increased dramatically. (mspoli/iStockPhoto)
A Wisconsin environmentalist says threats to the Earth's environment have increased dramatically. (mspoli/iStockPhoto)
April 19, 2017

MADISON, Wis. - Events are planned in dozens of communities across Wisconsin on Saturday for the annual observation of Earth Day.

Although it is a national observance, Earth Day was founded in Wisconsin 47 years ago by Sen. Gaylord Nelson. This year, the stakes are higher than ever, say environmentalists, pointing to things such as the Trump administration's fast-tracking of oil pipelines.

While administration officials have said too many regulations are killing jobs, Keith Reopelle, senior policy director for the state's largest environmental agency, Clean Wisconsin, said they've gone way too far.

"Our environmental protections are under attack by the president," Reopelle said. "Not only are the protections themselves under attack - the laws - but the agency that has the responsibility to protect our environment is under attack."

Reopelle and other environmentalists have said the stakes have never been higher for the nation's air, land and water. While he hailed the ban on plastic microbeads as a sign of environmental progress, Reopelle also cited the recent proposal to essentially defund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative as one of the biggest regional environmental challenges.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker's administration has slashed budgets and cut hundreds of scientists from the Department of Natural Resources, something Reopelle called a giant leap backward.

"We have a real lack of leadership in terms of environmental protection, in terms of embracing all the things that Earth Day stands for," he said. "We have a Department of Natural Resources that's attempting to rewrite history and rewrite science, denying the science of climate change."

Although the environmental challenges of 1970, when Earth Day was founded, were issues such as air pollution and rivers so polluted they actually caught fire, Reopelle said Earth Day is more important now than ever.

"A lot of the environmental threats and challenges have increased dramatically, and there's no better example than climate change," he said. "Climate change is a bigger threat than it ever has been, so in many ways there's just as much if not more at stake right now. It remains very relevant."

Reopelle said the fundamental goal this Earth Day is the same as ever: turning citizen action into policy changes.

"We have a real lack of leadership in terms of environmental protection, in terms of embracing all the things that Earth Day stands for. We have a Department of Natural Resources that's attempting to rewrite history and rewrite science, denying the science of climate change."

Although the environmental challenges of 1970, when Earth Day was founded, were things like air pollution and rivers so polluted they actually caught fire, Reopelle says Earth Day is more important now than ever before.

"A lot of the environmental threats and challenges have increased dramatically and there's no better example than climate change. Climate change is a bigger threat than it ever has been, so in many ways there's just as much if not more at stake right now. It remains very relevant."

Reopelle says the fundamental goal this Earth Day is the same as ever: turning citizen action into policy changes.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI