Bi-partisan environmental policy

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(Host) Commentator Madeleine Kunin reflects on the coming crisis in environmental protection, and the need for bi-partisan action.

(Kunin) A debate over national environmental policy never made front page news in the 2004 Presidential campaign.

The difference between Republican and Democratic polices were evident during the last four years, but the next four years are certain to be dramatic, as the parties square off over the Artic National Wildlife Refuge, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and an energy bill.

The free market will be pitted against government regulations, Democrats against Republicans.

It wasn’t always that way.

This year we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, originally sponsored by both parties from both the eastern and western parts of the United States. Vermont Senator George Aiken was at President Lyndon Johnson’s side when the act was signed into law.

Today this landmark law protects 106 million acres of federal land in 44 states, including 59,000 acres in Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest.

The Wilderness Act recognizes that human beings do need open spaces, quiet refuges, and places of sheer beauty. We set these lands aside not only for ourselves but for those who follow us.

When the act was renewed, it was none other than President Reagan who said, “Generations hence, parents will take their children to these woods to show them how the land must have looked to the first Pilgrims and pioneers. And as Americans wander through these forests, climb these mountains, they will sense the law and majesty of the Creator of all that.”

The idea for the Wilderness Act did not spring from government officials, but from the people themselves, who spoke out at a grass-roots level.

As President Bush begins his new term, with a new agenda for the environment, it’s time to resurrect a grass-roots environmental movement which will enable us to preserve and protect what we cherish most and save us from the dire consequences of continued global warming.

A recent study of rising temperatures in the arctic region, endorsed by more than 300 scientists, is but one indicator of the environmental crisis our children and grandchildren will face.

Democrats don’t have the votes in either the House or the Senate to stop drilling in the artic, or to convince the President to sign the Kyoto climate-change protocol.

What we must work for is a new grass-roots environmental movement, which will rekindle the bi-partisan spirit, which created the Wilderness Act forty years ago. Only by arousing public opinion to the dangers and opportunities of protecting our planet can we succeed.

This is Madeleine May Kunin.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.

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