40-year-old beacon calls on everyone

Forty years ago, 20 million people — one in every 10 Americans — stood up to demand a cleaner and healthier environment.  This first Earth Day was one of the largest bipartisan demonstrations in our history. This grassroots effort spurred the creation of the EPA and the passage of the Clean Air and Clean Water acts — under Republican President Richard Nixon. 

Today, urgent economic and environmental challenges are before us, compelling us to find simultaneous solutions. We can spend another month, another year or another election cycle arguing over our differences. But as the first Earth Day shows, the people will eventually hold us accountable. If we don’t address some of the tough issues, both sides of the debate will go down in history as having failed to take action. 

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Fortunately, there is plenty of common ground from which to work. We all want our communities to be healthier, our economy to be stronger, and our country to be more competitive.

To achieve these goals, you don’t have to believe, as I do, in the urgent need to take action on climate change to support a clean energy economy.

Investing in clean energy sources has economic benefits that we must not ignore at this critical time.  Transitioning to clean energy would create millions of high-paying jobs that won’t be shipped overseas.  At the same time, a recent study estimated that $520 billion invested in energy efficiency today would net $1.2 trillion in energy cost savings through 2020 — $2 in savings for every dollar invested.

You also don’t have to believe that wind and solar power development will be the solutions to all of our environmental and our economic challenges. But you probably do agree that our country has economic and national security interests in real energy independence. Republicans and Democrats alike would benefit if the billions we spent on foreign oil stayed here in our economy instead of boosting profits in other parts of the world.

While you may believe that a cap on greenhouse gases will put us at a competitive disadvantage, falling behind our international competitors in the race for clean energy will have the same consequences. China is investing billions to power their economy on wind and solar energy. In the years ahead, they will be able to offer manufacturers, IT companies and everyone in between a low-cost, clean energy place to do business, while we continue to rely on yesterday’s technologies.  It’s essential that we get into the race for clean energy if we want to maintain our leadership in the global economy.

Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle should come together to find solutions that support our shared interests.  Otherwise, we run the risk of falling behind our international competitors. Our communities will continue to suffer the powerful health, environmental and economic effects of pollution.  And our children will not see the clean, safe future they deserve.  If nothing else, we have a responsibility to the next generation to take action today.  

It’s time to start thinking about what is going to help us all move forward together. That is what the American people did 40 years ago, and our country is the better for it.  Now it’s our turn. 

Perciasepe is deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.