Lawmakers, celebs rally for Earth Day after climate bill delay

Lawmakers, celebs rally for Earth Day after climate bill delay

Tens of thousands of environmentalists and music fans gathered on the National Mall Sunday for a concert and rally to mark the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.

Organized by the Earth Day Network, the afternoon featured an all-star lineup of musical acts, including Sting, John Legend, Joss Stone, The Roots, Bob Weir, Jimmy Cliff and more.

Interspersed among the bands were VIP speakers, among them Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), retired Rep. and Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), Rev. Jesse Jackson, "Avatar" director James Cameron, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Trudie Styler, Philippe Cousteau, and Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones.

Despite ominous weather reports, the climate cooperated to produce a warm, breezy afternoon ideal for an outdoor festival.

The event came less than a day after Saturday's unexpected announcement of a delay in the unveiling of a Senate version of energy and climate legislation passed by the House last summer. But the setback only seemed to further energize the lawmakers, VIP guests, and fans in attendance.

Markey, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, told The Hill that despite the latest obstacles facing a bipartisan Senate bill, he's "still optimistic" that lawmakers can find "a pathway to seriously debating a climate and energy bill in the Senate this year." And while he didn't speculate on when a final bill might arrive on the Senate floor, if it does, he said, "There will be at least 30 or 40 members speaking out [on behalf of the bill].

"There's a long list of [lawmakers] who've dedicated their careers to seeing this legislation passed," he added.

As for whether climate legislation might stand a chance of passage after November's midterm elections, Markey didn't dismiss the possibility outright. "Right now we've got the best chance [to pass the legislation] in a generation," he said, "and it would just be a shame to lose it."

Earth Day Network director Sean Miller was much less forgiving of the delays to the Senate bill. "The fact that the House passed a bill last summer, and today, almost a year later, we haven't even seen the first draft of a Senate version, it's just ridiculous," he told The Hill. "We're here today calling for real leadership in the Senate, and we invited any senator willing to take a stand to join us today. None of them did."

According to early press releases, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was also invited, and initially agreed, to speak at the event. But Pelosi was in San Francisco on Sunday, where she attended a memorial service for former Sierra Club president Edgar Wayburn.

For the VIPs in attendance, the scene backstage at the concert was uniquely Washingtonian: artists blended seamlessly with policymakers, scholars and activists. This was in part because may of them were old friends, having worked together on environmental issues for years. Sting and Trudie Styler embraced a bevy of old friends when they arrived, then sat in the wings talking to people they knew for most of the day. Just offstage, Markey chatted with James Cameron and his wife, Suzy Amis, for nearly an hour. A few feet away from them, Lisa Jackson and actress Gloria Reuben cracked each other up.

One of the newest faces on the green celebrity scene was Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones. A native of Montgomery County, Md., Jones told The Hill that filming his Travel Channel show, "Dhani Tackles the Globe," has made him much more aware of how connected the planet's inhabitants are. "There aren't many pro athletes who are into [green issues], but for me it's about learning as much as I can [about the issues], and then affecting others."

Judging by his eloquent remarks, delivered without notes, it may not be long before Jones is invited back to Capitol Hill.