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Jan 242011
 

(Peter Lehner is the executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading environmental group, which supports efforts to reduce U.S. carbon emissions and raise mileage standards for American-made cars.)

Peter Lehner

When he delivers his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama will present a report card on how the nation has fared the past year, offer up an agenda that seeks to bridge our partisan divide, and share with the American people his vision of where he wants to lead the country.

The president can cover all three bases by embracing a clean-energy agenda that boosts our economy and strengthens the safeguards that protect our health, our waters, our lands and the air we breathe.

No review of 2010 can overlook one of the worst environmental disasters of our time–the BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. This was a national wake-up call to break our costly and dangerous dependence on oil and move faster toward cleaner, safer, more sustainable sources of energy. Adopting this month’s recommendations by the national BP oil spill commission is a good start.

Nothing is more important than reviving our economy. And we can put millions of Americans back to work by investing in renewable fuels, fostering sustainable communities and demanding even more energy-efficiency in our cars, our workplaces, our homes and the products we use.

That also will make our companies more competitive and keep our workers at the forefront in the global race for clean-energy solutions—and make us more secure and less dependent on foreign oil.

We can debate the details and disagree over specifics. But inaction is no longer an option.

Above all, we mustn’t be stymied or mislead by those who paint these needed change as some devious job-destroying tax. What kills jobs is insisting on looking backward when opportunity lies ahead.

That’s the fundamental choice we face. Let’s embrace our future and common destiny. Let’s follow where opportunity leads.

Let’s build on the strength of American innovation and investment. Let’s not turn our backs on four decades of progress toward cleaner air, fresher water, healthier wildlife and more fertile lands that sustain us all.

Toward that end, we must ensure that scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency retain the tools they need to do their job. After 40 years of progress–getting the lead out of gasoline, phasing out ozone-depleting chemicals, reducing pollution that causes acid rain–the agency’s scientists have saved hundreds of thousands of lives and improved the quality of life for us all.

A healthier nation means fewer people with asthma, heart and lung disease and cancer—and billions of dollars in savings in health care costs. That also will increase our economic competitiveness across the board.

But Big Polluters and their allies in Congress are trying to block EPA from further updating health safeguards. But who wants to return to the dark days when heavy metals poisoned our waters and toxic chemicals tainted our air; when rivers ran so rich with oil and petrochemical waste that they literally burst into flames?

The Big Polluters would gut the Clean Air Act, a 1970 law—one of the most effective pieces of legislation in our history when it comes to protecting and improving our health.

Rather, we should unite behind President Obama’s pledge to cut U.S. carbon pollutions and join the world in addressing this mounting challenge.

Instead of trying to shackle EPA, our leaders in Washington should support its mission to reduce mercury, arsenic, greenhouse gases and other life-threatening forms of pollution.

Finally, with Congress due to take up a major transportation bill this year, we should use this opportunity to lay the groundwork for a competitive 21st-Century transportation system that will improve commerce and our quality of life.

Two hundred and twenty-one years after George Washington delivered the first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, we now are the guardians of a richly blessed but imperiled land.

Let’s not pass on to our children a legacy tarnished by fear and neglect. Let’s stand up for the clean air, the fresh water and the healthy wildlife upon which America’s future depends.”