- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Today marks the 33rd annual celebration of Earth Day. It's an important day to mark, although it must be remembered that the reason for the holiday is not to save the Earth per se as if anyone could preserve a vast rock that is billions of years old but rather to remind citizens to be good stewards during their short span on it.
As President Bush observed, "Good stewardship of the environment is not just a personal responsibility, it is a public value." It is also a civic virtue, one that adds to the health of the republic by contributing to the well-being of its inhabitants. Environmental stewardship serves as a balance both to the desires of unscrupulous profiteers who would pollute with no account to the people affected and to the demands of dictatorial preservationists, who would wall away vast tracts of land with no thought to the citizens who would wisely use it.
Thanks to the efforts of citizen-stewards, the environment has continued to become cleaner. According to the Index of Leading Environmental Indicators 2003, published jointly by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Pacific Research Institute (PRI), the air and water are cleaner than they have been in 30 years aggregate emissions of six major pollutants regulated by the EPA have dropped by 25 percent since 1970. In addition, levels of releases of toxic chemicals (as measured under the EPA's Toxics Releases Inventory) have dropped by more than 50 percent since 1988. The AEI-PRI study showed that forests are coming back, too. About 2 million acres are planted with trees each year, more than enough to replace those taken by urban sprawl. According to Michael Sanera and Jane Shaw in their book "Facts not fear," the United States now has about as much forested land as it did during the 1920s.
Interior Secretary Gale Norton's repeated efforts to form partnerships between environment and industry groups have paid off. Last year alone, the agency's Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program formed 3,745 stewardship partnerships with private landowners and restored 57,522 acres of wetlands and 536 miles of riparian and in-stream habitat.
Congress also has a role in facilitating this stewardship. When it returns from recess, it should pass a balanced energy bill that contains a provision for energy exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It should also move to modify the Endangered Species Act so that sound science is the touchstone of preservation. So long as it remains unencumbered by heavy-handed measures, Congress should push forward the president's Clear Skies Initiative. Perhaps most critically, Congress should act on the president's Healthy Forests Initiative. According to the U.S. Forest Service, more than 7.1 million acres of land were lost to wildfires last year, a consequence of misguided management that allowed them to grow unnaturally dense. Sensible forest management is an important aspect of environmental stewardship, and the fire season is not far off.
Those who wish to discover how they can become better environmental stewards and better citizens should check out www.earthday.gov, which provides links to Earth Day activities and actions.

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