Senate Democrats

Reid Remarks on Earth Day

Washington, DCSenate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today at the Senate Earth Day Celebration:


“People sometimes ask me why I care about the environment.  It is one of the easiest questions for me to answer.


“I grew up in Searchlight, Nevada – a dry and dusty mining town in the driest state in the country.  There were a lot of things Searchlight didn’t have.  We didn’t have a grocery store, a high school, or even a doctor’s office.  We didn’t have radio reception unless the weather was just right.  And there wasn’t a tree in sight.


“On rare occasions, my father would take my brothers and me to Piute Spring.  It was a half-hour’s drive away – and a tough drive at that – down unpaved, graded roads.


“But what a treat is was when we got there – water gushing out and flowing for miles into the desert.  I can still see the ponds, lily pads and the wetland plants we called cat-tails that grew there.


“As I grew up, that oasis was as close to paradise as I could imagine.


“When I got married, one of the first places I took my new wife was to see this idyllic spot that, in my childhood, seemed to be a whole different world.  I had told her about the pristine place I remembered, the plants and grass greener than anything you could find within miles of Searchlight.


“We drove the half-hour drive along those rocky desert roads.  When we got there, to my shock and sadness, I saw that it had been trashed.  Someone had since set fire to the lush landscape.  Vandals had knocked down the rocks that had given Piute Spring its unique terrain and texture.


“That’s when I first realized how precious our natural resources are, and how hard we have to work to preserve them.  That’s when I became an environmentalist.


“Earth Day is a day to appreciate the tremendous beauty of those small, special places just as much as it is about the larger planet we must protect.  It is a reminder to recommit ourselves to finding the right balance that preserves our environment even as we live in it day by day.


“At no time in our history has that balance teetered as dangerously as it does today.  The mistakes of past have come back to haunt the present.


“Just as Piute Spring had been robbed of its beauty, an island of plastic garbage twice the size of Texas now poisons the Pacific Ocean.  Pollutants cover the floors of our rivers and harbors.  More than 150 million Americans breathe in unhealthy air.  And our addiction to oil has consequences so far and wide, it has become its own category of crisis.


“Changing the way America gets and uses its energy is about more than just protecting our environment.  It is also about reviving our economy and strengthening our national security.


“We already have the tools at our fingertips to invest in energy efficiency and tap into the enormous potential right in our own backyard.


“Renewable energy is everywhere you look – from the bright sun that beats down on Nevada and the West, to the wind that blows over the Rockies, through the Great Plains and around the Great Lakes.  From the water that powers electricity in Northwest and off our coasts, to the biomass that grows in the Southeast.


“No, the challenge is not feasibility.  It is only the political will to do what is right before it is too late.


“That is why the very first act this new Senate passed was one of the most important conservation bills in a generation – protecting more than 2 million acres of wilderness, more than 1,000 miles of wild and scenic rivers, and thousands of miles of new trails for future generations to enjoy.


“It is why in both the economic recovery plan and the budget that the Senate passed this year, we insisted on including investments that will lead to new green jobs that can never be outsourced.


“It is why I have written a bill to deliver clean energy from the remote areas where it is developed to the major population centers around the country where it is needed most.


“It is why this year we will renew our fight for a National Renewable Energy Standard that will create new industries, new technologies and new jobs – and save consumers money in the process.


“And it is why, with the leadership and perseverance of the Architect of the Capitol and the officers of the House and Senate, we have made serious progress in greening the buildings where Congress works.  We will continue making the legislative branch the model of energy efficiency and environmental performance.


“We are firing the first shots of a clean energy revolution.  But we must see this fight all the way through.  We can no longer afford to ignore what science tells us about the health of our planet.  The symptoms are serious and require our immediate attention.


“The founder of this great event was a Senator from Wisconsin named Gaylord Nelson.  Shortly before the first Earth Day 39 years ago, he came to the Senate floor and warned, ‘America has bought environmental disaster on the installment plan: Buy affluence now and let future generations pay the price.’


“Nearly four decades later, we must do more to get ourselves off that plan.  We must do more to cultivate a society where fulfilling our responsibilities to nature becomes second nature.


“We must do more so that a child who today cherishes a creek, or a forest, or a mountain like I cherished Piute Spring will one day return to find it as clean and green as he remembered it.”