Public Papers - 1990
Message to the Congress Transmitting the Annual Report on Environmental Quality
To the Congress of the United States:
The people of this country share a deeply rooted love and concern for the environment. We have been blessed with a wealth of natural resources that enrich our physical and spiritual lives, and throughout our history we have recognized our responsibility to protect those resources for the generations to come.
Even as the pioneers traveled west to civilize a wild and seemingly endless frontier, there were Americans who understood that the Nation's natural resources had to be conserved for the future. In 1871, long before all of the continental states were incorporated into the Union, two million acres were set aside to create Yellowstone, our first national park.
The consequences of thoughtless exploitation of our natural resources began to be noticed more than a century ago. In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt convened at the White House a national conference on conservation, where he said: ``The wise use of all our natural resources, which are our national resources as well, is the great material question of today.'' That conference was a historical landmark in the development of public policy to protect and manage this country's natural resources.
Our national environmental ethic was expressed with particular clarity and conviction in 1970. On the first day of that year, President Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act, which created the Council on Environmental Quality and incorporated environmental awareness into the planning processes of the Federal Government. On the last day of 1970, the President signed the Clean Air Act, the Nation's first comprehensive environmental protection law. During that year, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration were established. And on April 22, 1970, millions of Americans voiced their environmental hopes and concerns on Earth Day.
This long national tradition of natural resource stewardship and environmental protection continues today, and in many ways it is stronger than ever. During the last 20 years we have built on the work begun in 1970, and the results have been remarkable. Possible effects on the environment are now weighed carefully whenever Federal agencies plan major actions. Our scientists have developed pollutant detection and control technologies that are far more effective than anything available in 1970. Environmental laws are now enforced, and environmental crimes punished, at every level of government, and enforcement officials have more legal and technical tools at their disposal than ever before. Besides spending billions of dollars a year to capture pollutants before they enter the air or water, American companies are beginning to invest in production materials and processes that generate much less pollution. And governments around the world are working together in unprecedented ways to solve pollution problems that affect the global quality of life.
We can be proud of our environmental track record. In many ways we have set an example for the rest of the world, and other nations continue to look to the United States for environmental leadership. Over the past year, as the countries of Eastern Europe shook off their chains and took charge of their own political and economic lives, they turned to us for help in reversing decades of environmental neglect.
This 1989 Report to the Congress on Environmental Quality is a retrospective -- a look back at the ways our national environmental ethic has evolved over the past 20 years. And in looking back, the report also suggests a fair measure of hope for the future.
We have not solved all our environmental problems. Some we have only begun to understand. But over the past 2 decades we have proven to ourselves, and to the rest of the world, that we are willing to act on our beliefs. If the best prophet of the future is the past, as Lord Byron once wrote, then our children and grandchildren can look forward to the same good health, clean environment, and abundant natural resources that so many Americans have been so fortunate to share.
The White House,
June 6, 1990.