History is comprised of a series of fleeting moments. But, every so often, our nation has an opportunity to chart a new and fairer course for future generations.
We are at such a moment.
Americans have a big decision to make.
One choice is for our nation to remain stuck in the past by continuing to rely on old manufacturing and industrial models that will, eventually, no longer work. As a result, while these jobs continue to disappear or go overseas, America will fall behind in the global economy.
The other choice is for Americans to embrace the economic changes that are already underway by investing in clean energy technology. This will create jobs, protect the health of our communities and ensure that America remains a leader in the global marketplace.
The choice is clear: we must shape a green future. As President Obama said in his State of the Union address: this is our new "Sputnik moment."
Unfortunately, there are powerful interests -- making money off the old system -- who are using their influence to prevent others from seeing this issue clearly, in order to preserve the status quo.
They do this by attacking the Environmental Protection Agency, which is simply trying to establish appropriate guidelines to keep our air clean.
These powerful interests are using the same old scare tactics to give the false impression that helping our environment means hurting our economy.
They look for TV cameras and scream irresponsible phrases like "job killer" and "regulatory hell" that are good for sound bites, but cloud the debate with distortions.
The fact is that they are protecting the jobs of the past. Advancing technology and market conditions will continue to make it difficult on, for example, dedicated steelworkers, who, often times, are from minority and low-income communities and are already struggling to make ends meet and pay the bills.
But, thankfully, there is hope. Today's steelworker can be tomorrow's solar panel installer, which is why we have to embrace the clean energy future.
The simple truth is that Americans don't have to make a choice between saving lives and creating jobs. As President Obama stated, investments in clean technology will spark innovation. The green sector is the next wave of explosive economic growth. In order for our nation to remain a leader in the global economy, we must be a leader in the green economy.
Right now, we are falling behind. A Pew report found that China invested almost double what the United States invested in clean energy projects in 2009. Continued debate and delays will only cause us to lose more ground in the global race -- as will additional attacks on environmental standards.
The fact is that improving Clean Air Act standards will generate innovation and investment into new technology, while protecting the environment. Creating jobs and securing the public health are two issues that should appeal to both Republicans and Democrats.
But, critics still argue that the EPA is some sort of crusade from the left. It isn't.
President Nixon founded the EPA, seeking to "bring clean air, clean water, and a better environment for all Americans." During the George W. Bush administration, the US Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases are a pollutant, and gave the EPA the ability to regulate them under the Clean Air Act.
This isn't a Democrat or Republican issue. It's a people issue. All of America benefits when we strengthen environmental standards. That is why we must fight to hold big polluters accountable.
We have just been through two years of inaction. Now is the time to fight to improve Clean Air Act standards so that we can reduce pollution in all communities.
Key to this effort is an unprecedented investment in clean energy.
I can understand, however, why some are so resistant. Change isn't easy. Clean technology is new and misunderstood. And, the economic and environmental challenges we face are serious.
But, when have Americans ever failed to meet a challenge? Never.
So, let's ignore the powerful interests, and all their hot air about clean air.
Instead, let's fight for the green and prosperous future that the next generation deserves.
Follow Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins on Twitter: www.twitter.com/phaedraEL