04/22/2012 09:22 am ET Updated Jun 22, 2012

This World Is Not Ours

I have always believed that each one of us has the responsibility to stand up for environmental protection for our world's future, because this world, as much as we take it for granted, is not ours. I believe we do not inherit this Earth from previous generations, but we borrow it from the future ones, and we must keep our nation's commitment to a healthy and secure environment. Today is Earth Day, a landmark for the environmental movement. Since the first Earth Day in 1970, Americans have worked to improve the air we breathe and the water we drink. Each April 22 we come together in a day of reflection to evaluate our progress in the fight to protect our environment.

Since I was a boy, I have been in awe of Earth. I love the Great Outdoors and have been a conservationist since before it was popular. I have always cherished and fought to protect our glorious natural resources, and I am very proud of the role I played in many of our cornerstone environmental laws. When I first arrived in Congress, the United States had virtually no environmental protection statutes on the books. Businesses, governments, and individuals could spew unregulated pollution into the air and water or dump onto the ground virtually anything -- with impunity.

In the 1970s, we recognized that we owe it to future generations to protect the world, which is our only home. The laws we passed were not revolutionary, they were common sense, and were passed on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis. One could even say that these environmental laws were so important that they were, in fact, nonpartisan. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) passed the House with only 15 votes against it, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) with only four, and the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 with only 25.

Since passage of the original Clean Air Act, America's GDP has grown by more than 200 percent and even though four decades later these policies are still intact, we face challenges. Sadly, partisan bickering and partisan agendas threaten to return us to the sad times, when we were destroying our great natural treasures. We must not allow the weakening of some of our most fundamental environmental protections, including the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, NEPA, the ESA, and the Clean Water Act. We must fight against these challenges, and know these challenges hold the very real threat of rolling back years of progress. It is time to expand the public understanding that the health and future of our children and future generations depend on a clean, safe and secure environment.

Last Congress, we invested nearly $11 billion in Recovery Act funding for projects in restoring marine life, training for green jobs, and improving water quality. These investments launched a clean energy economy that will create millions of jobs that can't be outsourced, set up long-term ways to lower energy costs for American families and businesses, put us on a solid track to reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil, and improve standards to reduce the carbon emissions causing climate change.

We must strongly support advances in science and health that will protect our human environment and we must provide incentives for engineers and innovators of tomorrow to foster their ideas so America is making the commodities of the future. We in America must "out-innovate, out-educate, and out build" our global competitors.

We are at a vital point in history. We lead, but if we fail in our leadership, we will fall into the dustbins of history. America has always led the way on sound, balanced environmental laws that help the economy and encourage business to flourish that at the same time protect the air we breathe and water we drink. We cannot excuse failure to continue strong environmental policies that have and will continue to provide such great long-term economic benefits for Americans.

On this 42nd Earth Day, I challenge all Americans to demonstrate a commitment to protecting the air we all breathe, water we all drink, and the land we borrow to sustain us. I urge my colleagues in Congress to find common ground and work together so we can recommit ourselves to implementing policies which restore our ecosystems, reduce pollution, and meet our environmental challenges while strengthening and growing our economy. We have made great environmental gains during the past generation and are seeing attempts to dismantle that progress. Ultimately, we cannot look at persons in the other end of the boat and say pardon me, your end of the boat is sinking. As residents of the Earth, we are all in this boat, and we must lead the world in maintaining a vibrant, thriving and healthy ecosystem.