04/20/2012 03:59 pm ET Updated Jun 20, 2012

42 Years of Celebrating Our Planet: How Far We've Come and Where We Need To Go

Earth Day has been an important and joyful day for me for many years. As a young naval flight officer stationed near San Francisco, I joined tens of thousands of people in the City by the Bay to celebrate our nation's very first Earth Day. Today, 42 years later, I still honor and celebrate the commitment to protecting our planet that inspired that first Earth Day celebration.

As we observe Earth Day this year, we recognize the progress we have made to help clean up our nation's air and water and preserve its natural resources, but we also recognize there's still plenty of work to do. Fortunately, some of the best ways to clean up our air and protect our earth can also bring new jobs and help strengthen our economic recovery.

At the top of the list is the need to support advancements in alternative energy sources and energy efficiency. Investments in home-grown, clean energy can put America on a path to free us of our dependence on foreign oil, reduce air pollution, create jobs and help ease the strain that energy and oil costs put on Americans' wallets every day.

Promoting the manufacturing of energy technologies such as solar panels, wind turbines, fuel cells, and advanced batteries is helping to stimulate our economy, create jobs, and save us money on energy costs. We've already seen the success driven by the growing energy technology sector in Delaware with companies like Solardeck and DuPont.

In addition to making these investments, we must also take steps to reduce our dependence on oil. Since transportation accounts for nearly three-quarters of our oil consumption, we can significantly reduce this dependence by driving more fuel efficient vehicles. As it turns out, there are a lot more of them for sale today than any other time in our nation's history.

In 2010, President Obama announced the next phase in the Administration's program to increase fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas pollution, which stemmed in part from my work in the Senate in 2007 negotiating the first increase in fuel economy standards in more than 30 years. In the coming decade, these new standards for cars and light trucks will help American families save thousands of dollars in fuel costs and significantly reduce oil consumption.

American car companies are helping with the effort, too. For years, when I visited the Detroit Auto Show, company after company unveiled their newest truck or sport-utility vehicle with great fanfare - many of which had horrible gas mileage. Today, it's a different story. Over the past five years, car companies have showcased the latest in cutting edge, efficient automobiles that get 30, 40 - even up to 100 miles per gallon.

It is also important that we develop the technologies that will power our cars on something other than gasoline. Right now, Americans can choose between oil and oil. That's not a real choice. Whether through natural gas, electricity from clean energy or advanced biofuels, making sure that there is competition for our consumer dollars will help drive prices down and give Americans a real choice between gasoline or fuels that are better for our environment, our health, and our pocketbook.

Those of us in government need to create a nurturing environment for businesses and Americans to invest in these new technologies, but all of us can do our part to make a real difference for our environment, our health and our economic prosperity. By working together to support alternative energy sources and energy efficiency, we can build on the progress we've made over the past four decades. I hope that this Earth Day inspires you to join me in treating every day like it is Earth Day.

For more information and a video version of this Earth Day message, please visit my website.