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A truly golden anniversary

Thursday, April 22, was the 51st anniversary of Earth Day. Looking back is always a way of seeing how far we’ve come, and how much further we have to go.

It’s striking to see how the political landscape has changed — like day and night. Fifty years ago both political parties were involved in a push to make conservation a large plank in their platforms for progress.

Republican Mayor of New York John Lindsay created the first municipal Environmental Protection Administration in 1968. But an even more historic moment came two years later when Republican President Richard Nixon established the federal Environmental Protection Agency and endorsed and signed the Clean Air Act.

It’s been a long and distressing evolution to arrive at a point in our history when one of the major political parties would reject those efforts out of hand today. A recent study showed that less than a third of Republicans believe climate change is caused predominantly by human activity.

Iit would be hilarious if it wasn’t so heartbreaking that the last Republican president ranted that wind turbines generating electricity cause cancer.

But he’s gone, and there’s some good news coming from a key demographic of his party.

A poll conducted by The Conservation Coalition and the Conservative Energy Network found that nearly seven out of 10 younger Republican voters said climate change was an important issue for them, and want the government to take steps to reduce greenhouse gases.

Locally, we can see progress beyond politics.

The Peconic Estuary Partnership (PEP), which works for environmental protection, has received more than double its normal funding under the final New York State budget. The package includes $450,000 for PEP, which last year received $200,000 from the state.

The funding will allow PEP to expand its partnership with Stony Brook University on a critical water quality study and its efforts to restore bay scallop populations and eelgrass in the Peconics.

It’s right for taxpayers to ask: What will this increase in our tax dollars allow PEP to accomplish?  For starters, it will help the group with its extraordinary role in protecting the Peconic Bay system. The estuary runs from the headwaters of the Peconic River in Brookhaven Town, in the heart of the Pine Barrens, all the way east to Block Island Sound.

Since 1992, this body of water has been a designated “Estuary of National Significance” — one of just 28 in the nation. This is vitally important work and is well worth the expenditure of taxpayer dollars.

It’s hoped that a true commitment to environmental protection via a comprehensive plan to take on the signature threat of our times, will move beyond the mockery of reactionaries, just as the environmental movement of 50 years ago was laughed at by the same crowd as a pipe dream of addled hippies — and become a reality to protect our home, the Earth.