Editorial | Earth Day offers much to celebrate

The following editorial appeared in the Kansas City Star on Monday.

As the nation celebrates Earth Day today, it’s an excellent opportunity to highlight the positive initiatives taken in the past to protect the air, water and land we all depend on for life.

The special day, which began April 22, 1970, has spurred much progress. U.S. laws have cleaned up rivers and the air, especially in large cities.

Yet Earth Day 2014 also occurs at a time when many difficult challenges remain. Americans could be doing much more to clean up the environment.

In Washington, members of Congress could ditch their head-in-the-sand approach to climate change and directly address the very real concerns it raises. Lawmakers should take a renewed look at how to push industries that pollute this country to reduce their harmful emissions.

This often can be through common-sense improvements to coal-burning plants that end up creating jobs in the anti-pollution industry.

GOP lawmakers also should pull back on attempts to undermine the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to carry out its mission — created by a Republican president — to shield the nation’s air, water and land from long-lasting damage.

The EPA, if anything, needs a bigger stick to carry in enforcing strong federal laws.

And we all can take simpler steps, such as planting trees, participating in stream cleanups, taking public transit, buying more efficient light bulbs, installing programmable thermostats and unplugging unused electronic appliances that needlessly consume energy every day.

Those are admittedly small changes that, if done by enough people, would benefit Earth on its special day and long into the future.