Earth Day's 50th Anniversary
Looking back to keep moving forward
2020 is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. In 1970, Americans assembled in their communities to urge action to protect their environment which was showing the consequences of decades of economic progress that overlooked its environmental consequences. In 1970, the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) became law. Within two years the federal Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act were passed. These landmark laws became the foundation of additional state laws and regulations that measurably improved where we live and how we think about our society’s effect on the ecosphere.
Connecticut’s Council on Environmental Quality (Council) was created in 1971 along with the Department of Environmental Protection (now the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, referred to as “DEEP”). In creating the Council, the legislature assigned it the responsibility to submit “annually to the Governor an environmental quality report, which shall set forth: (1) The status of the major environmental categories including, but not limited to, the air, the water and the land environment; (2) current and foreseeable trends in the quality, management and utilization of the environment and the effects of such trends on the social, economic and health requirements of the state; (3) the adequacy of available natural resources for fulfilling human and economic requirements of the state in the light of projected population pressures;…”. This is that report for the 2019 calendar year.
Environmental Quality in Connecticut normally reports on a series of indicators that quantify trends in important environmental concerns. Usually the data is limited to the year of the report and recent data groupings, since that is of most importance to policy makers and the public. On this 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the Council thinks it is worth illustrating that the programs and policies, set out many years ago, have resulted in significant environmental improvements, many quite dramatic.
Air quality has greatly improved and per capita carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are on track to meet the state’s short-term goal. Nitrogen levels in Long Island Sound have dropped, as has the hypoxia in Long Island Sound. Bald eagles have made a remarkable comeback, due to elimination of the chemicals that threatened their reproductive capacity. Piping plovers have rebounded as a consequence of human interventions to improve their habitats.
The long look also illustrates the categories in need of redoubled effort. The State’s programs to preserve open space and farmland and waste diversion are not likely to achieve their goals. It will also be very challenging, in the near term, to achieve a rebound of bat, lobster, and turtle populations in Connecticut. With the climate changing, controlling the spread of invasive plants, insects, and aquatic invasive species will be very difficult.