In many ways, the modern era of environmental awareness began in the early 1970s, with the start of Earth Day and the congressional passage of the Clean Air and Clean Water acts.
For Kentucky, 1972 was a pivotal year because that was when the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet was created. Another milestone came four years later, when the first Governor’s Conference on the Environment was held.
Last week, that conference, now in its 33rd year, brought together public and private environmental leaders to cover issues ranging from the “green” opportunities offered by this year’s federal stimulus package to Governor Beshear’s goals to reduce greenhouse emissions by 20 percent while creating 40,000 energy jobs by 2025.
The conference also served as the annual meeting of the Kentucky EXCEL program, which began three years ago and is open to anyone – from individuals to multinational companies – wanting to decrease their energy needs and increase recycling. There are now 180 members.
So far, they have invested more than $65 million in various projects, and in the process have recycled more than 26 million aluminum cans, 21 million pounds of scrap metal and 2.7 million pounds of plastic. They have conserved enough natural gas that it could supply all of Kentucky’s residential users for the next 10 months, and they have used enough ethanol to power a car around the Earth 919 times.
One way the General Assembly could build on those efforts was discussed at a legislative meeting late last month, when Department of Environmental Protection officials recommended tighter controls on junk electronics – those old computers, cell phones and televisions that many of us have in our homes. These devices contain dangerous materials that could leach into the soil and water if not properly disposed.
There are no firm estimates on how much we have, but U.S. Environmental Protection Agency numbers indicate it could be as high as 100,000 tons in Kentucky alone. So far, 19 states, including five surrounding us, have laws that set tighter limits on the disposal of this waste.
When looking at the big picture, it is becoming increasingly evident that our environmental awareness is continuing to grow.
Further proof of that came last week, when the Kentucky Environmental Education Council issued the results of its third statewide survey testing our knowledge and gauging our attitudes. This year’s report, complementing those done in 1999 and 2004, found that the greatest concern among Kentuckians is water and then air pollution.
Almost everyone said they thought that it was possible to protect the environment and have a strong economy. Nearly two-thirds said they would be willing to pay more for goods and services if it protected the environment, though the percentage is smaller than in the two previous surveys.
There are areas where more education is needed. Nearly half, for example, believe factory waste is the leading source of water pollution, when in fact it is run-off from fields, pavement and lawns. More Kentuckians than before are aware that coal is the major source of electricity in the nation, but nearly a third thinks that coal and oil are renewable. Fourteen percent believe illegal dumps are the leading destination for household garbage, rather than landfills.
One area where there was near-universal agreement came when those surveyed were asked if environmental education should be taught in school. The 98 percent who support this mirror results found in other national surveys.
Maintaining that environmental awareness in our younger generations is important as we continue trying to find that balance between keeping our air, soil and water clean without adversely affecting the quality of life to which we have become accustomed. It has the potential to be our most difficult challenge this century.
If you have any thoughts on this issue or any other involving state government, please feel free to write to me at Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.
You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For the deaf or hard of hearing, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.