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Every Earth Day, I think about how lucky I am to have spent the majority of my life in the Natural State. I was born in Russellville, in the heart of the Arkansas River Valley; grew up boating and fishing on Lake Dardanelle; and have poignant memories of camping and swimming at Bayou Bluff along the Middle Fork of the Illinois Bayou.

For college, I chose the University of Arkansas, which overlooks the majestic Ozark Mountains, and since the end of the Clinton administration, I have called Little Rock my home. And over the last 25 years, my family has spent cherished time together watching wildlife, hiking, and hunting at our cabin surrounded by the breathtaking beauty of the Ozark National Forest.

President Clinton also grew up with a reverence for Arkansas' natural beauty, which I believe influenced his lifelong commitment to environmental stewardship. During his administration, he established the Roadless Rule to safeguard 58.5 million acres of heritage forests and protect the last remaining undisturbed landscapes. He adopted the most stringent air pollution policies in our nation's history. And in 1996, he expanded and reauthorized the Safe Drinking Water Act to protect 40 million additional Americans.

President Clinton placed water at the forefront of his environmental focus, working to protect the reserves we drink, the water within our nation's borders, and the world's shared oceans. During his second term, he announced the Clean Water Action Plan, a national strategy to protect waterways from the runoff of agriculture, feedlots, mining and urban development.

The American Heritage Rivers program was established by President Clinton to preserve, protect, and restore our country's rivers, including the lower Mississippi that flows through Arkansas. He also introduced legislation and issued executive orders to conserve coral reefs and marine life in Caribbean and Hawaiian waters; extended a moratorium on offshore leasing to minimize dangerous drilling; implemented international agreements to protect fish populations; and invested in the restoration of the Florida Everglades.

I am grateful for all of these conservation efforts, but the Emerald Coast in the Florida Panhandle holds a special significance for me. This summer will mark the 42nd year of our annual Streett family vacation, where we spend a week together (all 22 of us now) enjoying the emerald-green waters and snow-white beaches of this spectacular paradise we affectionately call the "Redneck Riviera." I'm very thankful my children get to enjoy these same pristine beaches I visited growing up due to the water quality and shoreline initiatives led by the Clinton administration.

I'm equally proud that President Clinton's dedication to protecting the planet did not diminish when he left the White House. The Clinton Foundation is committed to keeping ecosystems healthy, addressing climate change, supporting renewable energy, and educating the generation ahead. From making strides in energy efficiency through innovative business practices to sharing climate-smart agricultural practices with Malawian farmers, our work has reduced global emissions by tens of thousands of tons per year while creating local jobs and boosting economies. Currently, the Clinton Foundation is supporting the protection of a watershed in Puerto Rico's metropolitan and main port areas, which face flooding, trash collection, water quality, and environmental degradation issues, and installing solar systems on schools and medical centers in the Caribbean.

President Clinton's commitment to sustainability is also evident at the Clinton Presidential Center. The Clinton Library was awarded a platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) certification in 2007. It was also the first LEED-certified building in Arkansas when completed in 2004. The 1899 Choctaw Station, which houses the Clinton Foundation and Clinton School of Public Service, attained LEED-EB gold certification in 2014, making it the oldest LEED-certified building in the state.

The Clinton Center's newest temporary exhibition, "Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea," will open on Saturday. It is a family-friendly installation featuring more than 20 giant sea-life sculptures made entirely of trash and debris collected from oceans and beaches. You'll see a massive great white shark; huge jellyfish; and a vibrant but vulnerable reef at risk made from flip-flops, plastic bottles, beach toys, nets, pool noodles, and many more everyday items.

It is important to remember that we are all responsible for the plastic and trash that comprise these colorful sculptures. On Earth Day--and every day--we must commit ourselves to protecting our natural resources, including our waterways, and the flora and fauna that call them home. These precious resources need our attention now more than ever. Although "Washed Ashore" is a temporary exhibit, my sincere hope is that Clinton Center visitors walk away with a renewed and permanent commitment to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

As President Clinton says, "When we protect our oceans and waterways, we are protecting our future."

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Stephanie S. Streett is the executive director of the Clinton Foundation. During the Clinton administration she served as assistant to the president and director of scheduling.

Editorial on 04/22/2019

Print Headline: Protect our future

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