The next 559 days – from Earth Day 2003 to Election Day 2004 – could be the most important year and a half in American environmental history. The next 559 days may spell the difference between whether Earth Day in the future is an event to celebrate or a day of disappointment.

Americans have watched the Bush administration dismantle environmental laws that have improved the health and security of families for decades. Americans have watched President Bush consistently place the desires of powerful corporate interests ahead of the needs of regular people. And Americans are not happy. Even with the media focused intently on the war, public approval of Bush’s environmental policies is at its lowest point ever.

President Bush and his advisors are well aware of Bush’s political vulnerability on the environment, so they never miss an opportunity to say the right things. This president proposed to allow big power plants to put more toxic pollution in the air we breathe and called it “Clear Skies.” President Bush wants to turn the management of our natural heritage over to the timber industry and call it “Healthy Forests.” And he covers up a plan that fails to reduce our dependence on foreign oil through a stronger emphasis on cleaner, renewable energy sources and fuel efficiency by calling it – and its billions of dollars in tax breaks to the oil and gas industry – “energy security.” But President Bush should have learned a lesson taught by Teddy Roosevelt: “rhetoric is a poor substitute for action.”

For the next 559 days, the League of Conservation Voters and our partners will do all we can to make sure American voters know which candidates want to do the right things to protect our environment, and which ones just want to talk their way through it. Because in 2004, Election Day might just be the most important earth day ever.

Deb Callahan is president of the League of Conservation Voters, These are remarks prepared for delivery on Earth Day, April 22.