Earth Day -- April 22 -- has been celebrated since 1970. Like all holidays, it runs the risk of being watered down from its original mission of a day for fighting to protect our precious air, water and land.
The danger is that Earth Day becomes not a moment for fighting for genuine change -- but for paying lip service to green causes, while actually embracing harmful policies that threaten health and the environment.
Which brings us to Gov. Gary Herbert. Last March, to great fanfare, he unveiled his Ten Year Strategic Energy Plan to "ensure that Utah is at the forefront of solving the world's energy challenges."
Environmental concerns wouldn't be secondary in that push, Herbert assured us. In addition, he claimed, "Utah is at the very forefront of the nation -- and oftentimes the world -- in developing alternative and renewable energy technologies."
On Earth Day -- and in an election year -- we must ask of a governor who claims to be a leader in renewable energy: How is Utah doing when it comes to developing our abundant wind, solar and geothermal resources?
The short answer: Dreadfully. The state is falling sharply behind the rest of the country in renewable energy. Only 3 percent of the electricity produced in Utah comes from renewable sources, according to federal data. That leaves Utah ranked 46th in the nation.
Despite Gov. Herbert's clean energy rhetoric, it really is no surprise that his policies have actually embraced the dirty energy of the past. After all, his "closest and most trusted political adviser," according to a Salt Lake City newspaper, is Bob Henrie, a one-time coal industry publicist. His campaign contributors are littered with coal, oil and gas industry connections, such as Kimball Rasmussen, the CEO of Deseret Power, which owns and runs a coal power plant. In fact, recent reports state that nearly $1 out of every $6 donated to Herbert's campaign comes from oil, gas, oil shale and other energy interests.
Those cozy connections with polluters have serious policy implications. They matter to those Utahns who think we should actually be building the energy economy of tomorrow -- rather than just uttering some comforting words about it.
Instead, we get a governor whose administration approves water rights for the proposed Green River nuclear reactors, even though the company behind that bid has utterly failed to show they have enough money to move forward with their plan, as Utah law requires.
We get a governor whose administration is about to allow EnergySolutions to dump hotter blended nuclear waste in our West Desert, reversing a 2005 ban on hotter wastes enacted by the state Legislature and Gov. Jon Huntsman, and cementing Utah as the dumping ground for nearly all the nation's disposable nuclear power plant waste.
We get a governor willing to waste millions on frivolous proposals to seize federal lands and turn them over to oil and gas interests, even as virtually every legal expert in the land says those measures have zero chance of succeeding.
We get a governor whose answer to the dirty air which plagues communities along the Wasatch Front is a Web site designed to "encourage" people to volunteer to drive less -- with zero focus on actually targeting the industries which are the biggest single contributors to air pollution that sickens thousands of our children and adults.
It's a good thing Gov. Herbert wasn't in charge of environmental policies over the past 40 years since Earth Day was born.
If he were, we'd have policies "encouraging" people to stop using deadly leaded gasoline, "encouraging" cities to stop dumping raw sewage in our rivers and lakes, and "encouraging" companies to stop using unnecessary chlorofluorocarbons, chemicals that were destroying the planet's ozone layer and driving up rates of deadly skin cancer.
It's the lesson of Earth Day 2012. Be wary of leaders who mouth the words of fighting for our health and environment.
Rather, we all must demand that their policies match their rhetoric.
Matt Pacenza is the policy director of HEAL Utah, which fights to protect Utah from nuclear and toxic risks.