It's been 44 years since Earth Day was founded by U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, contributing to the subsequent passage of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act.
This year's Earth Day — Tuesday, April 22 — may not be as revolutionary, and municipal governments may not have the power of U.S. Congress, but local officials Mayor Steve Ponto and Elm Grove Village Manager Dave De Angelis said local government does have an important role to play in protecting the environment.
"I think each generation has a responsibility to be good stewards of the earth for future generations," Ponto said. "I really am very proud of what Brookfield is doing in this area, and it's something I fully support."
Buildings and operations
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends several ways for local governments to improve its environmental footprint, beginning with leading by example through its buildings and operations.
Ponto pointed to the solar panels on the public safety building and the green roof on the aquatic center in Wirth Park as examples of the city's progress in this area.
De Angelis said the village also has taken strides to reduce its energy consumption. For example, the village is working on switching its outdoor lights to LEDs.
"I think local government's role, especially in Elm Grove, is we look at the activities we have to perform and do them the most ecologically sensitive way that we can and still provide the services we need to," De Angelis said.
The EPA also calls for promoting environmental programs, including recycling.
Ponto said the city received a check of $212,634 on April 17 from Waukesha County for the city's recycling during 2013. The city was second only to the city of Waukesha for the amount of material its residents sorted for recycling.
"I think there's a lot of voluntary cooperation with recycling in Brookfield because people want to feel that they're doing their part to be environmentally responsible," Ponto said.
City residents sent about 3,030 tons of materials to the recycling program, about a fifth of everything they threw away.
Elm Grove received $41,833 for recycling about 440 tons of materials, comprising about 18 percent of all its waste. Of all the villages in Waukesha County, it sent the second greatest amount of recycling material in 2013.
Laws and planning
Lastly, the EPA emphasizes laws and community planning as ways to integrate environmental preservation.
Since Ponto took office, the city of Brookfield has celebrated a government-ordained Sustainable Brookfield Day, which recognizes local businesses for their conservation efforts each year in October. Last year, it highlighted R.A. Smith National, which says it has produced enough solar power to equal more than 2,600 gallons of gas.
Sustainability also is defined as a goal in Brookfield's 2035 comprehensive plan: "For Brookfield, sustainability is focused not only on protecting natural resources, but also on ensuring a high quality of life for all residents while considering the impact local actions have on the greater region and world."
In Elm Grove, De Angelis said, officials recently passed a law encouraging residents to use more porous materials in hardscaping — such as driveways, for example, — to reduce runoff and allow water to filter down through the soil.
The village also has a naturalization program, which involves planting in areas that are just turf grass, to add filtration to stormwater runoff. De Angelis said staff is working with the Department of Natural Resources to naturalize the area around a detention basin.
"I believe we do have a responsibility to our environment that we live in, and for those things that we can control, to be good stewards and leave it better than we found it," De Angelis said.
Brookfield and Elm Grove will both be celebrating Arbor Day on Friday, April 25, by planting trees.
Staff with Elm Grove's Forestry Department will be planting trees with local Girl Scouts at Village Park, while Ponto will be at Swanson Elementary School.
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