The environmental education (EE) community witnessed its first major political
landmark on October 30, 1970 when President Richard Nixon signed Public Law
101-619, the Environmental Education Act (EEA). As the first-ever piece of legislation
designated explicitly for the EE community, the EEA created the federal Office
of Environmental Education (OEE)
in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to award grants for
developing environmental curricula and training teachers. (Congress
moved the OEE to the newly-formed Department of Education in 1979.)
Over the course of the next thirty-five years, the EEA would experience various
ups and downs, including a nine year period starting in 1981 when the EEA was
repealed in a budget reconciliation deal as part of the Reagan Administration's
efforts to transfer the federal role in many programs to the states.
The EEA was freshly resurrected in 1990 when the 101st Congress
passed P.L. 101-619, the newly named National Environmental Education
Act (NEEA), signed into law by President George Bush, Sr.
Similar to the original EEA, this new Act mandated that the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) make EE a priority by administering various activities, including
reestablishment of the OEE. Since then, the OEE and its related NEEA-sanctioned
initiatives have maintained and expanded their work within the EE field, providing
grants for developing environmental curricula and training teachers, fellowships
to encourage the pursuit of environmental professions, and environmental awards
to individuals - all in addition to sponsoring workshops and conferences,
curriculum guidelines, scientifically-sound materials, and many other resources.
The 1990 Act expired in 1996 and several attempts since then to
reauthorize it have failed. However, it is not unusual for Congress to
continue to appropriate funds for programs whose original authorizing
legislation has not been renewed; indeed, from 1997 until 2002,
Congress did continue to fund the OEE and its programs. (However, it is
noteworthy that - although the NEEA authorized funding up to the level
of $16 million/year for the OEE and its programs - Congress has held
funding essentially level between $8 and $9 million each year since
Beginning in 2002, the Bush Administration each year has zeroed out funding
for the program in its budget proposals for FY 2003, FY 2004, FY 2005, and now,
for FY 2006 . The Administration's Office of Budget and Management has
argued that the program's effectiveness is questionable (but, again, the
hidden agenda may be an effort to eliminate federal involvement in education).
In response to widespread state and local support for the program's continuance,
Congress reinstated its funding in FY 2003, FY 2004, and FY 2005.
Given the critical support provided by the OEE, it is deeply regrettable
that, every year since 2002, the EE community has been forced to battle federal
budget cuts that threaten to essentially eliminate its programs.