President Obama today presented John Adams, the founding director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor. Adams is the first founder of an American environmental advocacy organization to receive the award since 1991.

Besides the fact that it is an honor to get a Metal of Freedom, several years ago I did have the honor to stay overnight at his home. He makes a great cup of coffee and boy does he love the environment.  Congratulations John!

Following is a statement from John H. Adams, NRDC Founding Director and author of A Force for Nature:

“Forty years ago, people of all political persuasions joined together to form the modern environmental movement. It was President Nixon who signed legislation, backed by an overwhelming majority of Republicans and Democrats alike, that created the EPA and the bedrock environmental laws that have served us well for a generation.

“Back then, protecting our health and our environment’s health wasn’t political.  Clean air and clean water were simply the rights of every American – ones we needed to enforce and protect. The times may have changed, but those basic rights to clean air and clean water and safe food remain.

“Receiving the Medal of Freedom today is not only an honor for me, it is presidential recognition of the vital importance of all American citizens’ environmental rights.”

Carol Browner, the White House adviser on energy and climate, called John a few months ago to tell him about the medal. But rather than pausing to learn why she was calling, John launched into a list of reasons why natural gas companies must not be allowed to ruin the Catskill Mountains in New York State with their dangerous fracking practices.

Browner had to laugh. It was yet another example of how fiercely dedicated John is to protecting the environment. He seizes every opportunity to advocate on its behalf, even—or especially—when the moment is supposed to be about him.

This is what makes John so effective: he is an unstoppable fighter. He is also uncommonly warm and enormously supportive of friends and colleagues. But when it comes to the causes he cares about, he is relentless in their defense. (Today, he has an op-ed in Politico about how nature doesn’t belong to one political party, red or blue; it’s green for all of us.)

He was inspired to start NRDC in 1970 because he was dismayed by the routine destruction of the environment. As he describes in A Force for Nature, the new book he wrote with his wife Patricia, he watched with alarm as his young son woke every morning with soot on his forehead after sleeping next to an open window, and he knew America could do better.

John’s determination to protect Americans from pollution hasn’t waned one bit. Now, 40 years later, he is still fighting for stronger safeguards — including those that will protect drinking water in the Catskills from toxic fracking fluid.

John has become the senior statesman of the environmental community, long serving and widely revered. Those of us in the field know that John’s four decades of leadership has helped embed the value of environmental protection into American culture. And now, thanks to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, many more will know about John’s remarkable achievements.

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