By MIKE GLOVER
Associated Press Writer
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - Democratic presidential rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards campaigned separately in Iowa Sunday as they urged thousands to make environmental protection a top campaign issue.
They marked Earth Day in separate campaign appearances, touting proposals they said would promote energy conservation and cut down on pollution.
"Today is Earth Day, and I personally believe every day should be Earth Day," said Clinton, D-N.Y. "We have a duty to protect God's creation and we have a responsibility to repair the damage that we do as we go on in life."
She spoke to about 1,000 people packed into a gymnasium Sunday at Luther College in Decorah, in northeast Iowa.
"Some of the damage ... we didn't know about, we didn't understand," she said. "But now we do - so we have no excuses left."
Clinton touted her plans to create a strategic energy fund, invest oil companies' "windfall profits" in renewable energy efforts and lead the nation to get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable resources by 2020.
In Iowa City, Obama told nearly 5,000 people at a noisy rally not to wait for their political leaders to tackle giant issues like climate change.
"It's not going to happen just because of some presidential candidate or because some bills are introduced in Congress," said Obama, D-Ill. "It's going to happen because the American people mobilize around the issue."
While former Vice President Al Gore has helped drive the debate with his film "An Inconvenient Truth," the increased level of interest in the presidential campaign is caused by a sense of urgency among the electorate on issues including climate change as well as health care and deficit, Obama said.
"People feel genuinely concerned about whether we are reaching a tipping point, where if we don't make some decisions now, we're not going to be able to solve some very major problems," Obama said. "There's just a sense we're out of balance, we're out of whack and the American people are going to have to engage if we're going to be able to solve these problems."
In Waterloo, Edwards renewed his call for universal health care coverage, but also addressed the environment.
He said he would cap carbon dioxide emissions, lowering the cap each year, and put a "maximum investment" into sources of alternative energy.
Edwards has proposed the creation of what he calls a New Energy Fund by auctioning off $10 billion in greenhouse pollution permits and repealing subsidies for big oil companies.
"We want to receive 25 percent of our electricity from renewable sources of energy by the year 2025 and we want to decentralize the way electricity is provided in America," Edwards said. "We want to reduce greenhouse emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050. It's an aggressive plan, but it is achievable."
Clinton, a prodigious fundraiser who is topping the polls of Democratic presidential candidates, lobbed harsh criticism at the Bush administration on the environment, health care coverage and the war in Iraq.
Clinton said she has introduced a bill that requires federal buildings to save energy and her campaign has even pledged to go carbon-neutral - using energy efficient light bulbs and recycled paper in an effort to cut down on pollution.
She said the Bush administration should be more willing to engage diplomatically, citing clerical powers in Iran as an example.
Clinton said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is "like their front man, he's like their puppet. He goes out and gets people agitated and says things that everybody responds to, but he's not making the decisions. The decisions are being made within the alternative government of these clerics."
"We have no idea of how these people think, we have no contact with them," Clinton said.
Obama said he has offered specific proposals on the environment, ranging from toughening fuel efficiency standards to cutting back on carbon emissions. He said he was particularly proud of a proposal that gives automakers relief on paying retiree health costs, if they put the money back into producing more efficient vehicles.
"Earth Day provides us the opportunity to leave our children a planet that's cleaner, safer and more prosperous than we found it," Obama said. "In states like Iowa and California, people are taking the lead on producing fuels that contain less carbon."
Obama said if he is elected president, he will extend that commitment nationwide.
Associated Press writer Amy Lorentzen contributed to this report from Decorah, Iowa.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)