The environment has been conspicuously absent from this year’s presidential campaign. A Gallup Poll taken this past summer ranked concern about the environment next to last among a list of twelve priorities facing the next president, so this is not surprising.
Forty years ago, when President Nixon was running for a second term, that wasn’t the case. The American people were deeply concerned about the state of the environment. That’s why Nixon’s strong record of environmental progress was a key element of his re-election campaign.
Rachel Carson’s landmark 1962 book Silent Spring is widely considered to have given birth to a broad-based environmental awareness in America. Yet when it comes to landmark environmental policymaking, there’s no doubt that Richard Nixon is responsible for raising environmentalism to maturity.
As early as 1962, Nixon recognized the need for government action to address pressing environmental challenges. Campaigning for governor of California, he advocated far-sighted measures to safeguard water quality by protecting what we now call “watersheds.” He also promoted aggressive action to reduce air pollution, including some of the earliest proposals to reduce vehicle emissions.
Less than a decade later, Richard Nixon became the first president to make environmental protection “a national priority.” In his historic February 10, 1970 Special Message to Congress on Environmental Quality, Nixon proposed a 37-point plan to “move us dramatically forward toward what has become an urgent common goal of all Americans: the rescue of our natural habitat as a place both habitable and hospitable to man.”
President Nixon’s leadership led to the creation of modern environmental policy. The Nixon administration initiated the many of the most important – and enduring – environmental policies in American history. And he did so with strong bi-partisan support from a Congress firmly controlled by the Democrats.
- He established the Council on Environmental Quality in the White House to focus the administration’s environmental policy efforts and established the Environmental Protection Agency, bringing the federal government’s various environmental functions under one roof.
- He enacted the legislation that continues to form the foundation of America’s environmental policy. The National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1970, and the Endangered Species Act are just some of President Nixon’s major policy accomplishments.
- He sought dramatic funding increases to strengthen the nation’s efforts to improve water quality and reduce air pollution.
- He pursued partnerships with state and local governments to construct much-needed sewage treatment facilities to stop the discharge of raw sewage into the nation’s waterways.
- He created the Legacy of Parks program that, before he left office, gave state and local governments more than 80,000 of acres surplus federal lands for public parks and recreational activities.
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