By Scott Carlson
Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, pollution by American industrial companies was rampant.  By the time President Nixon took office, public concern over this problem had grown immensely, especially after a number of major environmental catastrophes.  President Nixon knew something needed to be done about the degradation of the environment and he took action.

Aside from environmental disasters, growth in the public’s concern over the issue of the environment was due to the obvious visual harm that was being done to the natural environment.  In New York City in the summer 1966, incredible amounts of smog were generated, which became attributed to the death of 169 people.  Several years later in 1969, an oil rig in Santa Barbara caused the largest ocean oil spill of the era, which had a disastrous effect on the coastal and marine environment on the California coastline.  It was the 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland, Ohio that led to an article in Time Magazine and garnered even more of the public’s attention.  Factories had pumped waste into the river for decades leaving a thick layer of oil that eventually caught ablaze… for the second time!

These disastrous events throughout the 1960’s gave a greater understanding and awareness to the public about the dangerous pollution trends of the era. The heightened public awareness about the issue led to the demands that the federal government needed to regulate the environment through laws and standards for companies to meet.

In a special message to Congress in July of 1970, President Nixon relayed his concerns about the environment and established the Environmental Protection Agency. The President said,

“Our national government today is not structured to make a coordinated attack on the pollutants which debase the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land that grows our food.”

To this point, he argued for the passage of a government reorganization plan, which took some of the functions of other branches and compiled them under the responsibilities of what would be the new EPA.

President Nixon’s intent for the EPA was to have an agency that was focused specifically on the quality of the environment.  The effort of the government prior to the EPA was splintered, with a number of different agencies holding separate responsibilities for environmental regulations.  This divided effort was ineffective.  President Nixon wanted an agency with an effective focus on cleaning up and maintaining the environment.  With the creation of the EPA and the numerous environmental acts that were enacted in 1970, the government now had the proper control to defend against the pollution that had grown uncontrolled for decades.

Under President Nixon’s administration, a number of laws were passed in an effort to preserve and repair the natural environment.  Between 1970 and 1972, the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Marine Mammal Protection Act were all passed.  These were the laws that the EPA was able to use to effectively regulate the American natural environment.  The environmental laws that were passed during President Nixon’s administration set the basis for effectively cleaning and maintaining the beauty of America’s environment.

Following President Nixon’s administration, the argument can be made that the EPA used these laws to over-regulate private industries, inhibiting economic growth—a legacy never intended by President Nixon. During his administration, President Nixon faced the growing issue of environmental damage and the problem was growing severe.  The enactment of the EPA and the subsequent environmental laws were meant to simply reverse the process of environmental damage caused by pollution.  In this regard, the EPA was successful.  President Nixon cared deeply for the environment, and with the situation becoming so dire, he made the decision to take a stand against the heavy polluters of the era.  The EPA’s later expansion of power and over-regulation, following the Nixon administration, was something that could not be predicted at its founding.

Since President Nixon started the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, the agency has gone on to accomplish great things in environmental preservation.  Our air and water is much cleaner today than it was when President Nixon took office.  Due to the work of the EPA, today’s cars are 98% cleaner than in 1970 in smog-producing terms.   The EPA has done immense work in keeping America’s air clean as there has been a 60% decrease in dangerous air pollutants since 1970.  Water quality and the health of our lakes have improved as well. There are half as many lakes today that suffer from increased nutrient concentrations than there were in 1970.

Because of President Nixon’s dedication to improving the health of our nation’s natural environment, America’s resources are now cleaner and better protected from dangerous pollutants.  Public concern over the status of the environment in the late 1960’s had grown large, and President Nixon listened to the country and took action.