President Richard Nixon appeared in San Clemente, California, for the momentous signing of the National Environmental Policy Act, on New Year’s Day in 1970, formally altering the government’s role from “conserving the wilderness to protecting the health of the environment and the general public,” reports Karen Hao.

“Nixon, who was largely indifferent to environmental issues but sensitive about his own popularity, succumbed to the public pressure,” notes Hao.

But Nixon did indeed rise to the momentous occasion, telling Americans:

The 1970s absolutely must be the years when America pays its debt to the past by reclaiming the purity of its air, its waters, and our living environment. It is literally now or never.

More importantly, he followed up his speech with immediate action, rolling out an “unprecedented 37-point plan on the environment in February and approved the idea of forming an independent agency dedicated to enforcing environmental regulation by April. The Environmental Protection Agency became a government entity with its own member of the Cabinet by summer and opened its doors at the beginning of December.

“With a budget of $2.5 billion at the start of 1971, the agency was tasked with researching, standard-setting, monitoring and enforcing five environmental hazards: air and water pollution, solid waste disposal, radiation, and pesticides,” says Hao.

Read more at Mother Jones


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