Today in Legal History: Earth Day

Before 1970 there were no legal or regulatory devices to protect the environment. In the spring of 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson, inspired by the student anti-war movement, created Earth Day as a way to force environmental protection onto the national political agenda. On April 22, 1970, Earth Day was observed by millions of Americans who took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to rally for a healthy, sustainable environment. Earth Day was a huge success, and in December 1970 Congress authorized the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency to tackle environmental issues.

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Today in Legal History: EPA Formed

The EPA was established on December 2, 1970, under the administration of Richard Nixon.  The EPA took over responsibilities previously handled by the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, the Atomic Energy Commission, and two lesser agencies.

The EPA was established due to increased concern about pollution in the late 1960’s.  Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was a bestseller.  The Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught on fire in 1969.  People demanded action.

The first EPA Administrator was William D. Ruckelshaus.  Under his direction the EPA began issuing rules and regulations within weeks.  Cities were threatened with suits if they did not clean up their drinking water.  DDT was quickly banned.

The EPA is currently responsible for mileage standards, auto emissions, air, soil and water quality, hazardous waste, efficiency standards for appliances, radiation pollution and more.

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