Green Legislation — Nixon Administration

President Richard Nixon
President Richard Nixon

During President Richard Nixon’s Administration (1696-1974), comprehensive and far-reaching environmental legislation was enacted, American involvement in the Vietnam War ended, and diplomatic relations with the U.S.S.R. and China were improved.

The first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970.

This is the 3rd and final post in a series about green legislation passed during the administrations of several past presidents and will focus on President Richard Nixon.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 was authored by Washington Senator, Henry M. Jackson, and signed into law by President Richard Nixon on January 1, 1970. The purpose of the Act is included in the preamble:

“To declare national policy which will encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment; to promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man; to enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the Nation…”

NEPA represented the first U.S. national environmental policy. The environmental assessment (EA) and environmental impact statement (EIS) processes were put in place to ensure the environment was considered during federal project decision making.

The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) was created to advise the president on the environment, oversee federal agency adherence to the EA and EIS process, and encourage government-wide coordination on the environment, natural resources, and energy.

Reorganization Plans Nos. 3 and 4 of 1970 – Establish EPA and NOAA

On July 9, 1970, President Richard Nixon submitted to Congress Reorganization Plans Nos. 3 and 4 of 1970. No. 3 established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) U.S. Environmental Protection Agency LogoU.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Logothus elevating environmental protection to cabinet level status and giving the EPA far-reaching authority. No. 4 created the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the Department of Commerce to provide climate forecasts to enhance protection of life and property from natural hazards, monitor the environment, manage fisheries and coastlines, and examine changes in the oceans.

Clean Air Act Extension of 1970

Maine Senator Edmund Muskie played a central role in drafting the Clean Air Act Extension of 1970 which was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on December 1, 1970. The 1970 Act substantially expanded federal clean air mandates. The newly formed EPA was given authority to develop and enforce air quality and pollution regulations.

In addition to stationary (industrial) emissions, mobile (car, truck, and airplane) emissions were regulated for the first time. The 1970 Act included regulation of fuels and fuel additives, noise pollution and abatement, and established specific emission targets and time frames. For instance, car manufacturers were required to reduce emissions for new cars 90% by 1975.

Power PlantRegional air quality standards were replaced by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Regulated pollutants included carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, ozone, lead, and particulate matter. Each state was required to develop a plan, subject to EPA approval, to attain and maintain NAAQS, and later provide data demonstrating compliance. States were given until 1975 to meet the new NAAQS. A New Source Review (NSR) program was put in place to ensure new sources of emissions were reviewed prior to construction.

An important provision of the 1970 Act was a citizen’s right to sue, to the extent permitted by the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Clean Air Act has been amended and expanded several times since 1970.

Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973

On December 28, 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) into law to be jointly administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service.

Bald Eagle in FlightThe ESA expanded efforts to protect imperiled species and actively work towards lessening threats to their survival, on a worldwide basis. The types of species that could be listed were expanded. To address the loss of habitat, a primary reason species become imperiled, the ESA allowed for specific areas to be protected as “critical habitat”.

The import, export, interstate and foreign commerce of listed species were prohibited. Interstate and inter-agency cooperation requirements were covered, as well as international cooperation and conventions. The ESA defined the process for listing a species, developing recovery plans, and delisting—the ultimate goal.


Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information and to spark conversation. Her mission is to live more lightly on Earth and to persuade everyone else to do the same.

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