This Earth Week, we would like to take a moment to celebrate the public protections that have protected our environment and our health.
It may be hard to imagine that before 1970, a factory could spew black clouds of toxic pollution into the air or dump tons of toxic waste into a nearby stream, and that doing so was perfectly legal. In many cases, those companies could not be held accountable for damaging the environment and our health.
How was that possible? Before 1970, there was no EPA, no Clean Air Act, and no Clean Water Act. In short, there were far fewer legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect our environment.
In April 1970, the late Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-WI) started the first Earth Day as a way to force the issue of environmental protection onto the national agenda. An estimated twenty million Americans demonstrated in different U.S. cities, and it worked!
In December 1970, Congress authorized the creation of a new federal agency to tackle environmental issues, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Congress also passed the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act (in 1972), the National Environmental Policy Act, and more to give the EPA and other federal agencies the power to regulate and protect our environment.
The work hasn’t stopped, though, and we still need the strong public protections and safeguards that have been working for the past 40 years to keep Americans healthy and safe. That’s why it’s up to us to fight back against attacks that would roll back these critical protections—and hurt our environment, our health, and our well-being.