Today is the 44th anniversary of Earth Day. It also is the 20th anniversary of the death of President Richard Nixon. So is there a connection between the two? There most certainly is. Nixon was President during the first Earth Day. The Environmental Protection Agency was established in December 1970. Pretty soon, every state in the Union established its own version of the EPA. Although Nixon did not start the environmental movement, he certainly did nothing to halt its momentum. In fact, he accelerated it.
Several happenings epitomized this period: Ray Stevens (“Everything is Beautiful”) and Three Dog Night (“Out in the Country”) released strongly pro-environment songs; During our family’s August 1970 trip to Burlington, VT, my uncle Dr. John Paulhus told us how he got covered in green muck after attempting to swim in the heavily-polluted Lake Champlain (The lake was eventually cleaned up); In 1971, the government issued the “Crying Indian” public service announcement — one of the best PSAs ever produced.
Years later, in 1983, former Nixon domestic policy advisor John Ehrlichman harshly criticized the Reagan Administration’s “hands-off approach” to environmental protection (Reagan eventually fired his first EPA head Anne Gorsuch and replaced her with the more moderate pro-environment William Ruckelshaus, who had served as the agency’s first director from 1970 to 1973.)
Debates about global warming (aka “climate change”) and the Keystone Pipeline continue, fully ablaze in a country that I fear may be coming apart. But there is no doubt that “America The Beautiful” took a huge step forward 44 years ago today. And no matter what other fatal flaws he may have possessed, the President who died 20 years ago today played a significant role in making that day — “Earth Day” — possible.