Earth Day: Historical analysis of its foundations

Photo by Anthony Militano

March 28 marked the 40th anniversary of the partial meltdown of reactor number two at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania. On March 24, 1989 a single hulled tanker called the Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound in Alaska and spilled over 10 million gallons of oil into a very cold Bligh Reef. Dec. 2 and 3 of this year will mark the 35th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster in India; a gas leak killed over 2,000 people, injured thousands, and is generally considered to be the worst industrial accident of all time.

The 49th annual Earth Day passed on Monday, April 22, 2019. Race, creed, color, or political affiliation does not matter. Humans are the stewards of the planet and responsible for the health of the environment we all share. Below is a list of American presidents who have passed legislation that has made this world a better place.

1.Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president, Republican. Home state: New York.

Roosevelt was a hunter, naturalist, and conservationist. Ironically, his many hunting trips around the globe made him aware of the need to conserve rare species and preserve fragile habitats. In 1905, Roosevelt created what is known today as the United States Forest Service. He also created the Federal Bird Reserve

2. Woodrow Wilson, 28th president, Democrat. Home state: born in Virginia, raised in Georgia and South Carolina.

The first national park, Yellowstone in Wyoming, was created by Ulysses S. Grant in 1872, but there was no clear means or mechanism to protect or administer America’s emerging national park system. On Aug. 25, 1916, Wilson signed the Organic Act and the National Park Service was born. Under the Organic Act, the federal government “shall promote and regulate the use of the federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations…which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

Zion National Park became Utah’s first national park in 1919. Today, Utah has more national parks than any other state in America.

3. Franklin Roosevelt, 32nd president, Democrat. Home state: New York.

Roosevelt had his hands full during his four terms as president. The Great Depression, The Dust Bowl, World War II; Roosevelt led the country through all of it. Under his “New Deal,” the Civilian Conservation Corps was created. The CCC gave young men an opportunity to work during the Depression. The CCC built roads, buildings, fought forest fires, and planted an estimated three billion trees. Dust storms choked the southern Plains from 1930-1936. Roosevelt’s administration sought to educate farmers “on soil conservation and anti-erosion techniques.”

4. Dwight Eisenhower, 34th president, Republican. Home state: born in Texas, raised in Kansas.

Everybody liked Ike in the 1950s. As Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, in World War II Eisenhower helped vanquish the Nazis in Germany and the Fascists in Italy. Post-World War II, America went through some dramatic changes. There was a baby boom, the middle class expanded, and the American economy exploded with abundant prosperity. Eisenhower was likable, wise, and when Alaska became a state in 1959, he did not see dollars signs–he saw danger. In 1960, the Arctic National Wildlife Range was created. About nine million acres of land in northern Alaska were protected from industrial and commercial development.

5. John Kennedy, 35th president, Democrat. Home state: Massachusetts.

The ‘60s were swinging by the time Kennedy took office. The space race was on. The era of transcontinental jets was in full flight. The civil rights movement was about to spring into high gear. The transistor age and the semi-conductor age and the computer age were just about to take hold. Kennedy’s administration took what could be considered a “scientific” approach to the environment. To know your environment is to have an impact on your environment, and forward thinking was encouraged. In the early 1960s new social movements, new technologies and new scientific breakthroughs all emerged at once. Science and technology can have doubled-edged swords. Used properly, science and technology can have a positive impact on the environment and living beings in that ecosystem.

6. Lyndon Johnson, 36th president, Democrat. Home state: Texas.

Johnson, much like Roosevelt in the 1930s, had a lot on his plate when he took the oath of office after Kennedy’s assassination. Johnson signed over 300 acts that formed the foundation for modern clean air and water laws.

7. Lady Bird Johnson, First Lady, activist. Home state: Texas.

No, Lady Bird Johnson was not president nor was she ever a politician, but this list would not be complete without mentioning her contributions to eco-legislation. Johnson was a relentless environmental advocate over the span of her long life. Laws dictate what you can and cannot do. Lyndon Johnson, the president, was the politician. Ladybird had a softer, feminine, human, inspirational touch. A good environment starts with individual responsibility, and healthy landscapes had the power to transform lives. “Even in the poorest neighborhoods you can find a geranium in a coffee can, a window box set against the scaling side of a tenement, a border of roses struggling to live in a tiny patch of open ground. Where flowers bloom, so does hope,” she said. The law that can be attributed directly to Ladybird Johnson is the Highway Beautification Act of 1965. In 1982, Johnson and actress Helen Hays founded a National Wildflower Research Center. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas still thrives to this day.

8. Richard Nixon, 37th president, Republican. Home state: California.

The executive office changed after the Watergate scandal, as did attitudes and expectations of the American public. Nixon will forever be linked to scandal, which is unfortunate because his achievements in the area of environmental legislation are second to none. He passed the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, created the EPA in 1970, passed the Clean Air Extension Act of 1970, the Marine Mammal Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and proposed the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, which was signed into law by Gerald Ford.

9. Jimmy Carter, 39th President, Democrat. Home state: Georgia.

President Carter installed solar panels in the White House. He also passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980. CERCLA created the concept of Superfunds–trusts designed to help foot the bill for the clean up of toxic waste. The UMTRA project in Moab is a Department of Energy cleanup site.

10. Barack Obama, 44th president, Democrat. Home state: Hawaii.

Obama’s administration spent billions on renewable energy generation and improving energy efficiency. The EPA under President Obama officially determined that green house gases endanger human health and welfare. The findings were upheld in the courts. The EPA issued new rules for green house gases (GHG) from cars, factories and power plants. Again, the courts have upheld the new rules, but some are still up for review. After the Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, the Obama administration changed the rules of offshore drilling. President Obama stopped the construction of the XL pipeline; the pipeline was designed to take Canadian tar sands oil to market and the pipe would have run through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska.


  • Wikipedia: Keystone Pipeline
  • Obama’s Remarkable Environmental Achievements
  • Wikipedia: Superfund Sites
  • Jimmy Carter the Environment
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  • How the White House Went Green: The Environmental Legacy of Lyndon B. Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson
  • Lyndon B. Johnson and the Environment
  • KCETLink Green Urbanism: Remembering JFK’s Major Environmental Achievements
  • Government Response to the Dust Bowl
  •>ccc Brief History
  • Dwight Eisenhower on the Environment History Channel > topics> us-government
  • Wikipedia: History of the National Park Service