On June 22, 1969, an oil slick and other debris wedged under a railroad trestle on a portion of the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland caught fire. The incident soon became a vivid symbol of how badly polluted many of America’s waterways had become; less than one year later, more than 22 million Americans celebrated the nation’s first Earth Day. Responding to the outcry by a public that was becoming increasingly alarmed by widespread environmental problems, Congress created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970 and passed a series of sweeping environmental reforms, including the National Environmental Policy Act (1969), the Clean Air Act (1970), Occupational Safety and Health Act (1970) the Environmental Pesticide Control Act (1972), the Toxic Substances Control Act (1976), and the Clean Water Act (1977). Perhaps the most remarkable law arising out of this era of environmental reform was the Endangered Species Act of 1973, where, for the first time, legislative protection was extended to include species and ecosystems whose preservation would have little or no direct benefit to humans. The impetus for environmental reform continued unabated throughout the decade, spurred on by such incidents as the Love Canal disaster, which led to the establishment of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), more commonly known as Superfund, which was formed to clean up and determine liability for hazardous waste sites.
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.
- 2.John Smith, A Description of New England. 1616. In Library of Puritan Writings, vol. 9, Sacvan Bercovitch, ed. (New York, AMS Press, 1986), 126.Google Scholar
- 3.Thomas Jefferson, “Notes on the State of Virginia.” 1787. The Portable Thomas Jefferson, Merrill D. Peterson, ed. (New York: The Viking Press, 1977), 125–126.Google Scholar
- 4.Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America. 1835 (New York: Mentor Books, 1956), 181.Google Scholar
- 5.Carol Sheriff, The Artificial River: The Erie Canal and the Paradox of Progress, 1817–1862 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1966), 57–58.Google Scholar
- 6.J.R. McNeill, Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2000), 51.Google Scholar