Political Education

The Good is oft Interred with the Bones: Nixon’s EPA

By the late 1960’s there were grave public concerns about the environment. The pollution of air and water due to the use of dangerous pesticides, public areas littered with trash, offshore oil spills, and contaminated urban water systems had reached crisis levels. Republican President Richard Nixon proposed the consolidation of federal government resources so as to create an organization to address environmental issues.

“Our national government today is not structured to make a coordinated attack on the pollutants which debase the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land that grows our food. Indeed, the present governmental structure for dealing with environmental pollution often defies effective and concerted action.”

President Richard Nixon

Nixon proposed the creation of an Environmental Protection Agency which would absorb:

  • The functions of the Federal Water Quality Administration
  • The Department of the Interior’s pesticides studies
  • The Department of Health, Education and Welfare which encompassed
    • The National Air Pollution Control Administration
    • Bureau of Solid Waste Management
    • Bureau of Water Hygiene
    • Bureau of Radiological Health of the Environmental Control Administration
    • Some pesticide studies from the Food and Drug Administration
  • Studies relating to ecological systems now vested in the Council on Environmental Quality
  • Radiation criteria and standards from the Atomic Energy Commission and the Federal Radiation Council
  • Pesticides registration and related activities from the Agricultural Research Service from the Department of Agriculture.

Ever the student of government and policy wonk, Nixon recognized that the functions of the EPA might evolve,

“… in this sensitive and rapidly developing area, it is better to proceed a step at a time–and thus to be sure that we are not caught up in a form of organizational indigestion from trying to rearrange too much at once. As we see how these changes work out, we will gain a better understanding of what further changes—in addition to these–might be desirable.”

“Ultimately, our objective should be to insure that the nation’s environmental and resource protection activities are so organized as to maximize both the effective coordination of all and the effective functioning of each.”

Today Richard Nixon is most remembered as the scandal-ridden president who resigned his office. As Shakespeare wrote, “The Evil That Men Do Lives After Them; The Good is Oft Interred with their Bones”

See part one of this series here.





Thanks and a tip of the hat to Wikipedia Commons for the image of President Nixon signing the Clean Water Act with EPA Administrator William Ruckleshaus looking on.


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