Earth Day occurs every year on April 22, marking the anniversary of the modern environmental movement, beginning in the United States in 1970. The day is recognized worldwide and mobilizes more than 1 billion people in 141 countries — making it the largest civic observance in the world.
Throughout history, government has undertaken several environmental reforms. As early as the 1700s, American municipalities established public water supplies and enacted measures to ensure safe drinking water.
Theodore Roosevelt popularized conservation efforts and is often considered the "conservationist president." His presidency prioritized the "use and retention of natural resources."
Franklin Roosevelt's landmark New Deal enacted several natural resource measures, including creation of the Soil Conservation Service to apply scientific practices to reduce erosion of agricultural land. Congress passed the Pittman-Robertson Act, which established a fund for state fish and wildlife programs (from the proceeds of federal taxes on hunting and fishing equipment).
In 1969, Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in response to nationwide calls for "environmental consciousness." The statute declared Congressional intent to "create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony" and to "assure for all Americans safe, healthful, productive, aesthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings." Most notably, NEPA created a new requirement: all federal agencies planning projects that affect the environment must submit reports accounting for likely consequences. These Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) are still required today and NEPA informs decisionmaking — for example, the Department of Energy has an entire website devoted to NEPA policy and compliance.
In addition to signing NEPA into law, President Nixon presented Congress an "unprecedented 37-point message on the environment," seeking legislation related to the environment.
- $4B to improve water treatment facilities
- National air quality standards
- Stringent guidelines to reduce motor vehicle emissions
- Federally-funded research to reduce automobile pollution
- Tax on lead additives in gasoline
- End to dumping of waste into the Great Lakes
- National Contingency Plan for the treatment of petroleum spills
Months later, in a message to the House and Senate, President Nixon introduced a plan to reorganize various offices and bureaus to create an agency devoted to the environment — the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Today the EPA is responsible for several laws and regulations related to public health and the environment.
Interested in environmental legislation? We've got you covered.
Here's a rundown of related bills currently in Congress. Let your lawmakers know what you think about bills related to chemicals, energy, water, and more!
Chemicals/Toxics and Energy
American Clean Energy Investment Act (S. 2391) would change the Internal Revenue Code to extend and modify tax provisions relating to energy. This Act would establish a permanent tax credit for producing electricity from renewable resources. It would reduce carbon pollution through sustainable energy sources while providing job opportunities This Act would also create a permanent tax credit for new energy efficient homes.
North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act (H.R. 8) would update and modernize energy infrastructure policies. The Energy Department would create a training program for underrepresented groups to increase the number of skilled workers in energy and manufacturing-related jobs. This bill would also broaden the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s power to mandate deadlines on other Federal agencies in regards to reviewing the environmental implications of natural gas pipeline applications.
Supporting Transparent Regulatory and Environmental Actions in Mining Act (H.R. 1644) would amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 in order to promote transparency in the development of environmental regulations. It would make raw data, federally funded scientific products, and more publicly available via the internet.
Satisfying Energy Needs and Saving the Environment Act (H.R. 3797) would allow the Administrator of the EPA to issue, implement, and enforce certain emission limitations and allocations for existing electric utility steam generating units that convert coal refuse into energy. This bill would set options for limits on emission standards, affecting operators of a coal refuse electric utility steam generating unit.
Climate Change Education Act (H.R. 1961) would allow the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to establish a Climate Change Education Program. This program would communicate the impacts on public health that climate change has and educate the public on human-induced climate change and its consequences. This bill is a result of Congressional findings that suggest the US is the second highest emitter of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases in the world.
H. Res 637 expresses the House should establish a national goal of more than 50 percent clean and carbon free electricity by 2030. This goal is made to improve public health, strengthen national security, and avoid negative impacts of climate change.
Climate Protection and Justice Act (S. 2399) would account for emissions reductions in the environment. This Act follows a Congressional report suggesting that the expected rise in average temperatures threaten sea level and average air and ocean temperatures. Under this Act, greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors of the US economy should be below 3,700,000,000 tons by 2030. This Act would also create a “Carbon Fee Rebate Fun.”
Energy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012) would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This fund has protected five million acres of public land including the Grand Canyon National Park and Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge. This fund also helps states protect their parks and recreation resources through a grant program.
Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act (H.R. 223) would amend the Clean Water Act to authorize the Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Under this initiative, programs and projects would be created to promote the protection and restoration of the Great Lakes. Priority areas include habitat and wildlife protection, accountability, and remediation of toxic substances.
Safe Drinking Water Act Improved Compliance Awareness Act (H.R. 4470) would amend the Safe Drinking Water Act to require public water systems to notify their customers of dangerous lead concentration levels in drinking water. This Act would also designate the Environmental Protection Agency to implement a strategic plan in regards to outreach, education, and risk communication when a population is affected by lead in a public water system.
Greener Living & Resources
Low-Income Solar Act (S. 1713) would require the Secretary of Energy to provide loans and grants for solar installations in low-income and underserved areas. A “grant-eligible household” would earn income equal to 80 percent or less of the applicable area median income.
Wind Energy Research & Development Act (H.R. 4423) would provide a program of wind energy research, development, and demonstration. This program would better energy efficiency and decrease costs of wind energy systems. This bill would would also test the performance of wind power plants.
United States Fish and Wildlife Service Resource Protection Act (H.R. 4558) would allow the the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to seek compensation for injuries to trust resources and use those funds to restore, replace, or acquire equivalent resources. Under this Act, compensation can be seeked for the loss of any living, non-living, historical, cultural, or archeological resource.
Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.