Richard Nixon: Green President?

Richard Nixon enacted the nation's most important environmental legislature.

Richard Nixon enacted some of the nation's most important environmental legislature. Photo by Oliver F. Atkins, National Archives and Records Administration / Wikimedia

If you were asked to name one of the most environmentally conscious "green" presidents in United States history, who would come to mind?

Teddy Roosevelt , Jimmy Carter, and Thomas Jefferson are prime candidates on many people's lists.

But, how about Richard Nixon?

Chances are, he wasn't your first pick.

Despite the fact that Nixon continues to rank as one of the country's least favorite leaders, the Watergate scandal wasn't his only claim to fame, and it certainly didn't represent the most profound impact of his presidency.

Richard Milhous Nixon, who served as the 37th President of the United States from 1969 to 1974, was responsible for the establishment of some of the nation's most important environmental legislature.

"President Nixon tried to gain some political capital--hard to come by during the Vietnam War and a recession--by announcing an 'Environmental Quality Council' and a 'Citizens' Advisory Committee on Environmental Quality,'" reported the Huffington Post. "But people didn't buy it. They said it was just for show. So, Nixon signed legislation called the National Environmental Protection Act, which gave birth to the EPA as we know it now--right before what most people consider the first Earth Day, which was April 22, 1970."

This action, in itself, has had had far-reaching effects on environmental policy and endangered species conservation, but Nixon didn't stop there. Between 1970 and 1974, he took several more significant strides toward protecting our country's natural resources.

Let's take a look at five more monumental acts passed by President Nixon that have helped maintain the environmental quality of our nation's resources and also influenced numerous other countries around the globe to follow suit.

Clean Air Act of 1972

Nixon utilized an executive order to create the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), an independent government organization, in late 1970.

Shortly after its establishment, the EPA passed its first piece of legislation, the Clean Air Act, in 1972.The Clean Air Act was, and remains today, the most significant air pollution control bill in American history. It required the EPA to create and enforce regulations to protect people from airborne pollution known to be hazardous to our health such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, ozone, and lead.

Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972

This act was also the first of its kind, designed to protect marine mammals like whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, elephant seals, walruses, manatees, sea otters, and even polar bears from human-induced threats such as excessive hunting. It simultaneously established a system to allow native hunters to harvest whales and other marine mammals sustainably. The act created guidelines regulating public display of captured marine mammals in aquarium facilities and regulated the import and export of marine mammals.

Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972

Also known as the Ocean Dumping Act, this legislature regulates the deposit of any substance into the ocean that has the potential to harm human health or the marine environment.

Endangered Species Act of 1973

The Endangered Species Act has been instrumental in protecting rare and declining species from extinction as a result of human activity. Congress granted numerous government agencies broad powers to protect species (particularly by preserving critical habitat). The act also entailed the establishment of the official endangered species list and has been referred to as the Magna Carta of the environmental movement.

Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974

The Safe Drinking Water Act was a critical turning point in the nation's struggle to protect the imperiled quality of fresh water in lakes, reservoirs, streams, rivers, wetlands and other inland bodies of water as well as springs and wells that are used as rural water sources. Not only has it proved vital in maintaining a safe water supply for public health, it has also helped keep natural waterways intact and clean enough to continue to support aquatic biodiversity, from invertebrates and mollusks to fish, birds, and mammals.