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EPA History

EPA History: Earth Day

Gaylord Nelson (Earth Day founder) with
William K. Reilly, Earth Day 1990

The First Earth Day in April 1970

It may be hard to imagine that before 1970, a factory could spew black clouds of toxic smoke into the air or dump tons of toxic waste into a nearby stream, and that was perfectly legal. They could not be taken to court to stop it.

How was that possible? Because there was no EPA, no Clean Air Act, no Clean Water Act. There were no legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect our environment.

In spring 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day as a way to force this issue onto the national agenda. Twenty million Americans demonstrated in different U.S. cities, and it worked! In December 1970, Congress authorized the creation of a new federal agency to tackle environmental issues, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The unlinked titles below are now in the EPA Archive. To find a title in the archive, click on the Search EPA Archive button and copy the name of the title into the search box on the archive home page. To ensure the best search results, be sure to put quotes around the name of the title.

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Articles and Press Releases

  • Earth Day '70: What It Meant
    by Gaylord Nelson [April 1980]

  • Earth Day Recollections: What It Was Like When The Movement Took Off
    by John C. Whitaker [July/Aug. 1988]

  • The Spirit of the First Earth Day
    by Jack Lewis [January/February 1990]

  • The Guardian: Origins of the EPA (1992)

  • EPA Registry to Record Trees Planted in Celebration of Earth Day
    [February 5, 1990 press release]

Remarks by Agency Administrators

  • From Awareness to Action
    by William D. Ruckelshaus [April 22, 1971]

  • Earth Week 1973
    by William D. Ruckelshaus [April 8, 1973]

  • Train Stresses Long-Range Planning as the Environmental Movement Comes of Age
    Russell E. Train [April 22, 1975]

  • Statement on Earth Day 1990
    by William K. Reilly [April 20, 1990]

  • Browner Releases Data on U.S. Water Quality, Calls for New Clean Water Act
    Carol M. Browner [April 20, 1994]

  • The Earth is in Your Hands
    by Carol M. Browner [Winter 1995]

  • EPA to Expand Chemical Right-To-Know Program and Provide Public with Better Health Data
    Carol M. Browner [April 21, 1998]

  • Remarks by Carol M. Browner, Earth Day 2000 Kick Off [April 4, 2000]

  • Carol M. Browner speech, JFK School of Government, Harvard University [April 17, 2000]

Other Resources