Seventies 1970-79

Jan. 1 — National Environmental Policy Act signed creating the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to give the President advice on environmental issues and review Environmental Impact Statements. These statements are now required of all federal agencies planning projects with major environmental ramifications.

Jan. 15 — Proposed airport near Everglades National Park is abandoned following protests by environmentalists.

Jan. 22 — General Motors president Edward Cole promises “pollution free” cars by 1980 and urges the elimination of lead additives from gasoline in order to allow the use of catalytic converters. The irony of GM abandoning leaded gasoline is not lost on the public — or Ethyl Corp. — since GM scientists discovered the anti-knock (octane boosting) effect of lead in 1921. The Nixon administration wants “low-lead” not “no-lead” fuel.

March 21 — Earth Day celebration in San Francisco, organized by John McConnell. Although not a nationwide celebration, McConnell and supporters claim that theirs was the first grass roots Earth Day celebration.

April 1 — Mine Safety and Health Act takes effect.

 April 22 — The first nationwide Earth Day celebration is organized by Sen. Gaylord Nelson and Dennis Hayes. It creates a national political presence for environmental concerns. Millions of Americans demonstrate for air and water cleanup and preservation of nature.

July 9 — Environmental Protection Agency proposed  by President Richard Nixon. The new EPA brings together 15 key federal programs including the Health Education and Welfare National Air Pollution Control Administration (NAPCA) and the Department of Interior’s Water Quality Administration (FWQA). See EPA History. An alternative proposal from Walter Hickel was to roll the functions into the Dept. of Interior (which Hickel headed) and rename it the Dept. of the Environment.  The new EPA begins operation on December 2, 1970.

The New York Times had this to say on July 12, 1970:

“The plan (for the EPA) rests on two concepts. One, long nurtured by conservationists of all shades, is that no agency entrusted with promoting the development of an area’s natural resources — minerals, seafood, water power — should be entrusted at the same time with protecting the environment against the consequences of that development… The second concept of the plan is that problems posing current environmental dangers calling for quick resolution on mitigation (such as) air pollution from automobiles … are the province of one type of agency; while those with long-range problems, calling for study and research … require different treatment…. (The EPA) would take into account the first of these broad principles…. (while) the second of the two principles would be satisfied by the creation of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This agency, with an eye on the distant future … will be incorporated, unfortunately, in the unimaginative Dept. of Commerce.”

August 6 — In Congressional hearings over mine safety, Ralph Nader charges that the coal industry and Interior department are acting “outside the law.” United Mine Workers president W.A. Boyle says mine inspectors are guilty of “flagrant disregard” of safety regulations. And congressional subcommittee chair Harrison Williams called the enforcement record of the Bureau of Mines “outrageous.” Williams said that although Congress had quadrupled funds for mine inspections, the bureau had cut regular inspections from 9,000 a year to 450 a year as an act of defiance over the mine safety law. The bureau’s “unbelievable” inspection record was the cause of the wildcat strike action that hit Appalachian coal fields, Williams said.

1970 – August — American Heritage Magazine says of the oil industry:

Few industries sing the praises of free enterprise more loudly than the oil industry. Yet few industries rely so heavily on special government favors… A rational oil policy would be one that regards oil (like earth itself) as a limited commodity whose use and distribution should be managed only with regard to other possible energy sources. It would be a policy that looks ahead to a time when more petroleum either cannot be made available, or should not, simply out of regard for the environment and man’s future.

1970 — October — National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) formed.

November 25 — President Richard Nixon fires Interior Secretary Walter Hickel, former governor of Alaska, for what the New York Times called his “increasingly militant defense of the environment.” Among accomplishments during his two-year tenure: Everglades preservation, delay of the Alaska oil pipeline to study effects on permafrost, stopping oil drilling in the Santa Barbara channel, cracked down on oil companies in the Gulf of Mexico, stopped commercial US whaling, and filed suits against companies polluting interstate waters with mercury.

 December 2 — Whale product imports banned by Interior Department in one of Walter Hickel’s last acts as secretary. At the time, the US imported 30 percent of the worlds whale products and used them in pet foods, margarine, soap and machine oil.

December 17 — Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) bill passed by Congress. OSHA would be formed within the Department of Labor. Responsibilities include setting standards for employee exposure to hazardous substances.

OSHA was inspired by heartbreaking stories of injured workers, according to a 1998 article “”Tragedy in the Uranium Mines: Catalyst for National Workers’ Safety and Health Legislation.” The article describes part of the genesis of OSHA as coming from a March 9, 1967 Washington Post article: “Hidden casualties of Atom Age emerge; cancer: uranium mine occupational hazard.”

1970 — Natural Resources Defence Council is created.

1970 — Friends of the Everglades founded by Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

1970 — Lake Michigan Federation founded.

Dec. 31 —  Clean Air Act signed into law.  The act sets a  six-year deadline for the automobile industry to develop a 90% pollution-free engine. Within two years the deadline would be pushed back and standards watered down by the Nixon administration.

1970 — Dog and cat killing in U.S. pounds and shelters peaks at 115 per 1,000 human citizens — by 2002 it is down to 15.7 per 1,000.


February 2 — United Nations Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is signed in Ramsar, Iran. The international agreement to protect wetlands and the species has 160 member-nations today and helps protect nearly 2,000 wetland areas worldwide

May 18 — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce warns that entire industries might collapse because of antipollution laws, citing in particular the effect on the auto industry of the 1970 Clean Air Act (“Environment: Citizen Action Urged; Other Developments.” Facts On File World News Digest: n. pag. World News Digest. Facts On File News Services, 19 May 1971.)

A UPI article paraphrases Coffee this way:

Chamber spokesman John J. Coffee, testifying before a senate antipollution subcommittee, said that industries unable to meet clean air and water standards either because of technology or a lack of money may simply have to fold. (Washington Post, May 19, 1971, p. A2)

1971 — Congress passes Wild And Free Ranging Horse and Burro Protection Act

1971 — Presidents’ Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) annual report acknowledges racial discrimination adversely affects urban poor and quality of their environment.

Pete Seger sings to the crowd on Earth Day, 1970.

September 15 — The Phyllis Cormack, renamed Greenpeace, sets out from Vancouver to protest US nuclear testing on the Aleutian Island of Amchitka. The action sets off global environmental protests. A few months later, the organization Greenpeace is founded in Victoria, B.C. Its initial mission is to oppose atomic testing on Amchitka Island, Alaska. See: Greenpeace: How a group of ecologists, journalists, and visionaries changed the world; by Rex Weyler (Raincoast Books in Canada, Rodale Press in US, UK, NZ, Australia, Sept. 2004).

Dec. 18 — US whaling ends, after US Secretary of Interior Walter Hickel put whales on the endangered species list.

Barry Commoner writes The Closing Circle, argues that misuse of pesticides is eroding the foundation of natural systems.

Robert Hunter of Greenpeace writes The Storming Of The Mind. McClelland and Stewart.


1972 — W. Eugene Smith completes his photographic essay about Minemata, Japan and the crippling effects of mercury pollution on the children of the town. Published in Life magazine, the deeply moving images would become icons of the environmental movement. (For more about “Minamata disease” see 1956).

1972 — First regional treaty to regulate dumping of radioactive wastes — known as the London Dumping Convention — negotiated amont northern European nations.

1972 — Tuskegee syphilis study exposed by Associated Press and whistleblowers inside the Public Health Service. Beginning in 1928, some 400 African American men with syphilis had been selected as human subjects, without their knowledge or consent, and deliberately denied medical treatment in order to gauge the long term effects. Susan M Reverby, author of Tuskegee’s Truths said:

“What the Tuskegee study revealed about syphilis was of scant value after the early forties, when a single shot assured a cure; more telling is what it proves about the virulence of racism, self-importance, and inhumanity.”

1972 — Feb 22, EPA announces all gasoline stations required to carry “nonleaded” gasoline. But EPA delays setting standards until 1973, then is sued by Ethyl Corp.

1972 –Feb 26 — Buffalo Creek disaster in West Virginia. Negligent strip mining led to the buildup of floodwaters that broke through “tipple” dams, killing 125 people and leaving 4,000 homeless. Often used as a classic case of the need for ethics in engineering since a small, inexpensive spillway would have spared the Buffalo Creek community.  

1972 Congress passes:

  • Federal Water Pollution Control Act (over President Nixon’s veto)
  • Coastal Zone Management Act
  • Marine Mammal Protection Act  making it illegal for anyone in the US  to kill, hunt, injure or harass all species of marine mammals. 
  • Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act authorized the EPA to regulate ocean dumping of industrial waste, sewage sludge, biological agents, NBC, radioactive waste and other wastes into the territorial waters of the United States through a permit program.
  • Federal Insecticide, Fungide, Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) amendments transfer responsibility for the 1947 act from USDA to the EPA and provide that pesticides developed after 1972, before being commercially produced or sold for the US market ,have no unreasonable adverse effects on public health or the environment. Some 50,000 pesticides manufactured before 1972 were to be reviewed for safety by 1976 but deadlines have been p pushed back to the point where, at the turn of the century, most of the reviews have not been completed. (Valente, 1995)

1972 — First bottle recycling bill passes in Oregon.


photo by Rex Weyler

1972, May 4 —  Vancouver-based Don’t Make a Wave Committee, formed to oppose U.S. nuclear weapons tests in the Aleutian Islands, officially changes its name to the Greenpeace Foundation.

1972 — Supreme Court supports Sierra Club over Disney Inc. in battle over development of the Mineral King Valley.

1972 –June — United Nations Conference on the Human Environment convenes in Stockholm, Sweden and sparks global debate. Following the conference, the United Nations General Assembly established the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to act on the recommendations of the Stockholm meeting.

June 9, 1972 – Rapid City, SD — Canyon Lake Dam fails, killing between 33 to 237 people and destroying 1,335 homes. (Assn. Dam Safety Officials)

Sept. 1, 1972 — British meteorologist John Stanley Sawyer publishes a paper in Nature saying that increases in carbon dioxide from human activity would increase global temperature by the end of the century.   The paper was remarkably accurate, scientists now realize.  Sawyer said:

“The increase of 25% CO2 expected by the end of the century therefore corresponds to an increase of 0.6°C in the world temperature – an amount somewhat greater than the climatic variation of recent centuries… Industrial development has recently been proceeding at an increasing rate so that the output of man-made carbon dioxide has been increasing more or less exponentially. So long as the carbon dioxide output continues to increase exponentially, it is reasonable to assume that about the same proportion as at present (about half) will remain in the atmosphere and about the same amount will go into the other reservoirs.”

December 31 — Nationwide ban on the pesticide DDT takes effect. The ban continues to be controversial even decades years later, but right-wing attempts to brand environmentalists as killers for the DDT ban are considered “worse than irresponsible.”

Donella H. Meadows, Dennis Meadows and Jurgen Randers write Limits to Growth, published by the Club of Rome. The book sparks debate over a new concept of sustainable development. A follow-up, Beyond the Limits is published in 1992.

Rene DuBois writes  A God Within: “Erosion of the land, destruction of animal and plant species, excessive exploitation of natural resources, and ecological disasters, are not peculiar to the Judeo-Christian tradition and to scientific technology. At all times, and all over the world, manÕs thoughtless interventions into nature have had a variety of disastrous consequences… All over the globe and at all times in the past, men have pillaged nature and disturbed the ecological equilibrium. In fact, the Judeo-Christian peoples were probably the first to develop on a large scale a pervasive concern for land management and an ethic of nature (pp. 158-161).”

Barbara Ward and Rene Du Bois write Only One Earth: The Care and Maintenance of a Small Planet based on the findings of the UN 1972 Stockholm conference: “We are not sleepwalkers or sheep. If men have not hitherto realized the extent of their planetary interdependence, it was in part at least because, in clear, precise physical and scientific fact, it did not yet exist. The new insights of our fundamental condition can also become the insights of our survival. We may be learning just in time.”


1973 — Planet Drum Foundation formed.

1973 — Eighty nations sign the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), considered a “Magna Carta for wildlife.” A complementary Endangered Species Act becomes law in the U.S.

1973 — Feb. 10 — An explosion at a Texas Eastern LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) storage facility on Staten Island (New York city)  kills 40 workers.  New York mayor  Abraham Beame said:

“So far, there has been general agreement that the gas company took every precaution for the prevention of the tragedy which did occur. Therefore, if forty men died when a supposedly safe and empty tank exploded, what are we to expect when tanks are filled and one or another precaution is not taken through either human or mechanical oversight?”

1973 — February — Arab oil embargo panics U.S. and European consumers; prices quadruple. The energy shock leads to national soul-searching about energy priorities. Conservatives favor nuclear and coal sources; liberals explore alternatives. President Nixon insists that US can be energy independent by 1980.

1973 — US Congress approves Alaska Oil pipeline.

1973 — March 27 — A group of Himalayan villagers stop loggers from cutting down a stand of hormbeam trees, starting the Chipco Movement. Dozens more protests followed where people would hug or stick (chipko) to the trees. Sometimes the protests involved groups of people holding up lanterns in daylight so that the officials could “see the light.”

1973 — Dec. 28 — Endangered Species Act passed by US Congress. 

1973 –1974 Tellico Dam controversy; Endangered Species Act blamed for stopping project to save snail darter trout, but this surface controversy obscures many other problems with the dam.


    • E.F. Schumacher publishes Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. Schumacher’s ideas lead to founding of the Intermediate Technology Development Group “One of the most fateful errors of our age is the belief that ‘the problem of production’ has been solved… A businessman would not consider a firm to have solved its problem of production and to have achieved viability if he saw that it was rapidly consuming its capital. How, then, could we overlook this vital fact when it comes to that very big firm, the economy of Spaceship Earth?”


1974 — Mar. 26 — Women surround trees as part of Chipko movement of villagers in India. The Chipkos, affiliated with Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent resistance movements, were trying reclaim their traditional forest rights that were threatened by the contractor system of the state forest department. They are also modern examples of a movement that traces back to at least 1731, when 363 Bishnois, led by Amrita Dev, were killed trying to protect green Khejri trees.

1974 — F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario J. Molina describe the way refrigerants (CFCs or chlorofluorocarbons) break up ozone in a catalytic cycle in the June issue of Nature. Rowland and Molina win the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1995 along with German atmospheric scientist Paul J. Crutzen.

1974 — Congress passes Safe Drinking Water Act to be administered by EPA.

1974 — Karen Silkwood dies in a suspicioius accident in November on her way to meet a New York Times reporter with documents concerning safety problems at the Kerr-McGee nuclear weapons facility in Crescent, Oklahoma.  

1974 — Two scientists, Johannas Rook and Thomas Bellar find that chlorine  water disinfectants are forming chloroform and other carcinogens in drinking water.   EPA puts a limit of 100 ppb on chloroform, enough to cause one extra cancer death in 10,000 people who drink water all their lives.  (See Lienhard, 1990)

1974 —Worldwatch Institute founded.


    • John G. Fuller, We Almost Lost Detroit (Random House), about the 1956 controversy over building a fast breeder reactor in Laguna Beach, MI.
    • Ivan Illich, Energy and Equity (Harper & Row)

“Extremes of privilege are created at the cost of universal enslavement. An elite packs unlimited distance into a lifetime of pampered travel while the majority spend a bigger slice of their existence on unwanted trips… The model (average) American puts in 1,600 hours to get 7,500 miles: less than five miles per hour. In countries deprived of a transportation industry, people manage to do the same, walking wherever they go, and they allocate only three to eight percent of their society’s time budget to traffic instead of 28 percent. What distinguishes traffic in rich countries from traffic in poor countries is not more mileage per hour of life-time for the majority, but more hours of compulsory consumption of high doses of energy, packaged and unequally distributed by the transportation industry.”

    • Peter Singer, Animal Liberation
    • Cleveland Amory, Man Kind?


1975 — Atlantic salmon return to Connecticut River after 100 year absence.

1975 — Congress passes Hazardous Waste Transportation Act

1975 — April 27 — The Phyllis Cormack, now the Greenpeace V, heads out of Vancouver’s English Bay on behalf of The Great Whale Conspiracy. The campaign is a celebrated media event, catching the International Whaling Commission by surprise, and represents the beginning of the end for commercial whaling.  

1975 — April 28 — Newsweek magazine publishes an article by Peter  Gwynne describing global cooling.  Gwynne now says that of course the article described one school of thought current at the time,  and that research has shown that global warming is a fact today.

Aug. 8 — Banqiao Reservoir in north central China collapsese after extremely heavy rains from Typhoon Nina. The official death toll (released in 2005) was 26,000 people — the largest loss of life from a dam failure in history.(Some unofficial estimates place it as high as 230,000.) An additonal 145,000 people died in subsequent epidemics and famine.


  • Edward Abbey, The Monkey Wrench Gang.about eco-guerillas who plot to blow up the Glen Canyon Dam in Ariona.
  • John G. Fuller, We Almost Lost Detroit, Readers Digest Press
  • Edwin Way Teale, A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm.
  • Edward O. Wilson, Sociobiology.


1976 — March 10 — First Empate (standoff) over logging in Brazil’s Amazon region. Led by rubber tapper Francisco Chico Mendez, tappers would form a human chain in the forest against the oncoming chain saws which displaced them.

1976 — March 19 — Federal court says EPA has authority to regulate leaded gasoline. Even if there is no certainty that lead in gasoline is a danger, ³awaiting certainty will often allow only for reactive not preventive regulation,² says judge J. Skelly Wright. The lead phasout begins, and by June 1979, nearly half of all US gasoline is unleaded.

1976 — June 5 — Catastrophic failure of Grand Teton Dam in Idaho, causing 14 deaths and millions of dollars worth of damage. Investigations later blame the design and lack of monitoring. (Assn. Dam Safety Officials puts death toll at 11, property damage over $1 billion).

1976 — July 10 — Chemical explosion in a Milan, Italy suburb of Seveso spreads dioxin, directly injuring about 30 people and causing chloracne, a severe skin disease, in over 300 schoolchildren.. The explosion of trichlorophenol occurred at the Givaudan plant, owned by the Hoffman-LaRoche chemical and drug firm of Switzerland. Two and a half weeks after the gas cloud spread, hundreds of rabbits, birds, cats, dogs and chickens had died in a 170 acre area and many plants had withered. The accident is compared to a similar incident in Derbyshire, England, in 1969. Later the Italian authorities criticized the firm for waiting so long to notify them about the accident.

1976 — National Academy of Science report on CFCs (chlorofluorocarbon) gasses warns of damage to ozone layer.

1976 — Congress passes

  • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to regulate hazardous waste and garbage
  • Federal Land Policy Management Act
  • Whale Conservation and Protective Study Act
  • Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) equired testing for health and environmental effects prior to a chemicals manufacture or distribution. The law also required records to be kept and allowed EPA enforcement through civil proceedings. However, of 2,300 new substances reviewed by EPA between 1972 and 1992, only 13 had been stopped. Among 60,000 existing chemicals in the TSCA invenstory, only four had been regulated by 1991 (PCBs, CFCs, dioxin and asbestos). (Valente 1995)

1976 — Urquiola oil spill Spain, La Coruna

1976 — Liberian tanker Argo Merchant crashes 27 miles off Nantucket Island leaking 9 million gallons of oil.

1976 — The Land Institute founded in Salinas, Kansas.

1976 — In a message to news media while awaiting arrest, research assistants Steven Sipp and Ken Lavasseur coined the term “Animal Liberation Front.” Sipp and Lavasseur had just released two dolphins from the marine science laboratory headed by Lou Herman at the University of Hawaii, as an act of peaceful civil disobedience for which they accepted both the credit and the consequences. (M. Clifton, 2007)

1976 — Shirley McGreal founds the International Primate Protection League in Thailand. IPPL and the Blue Cross of India in 1978 won a ban on the export of monkeys from India to foreign labs. Similar bans were later won in other Asian nations and in parts of Africa. (M. Clifton, 2007)

1976 — Protests led by Animal Rights International founder Henry Spira forced the American Museum of Natural History to halt cat experiments–the first time anti-vivisection activism ever stopped a funded research project. This is recognized as the first victory of the modern animal rights movement. Spira followed up by persuading Avon and Revlon to abandon animal testing (1980), and then won a 1984 agreement from Procter & Gamble to fund research and development of alternatives to animal experimentation, and then phase them into use as rapidly as possible. In June 1999 P&G announced that it had ended all use of animal tests for current beauty, fabric, home care, and paper products, except as required by law. “This announcement covers roughly 80% of P&G’s total product portfolio,” said P&G spokespersons Mindy Patton and Amy Neltner. After the P&G campaign, Spira formed the Coalition for Nonviolent Food and focused on farm animal issues.(M. Clifton, 2007)


1977 — U.S. Department of Energy is created by President Jimmy Carter.

1977 — Congress passes:

  • Soil and Water Conservation Act
  • Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act

1977 — Ecofisk oil well blowout in the North Sea.

1977 — June 5 — World Environment Day is the occasion for the start of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement, founded by Waangari Matthai. Seven small saplilngs are planted that day, but by 1992, the Green Belt Movement had planted over 7 million saplings, demonstrating that low-cost grass roots organizations can be as effective as bureaucratic anti – desertification projects.

1977– June 15– The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the 1973 Endangered Species Act and stops construction of the Tellico Dam. According to the Ecotopia web site: The lawsuit leading to the decision had begun in 1975, when law professor Zygmunt Plater and then-student Hiram Hill filed the first petition under the Endangered Species Act. They called on the Department of the Interior to list the snail darter as an endangered species. The snail darter is a small fish that lives in the Little Tennessee River below the Tellico dam site. In 1976, zoologist David Etnier, who discovered the snail darter, joined Platner, Hill and others in filing a lawsuit to stop construction of the dam. On May 25, 1976, a judge ruled that it was too late to stop the project. The government had already spent $80 million and the dam was almost finished. But the plaintiffs appealed and on June 15, 1977, in the case of Tennessee Valley Authority vs. Hill et al., the Supreme Court ruled to suspend construction. “It is clear that Congress intended to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction whatever the cost,” said Chief Justice Warren Burger in his opinion.

1977 — July 19 – 20, Laurel Run dam fails, killing 40 people in Pennsylvania, US.

ethyl31977 — Sept. 25 — Swiss voters reject a proposal to remove lead from gasoline. The proposal was backed by the government and environmental groups but was defeated after an advertising campaign by the oil and chemical industries, led by the US Ethyl Corp. (now New Market Corp.) claiming that eliminating lead would drive up the cost of fuel. The campaign provided an early example of how to motivate voters against their own interests by exaggerating the economic impacts of environmental regulations and downplaying scientifically obvious health risks.

1977 — Oct. 13 — Alllied Chemical Company and state of Virginia settle lawsuit over extensive Kepone contamination of James River for $5 million. The settlement also included the establishment of the Virginia Environmental Endowment with an $8-million contribution.

1977 — Nov. 5 — Kelly Barnes dam fails in Toccoa Falls, Georgia, killing 39 college students and staff.

1977 — Federal Clean Air Act Amendments require review of all National Ambient Air Quality Standards by 1980. Congress also adds additional protection for Class I National Park and Wilderness air quality.

Amory Lovins, Soft Energy Paths: Toward a Durable Peace, Penguin


1978 — Propylene gas explosion in Tarragona, Spain.

1978 — March 16 — Amoco Cadiz wrecks off the coast of France and loses 68 million gallons / 1.3 million barrels (six times the amount of the Exxon Valdez spill) with over $2 billion estimated damage. The oil slick covered 110 miles of coastline by March 29.

1978 — Energy Tax Act creates federal ethanol tax incentive of 5 cents per gallon, expanding use of ethanol in US. By the mid-1980s the idea of community based ethanol plants proves impractical as major grain processing companies move in to soak up the incentive.

1978 — Lois Gibbs and her neighbors form the Love Canal Homeowners Association after finding that they were living on a major toxic waste dump in Niagara Falls, New York. According to her 1990 Goldman Award citation, Gibbs wondered if the neighborhood children’s unusual health problems were connected to their exposure to leaking chemical waste owned by the Hooker Chemicals and Plastics Corp. which had used Love Canal as a toxic dump site in the 1940s and 1950s.

Gibbs led her community in a battle against the local, state and federal governments. After years of struggle, more than 800 families were eventually evacuated, and cleanup of Love Canal began. National press coverage made Lois Gibbs a household name. Her efforts also led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Superfund,” which was used to locate and clean up toxic sites throughout the United States until it was bankrupted in 2001-2003.   In November, 2013, the New York Times published this retrospective.

1978 — Robert Bullard begins investigating Triana, Alabama region where DDT contaminated a stream. His report, called “Cancer Alley,” marks the emergence of the environmental justice movement. Also that summer, illegal spraying of PCBs on roads in North Carolina leads to a plan for dumping the PCB laden soil in Warren County, a predominantly African American community. A direct action non-violent campaign stops the landfill and raises awareness of environmental racism and the need for environmental justice. (See history of PCBs, Wikipedia)

1978 — US Congress passes:

  • National Energy Act
  • Endangered American Wilderness Act
  • Antarctic Conservation Act


  • Robert Hunter and Rex Weyler . To Save The Whale: The Voyages of Greenpeace. Chronicle Books.
  • Eric Ashby, Reconciling Man with the Environment, Stanford University Press. Ashby proposes three “great reconciliations” Man with nature, appetite with resources, and rich with poor. “No one can predict the full consequences of tinkering with any part of an ecosystem. Even the nonliving environment has properties without which life as we know it would be inconceivable.” Ashby concludes that the rights of nature must be protected by law.


1979 — March 28 — Three Mile Island nuclear power plant loses coolant and partially melts down. This is a telling blow for the nuclear power industry, already under fire for safety problems in other plants, construction cost overruns and lack of planning for radioactive waste disposal.

1979 — IXTOC I oil well blowout, Bay of Campeche, Mexico

1979 — Earth First! organized by Dave Foreman, Howie Wolke and Mike Roselle.

Carter.Solar.June20.19791979 — June 20 — President Jimmy Carter dedicates a solar installation on the roof of the White House in Washington DC.  Carter said:  “A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people.”  They became museum pieces, as the next president, Ronald Reagan, had them taken down a few years into his term.  Carter’s tax credits for solar water heaters, wind energy and other renewable energy initiatives were also taken down in the Reagan era.

1979 — One of the first environmental justice cases — Bean v. Southwestern Waste Management, Inc. lawsuit filed on behalf of Houston’s Northeast Community Action Group, the first civil rights suit challenging the siting of a waste facility. Robert D. Bullard  helped organize the fight Southwestern Waste Management, which nevertheless won the lawsuit, and was able to create a garbage landfill that destroyed a middle-class black neighborhood.

1979 — July 16 — 90 million gallons of radioactive uranium milling wastes spill in Church Rock, Arizona. (See Ch. 9 of Killing our Own: The Disaster of America’s Experience with Atomic Radiation, 1982).

1979 — US EPA suspends and later bans domestic use of 2,4,5 T, an herbicide used in Agent Orange.

1979 — June — Appropriate Community Technology demonstration on Washington DC mall. Hundreds of emerging renewable energy businesses — solar manufacturers, alcohol fuels producers, windmill companies and other alternative energy groups– demonstrate new ideas and proposed solutions to the energy crisis. Federal and state governments extend tax credits but then, in the Reagan era, retract all except the ethanol tax incentives, which are favored by Midwestern conservatives.

1979 — Former Greenpeace founder Paul Watson and crew ram the Portuguese pirate whaler Sierra on the high seas, the first of 10 whaling vessels sunk or incapacitated by the Sea Shepherds and allies during the next 14 years. The Sea Shepherds go on to confront illegal driftnetters and other maritime poachers, facing prosecution by government in some jurisdictions, emulation by government agencies in others, and encountering both in Atlantic Canada, where Watson served jail time in the mid-1990s for challenging foreign fishing vessels two years before the government itself did. (M. Clifton, 2007)

1979 — Charney Report on climate change issued by the Climate Research Board, a subdivision of the National Research Council. Among the members of the Climate Research Board was Dayton H. Clewell, a former Mobil Oil (now ExxonMobil) executive, who was also on the committee that advised the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the early 1970s.

1979 — June 9 — Cong. John J. LaFalce and Daniel Patrick Moynihan propose legislation that includes a new concept for dealing with toxic waste dumps that they call “the superfund.” (Toxic Waste Fund Sought in Congress, New York Times June 10 1979 p 51) ALSO SEE THE TIMELINE, 1980


  • James Lovelock, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. Lovelock theorizes that the earth is a self-regulating entity unconsciously maintaining optimal conditions for life.
  • Robert Hunter, Warriors Of The Rainbow: A Chronicle of the Greenpeace Movement. Henry Holt & Company, Inc..