Three former Nixon Administration officials were at the Nixon Library on Thursday to discuss the 37th President’s record in green policy and how they met the goals of the original Earth Day demonstrations, a seminal event which took place 40 years ago to the day.
Among the participants were former American Enterprise Institute President Christopher DeMuth, who started his career as a young staffer in the Domestic Council working on environmental and urban policy issues; William Ruckelshaus, the First Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; and John Whitaker a longtime associate of RN and trained geologist, who served as Domestic Council Associate Director for Environmental Policy and later as Undersecretary of Interior. Moderating the panel was Dr. J. Brooks Flippen, Professor of History at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and author of Nixon and the Environment.
For the three panelists, RN met the challenges of environmental protection head on, institutionalizing the issue with a series of policies that continue to enhance the quality of life for Americans today.
It was clear to me he wanted a significant break from the past,” said DeMuth, and “he wanted something bold.”
As a 22 year-old staffer, it was DeMuth’s task to evaluate the recommendations of the various agencies and submit a balanced proposal to the President, who – as all three participants argued – was neither militant nor negligent in addressing environmental issues.
DeMuth explained that the environment became an issue during an age of relative economic prosperity. As industry during the post-war economy grew, so did pollution levels. Many Americans – who reached a peak in their standard of living – were now demanding environmental quality.
The passage of the National Environmental Policy Act, the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency and the appointment of William Ruckelshaus as its Administrator is a testament to the seriousness of response by President Nixon.
“He wasn’t personally gripped by it,” said Ruckelshaus. “But he saw that he had to respond to the demand. As a result we are much better off today. ”
Beginning with Ruckelhaus’ tenure, the Nixon Administration successfully enacted 14 pieces of environmental legislation including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
John Whitaker, who served as the chief White House official for environmental policy, mentioned RN’s Legacy of Parks program as an integral part of his record.
“When he (RN) was a kid in Whittier and Yorba Linda, he saw that the wealthiest kids made trips to Yosemite, but the poor kids couldn’t,” Whitaker said, “he wanted to bring parks to the people.”
Nixon would thus implement an innovative plan to shed more than 80,000 acres of government property into national parks.
“Of the two President’s who did the most for the environment, one was Teddy Roosevelt,” Whitaker said, the other was Richard Nixon.”
Photo: (Right to Left) Former Nixon Administration enivronmental officials Christopher DeMuth, John Whitaker and William Ruckelshaus discussed President Nixon’s green policy in the third of a yearlong series of Richard Nixon Legacy Forums.