The New National Agenda

If the 1960s arrived with a compelling or infamous start, it exited in the same fashion. In 1967 an oil tanker off of Great Britain ran aground, spilling 40,000 tons of oil. Attempts to contain the accident and salvage the remaining oil were useless. The tanker spilled another 77,000 tons of oil that washed

Crew of the Japanese whaling ship Kyo Maru 1 using water cannons to disperse activists during an antiwhaling demonstration in the waters of the Antarctic Ocean, December 16, 2001. (© AFP/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.)

up onto British and French shores. Americans were assured that such a tragedy could never occur in their waters, but two years later, in 1969, the Union Oil Company's Platform A leaked over 200,000 gallons of crude oil that spread across forty miles of Pacific coastline. The beaches in Santa Barbara, California, were soaked with oil, choking thousands of birds and mammals. Less than five months later, the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught on fire from chemical and sewage pollution. The relationship between industries, communities, and the environment was far from harmonious.

In 1969, in response to the public's demand for action after the Storm King case on the Hudson River, President Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). With NEPA, the national government was

Crew of the Japanese whaling ship Kyo Maru 1 using water cannons to disperse activists during an antiwhaling demonstration in the waters of the Antarctic Ocean, December 16, 2001. (© AFP/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.)

taking a stand for the first time to integrate public concerns into the national environmental agenda. NEPA gave the national government the responsibility to help eliminate environmental destruction and seek a balance between the needs of industry and the environment. The Council on Environmental Quality was created to help advance this cause.

The 1970s are noted by many as the doomsday decade. Nixon's enactment of NEPA was a first step. Interest in environmental issues had remained strong from the debate over nuclear testing in the 1950s to the uninhibited use of DDT and the devastating effects of pollution on aquatic ecosystems. Environmental issues had been tied into larger social movements, but as the United States moved into a new decade, concern for the environment became a stand-alone issue. Urban pollution issues, both air and water, were tied into social interests/human health before gaining acknowledgement as purely environmental issues that had consequences for life other than humans. The intrinsic value of nature, with the exception of the wilderness preservation movement at the turn of the twentieth century, was not truly addressed until this time.

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