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US History – The Environment and Natural Resources, 1968-80

2. Political Response

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In this module, we take a look at how politicians responded to the environmental movement. President Richard Nixon, declared in his 1970 state-of-the-union address that “Clean air, clean water, open spaces--these should once again be the birthright of every American.” In this era, politicians from both parties voted in favor of ambitious legislation for clean air, clean waters, and the creation of the new Environmental Protection Agency. The agency’s first head, William Ruckelshaus, acted energetically against polluters to show that it was serious about environmental improvements. While Congress supported the principle of the Environmental Impact Report. This gave great leverage to activists who hoped to prevent more dam and freeway construction. Further to this, the Endangered Species Act of 1973 gave political protection to the habitat of endangered species. Fundamentally, these political developments showed that a democratic political system does respond to citizens’ concerns when they are widespread and vocal.


In this course, Professor Patrick Allitt (Emory University) explores how the issue of the Environment and Natural Resources were dealt with during the period 1968-1980. In the first module, we will examine how in the late 1960s environmentalism became a mass movement in the United States. We will then turn to see how politicians responded to this movement. In the third module, we will see how American views on the environment changed when the economy began to slow in the 1970s. We will then turn to look at the history of nuclear power in the US and how it’s growth slowed after the Three Mile Island accident. After this we turn to the issue of natural resources and examine how academics disagreed over this issue. In the penultimate module, we will explore how Republican and Democrat views on the environment began to splinter in the 1970s. In the final module, we will explore the policies of Ronald Reagan towards the environment.


Patrick N. Allitt is the Cahoon Family Professor of American History at Emory University. He specialises in American intellectual, environmental, and religious history; and has authored seven books, including A Climate of Crisis: America in the Age of Environmentalism.

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APA style

Allitt, P. (2021, November 18). US History – The Environment and Natural Resources, 1968-80 - Political Response [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Allitt, Patrick. "US History – The Environment and Natural Resources, 1968-80 – Political Response." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 18 Nov 2021,

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