"Most people guess Teddy Roosevelt," says Steve Lovejoy, a natural resources analyst and professor in Purdue University's Department of Agricultural Economics. "They're not far wrong. Roosevelt set aside some of the more pristine and unique landscapes in the country as the basis for our National Park system. But he was more of a preservationist than an environmentalist, and he had little sense of industry and people in harmony with the environment.
"The real environmental president was Richard Milhous Nixon."
Lovejoy, a former senior policy analyst with the Environmental Protection Agency during Ronald Reagan's tenure, explains his reasoning this way:
Nixon presided over the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, helped set national ambient air standards in the Clean Air Act of 1970, and supported and signed the 1972 amendments to the Water Pollution Control Act (which served as the first setting of technology standards for pollution abatement). Nixon also implemented the National Environmental Policy Act in 1972, which led to the development of the process known as Environmental Impact Statements to investigate the ecological impacts of major federal actions. The Nixon administration worked for the passage of the first comprehensive pesticide legislation with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act in 1972. His administration also encouraged states to develop state agencies to work with the federal EPA (in Indiana that became the Indiana Department of Environmental Management).
"If your criteria for environmentalist includes not only protecting but improving the general environment, Nixon wins," Lovejoy says.
He says he isn't attempting to help reconstruct Nixon -- who resigned his office on Aug. 9, 1975, because of the Watergate scandal -- but simply giving credit where credit is due. "Nixon probably was less an environmentalist than a rather good politician who saw these activities as giving the people what they wanted -- positive steps toward improving the environment," Lovejoy says. "But in terms of what he accomplished rather than promised, Nixon's administration was the one that should be known as the Environmental Presidency, because he did more in protecting and enhancing the environment than any president in U.S. history."
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