Public Papers of Richard Nixon, 1972

Author: Richard M. Nixon  | Date: August 7, 1972

Message to the Congress Transmitting Annual Report of the Council on Environmental Quality.
August 7, 1972

To the Congress of the United States:

At the dawn of the twentieth century, almost as a voice in the wilderness he loved, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed an environmental ethic for America. He said:
I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use our natural resources; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.

At the dawn of the 1970’s there was still no more significant challenge facing Americans than the task of wisely conserving our natural resources and leaving the Nation a cleaner and healthier place for our children and grandchildren.

In my 1970 State of the Union Message I asked our people:

Shall we surrender to our surroundings or shall we make our peace with nature and begin to make reparations for the damage we have done to our air, to our land, and to our water?

This year’s report of the Council on Environmental Quality examines the environmental conditions of a dynamic and mature society. The report addresses some very complex issues—the need for indices of environmental quality and forecasting, the costs and impact on the economy of pollution control requirements, and the effects of environmental standards on international trade—and puts these issues in sharper perspective. The increasing sophistication which we are bringing to our perception of environmental problems is itself an encouraging indication of progress.

This Annual Report on Environmental Quality also offers an assessment of how we are faring. I am pleased that the data presented in the Council’s report indicate that the quality of the air in many of our cities is improving. Across the nation, emissions from automobiles—a significant portion of total emissions—are declining. We can expect these welcome trends to accelerate as the new standards and compliance schedules called for by the Clean Air Act of 1970 become fully effective.

Although the Report shows that we still have a major battle ahead to restore the quality of our waters, and urgently need effective new legislation which I submitted to the Congress over a year and a half ago, impressive strides have been made under present authorities. These include a four-fold increase in enforcement actions under the Refuse Act of 1899 since 1968.

The private sector is performing far more effectively in environmental protection. Throughout the country, industry is developing and using new technology to reduce pollution. Surveys indicate that business has increased its spending on pollution controls by about 50 percent in each of the last two years.

The future will bring new challenges to both the private and the public sectors in arresting environmental decay. The Council’s report estimates that in order to meet current environmental protection requirements, both the public and private sectors together will need to spend an annual amount of $33 billion in 1980. Cumulative expenditures of more than $287 billion are estimated over the 10 years from 1971 to 1980.

So—we have only just begun to face up to the environmental question, even though we may have awakened just in time for us to stave off catastrophe.

The encouraging news in this report by the Council-as well as the hope we have for mastering the many difficult problems that still persist—is the rapid step-by-step progress in institutionalizing and reorganizing the Federal environmental structure, the dramatic funding, the wide range of administrative actions that have been taken, the strict enforcement of pollution control laws, the new international agreements which have been forged, and the broad array of major new legislation which has been submitted to the Congress for action.


With the creation of the Council on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency, we have brought about a major institutional reform within the Federal Government and a far more effective organization for environmental policy-making and enforcement. This reform has produced major progress—evidenced, for example, by the broad legislative proposals for environmental improvement which I have submitted to the Congress and by the vigorous enforcement of our pollution laws. The establishment of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration gives us a focus on the marine environment. I have proposed a Department of Natural Resources, for coordinated resource management, and a Department of Community Development, for a systematic approach to both urban and rural growth. The Congress has yet to act on these two crucial reorganization proposals.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), we have undertaken a fundamental reform in the requirement that Federal agencies give careful analysisto the potential environmental impacts of proposed Federal actions. Already this changed emphasis has led to reconsideration of some projects, improvements of many others, and, overall, a far more thoughtful and comprehensive planning process. Our requirement that this whole process of environmental analysis must be open to the public for examination and comments—well before proposed actions are taken—is providing a new and more open dimension to Government. We can be proud of this record of improved citizen participation in the vital process of public decision-making.

The level of Federal funding for environmental protection has never been higher. In the four years since fiscal year 1969, Federal outlays for environmental protection have increased fivefold. Funding for cleanup of pollution at Federal facilities has increased from a $52 million annual level at the outset of my Administration to my 1973 budget of $315 million.

Regulatory and enforcement actions have accelerated dramatically over the past four years. The number of criminal actions taken by the Justice Department against water polluters was increased four fold—from 46 to 191—between 1968 and 1971. EPA has taken action to halt harmful discharges into Lake Superior and shut down major industries during an air pollution crisis in Birmingham, Alabama.

In our long-term determination to provide tangible benefits for our children and grandchildren, we have created the Legacy of Parks program. Over 140 Federal properties have already been made available for park and recreation use, covering more than 20,000 acres in thirty-nine states and Puerto Rico. Most of these natural retreats are located in and near cities where the need for open space is greatest. The estimated fair market value of these properties is almost $100 million. In addition, we proposed major urban parks at gateways to both of our coasts—New York City and San Francisco. These two parks would comprise almost 50,000 acres, including valuable cultural, historic, and recreation assets accessible to millions of people.

My Administration has tackled a host of controversial issues of environmental protection. We have limited oil drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel off the California coast. We helped protect the Everglades in Florida by stopping a proposed jetport. In addition, I proposed legislation to acquire interests in the Big Cypress Swamp to protect the Everglades’ water supply. We halted the Cross-Florida Barge Canal and are considering the inclusion of the Oklawaha River in the system of scenic and wild rivers. And we have restricted use of DDT almost solely to public health purposes. We stopped the use of poisons on public lands. And we stopped all commercial whaling by the United States as well as all imports of whale products into this country. These are examples of the rigorous executive action taken by my Administration to protect the environment.


New legislation is still badly needed in a number of areas, and in a series of environmental messages to Congress I have set forth a comprehensive legislative program designed to .clean up the inherited problems of the past and to deal with emerging problems before they become critical. Many of these problem areas are defined in this Annual Report. To date,much of the proposed legislation has been the subject of congressional hearings, where it has attracted heartening interest and support. However, the record of final congressional action is entirely inadequate, with more than 20 major environmental proposals still pending.

Last month, I signed an important Port and Waterways Safety Act into law. This new law, which I proposed in May 1970, will help protect our inland waters from oil and other hazardous pollutant spills. This is a welcome beginning, but passage of my other major proposals to give us effective tools to deal with the environmental challenge—together with creation of a new Department of Natural Resources—will be essential, in my judgment, if we are to have an adequate base for improving environmental quality. I urge the Congress to complete final action on responsible legislation to give us authority to upgrade water quality and to control the dumping of wastes at sea. We urgently need the new controls I have proposed over the use of toxic substances such as mercury, over the increasing problem of excessive noise, and over the misuse of chemical pesticides.

I have proposed a Toxic Wastes Disposal Control Act under which the Environmental Protection Agency would establish Federal Guidelines and requirements for State programs to regulate disposal on or under the land of those toxic wastes which pose a hazard to health. The Act would provide for Federal enforcement action if a State should fail to establish its own program.

Legislation which I have proposed is urgently needed to protect the land from the potential ravages of mining, by imposing adequate standards of reclamation. Strip mining alone now disturbs almost 4,650 acres a week. My proposed Power Plant Siting Act, for which the need is more evident with each passing month, would allow us effectively to reconcile environmental protection and energy needs.

I have proposed new legislation calling upon the States to assume control over land-use planning and regulation in areas of critical environmental concern and to regulate land use around major growth industry facilities such as highways and airports. I have asked the Congress for authority to initiate at the State level regulatory programs to control sediment affecting water quality from earth-moving activities such as building and road construction. Federal enforcement would be imposed in situations in which a State failed to implement such a program.

I proposed a new type of law for pollution control purposes—a charge on harmful sulfur oxides emissions. This proposal embodies the principle that the price of goods should be made to include the costs of producing and disposing of them without harm to the environment. I also proposed a law that would employ our tax structure to discourage potentially harmful development in our precious coastal wetlands.

I have asked for a new and more effective Federal law to protect endangered species of wildlife—by covering species likely to become endangered as well as those more immediately threatened, and by imposing Federal penalties for taking of such species.

These proposals, and others I have put forward, are vital to all Americans in the years to come. But the critical final steps have yet to be taken. The Nation needs these laws, and they should be enactedthis year. The Congress has a splendid opportunity to leave an historic record of environmental achievement, an opportunity which it must seize. The time for deliberation has passed. It is now time for action.


While our most immediate concern must be for the quality of our national environment, it is clear that we are part of a global environment whose long-range protection must be achieved by a mix of national and international efforts. This past year witnessed three historic milestones in the field of international environmental activity.

On April 15, in Ottawa, Prime Minister Trudeau and I signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement providing a common commitment to work together to clean up these important, shared resources.

On May 23, in Moscow, President Podgorny and I signed a Co-operative Agreement on Environmental Protection which opens a new area of U.S.-Soviet cooperation and permits our two peoples to work together on the solution of environmental problems in eleven broad areas.

Between June 5-16, in Stockholm, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment brought together the representatives of 113 nations representing nine-tenths of the world’s people to explore together the opportunities for national and international action on common environmental problems. The Conference achieved nearly all of the goals which the United States had urged in advance. Specifically, the nations:
—Reached agreement on the establishment of a permanent new organization within the United Nations to coordinate international environmental activities.
—Agreed to the establishment of a United Nations environmental fund to be financed by voluntary contributions from U.N. member governments. I shall ask Congress to authorize and appropriate $40 million as our Nation’s share of a five-year, $100 million fund.
—Endorsed completion of a convention proposed by the United States to control ocean dumping of shoregenerated waste. The favorable prospect for international action heightens the urgency of passing the domestic legislation. I have proposed to curtail ocean dumping from our shores.
—Approved an "earthwatch" program for worldwide environmental monitoring.
—Endorsed in principle a convention on endangered species, designed to protect species of plants and animals threatened with extinction by imposing control in international shipment, import and export.
—Endorsed our recommendation for a ten-year moratorium on commercial whaling. (Despite vigorous U.S. efforts, this moratorium was not agreed to by the International Whaling Commission at its recent meeting, although we were successful in achieving substantially reduced quotas and other protective measures.)

In addition, a proposal which I made in 1971 for a World Heritage Trust—to give uniquely important historic, cultural and natural areas of the world specialinternational recognition and protection-was strongly supported at Stockholm. When established, the Trust will provide vital new international dimension to the national park concept.

Environmental problems do not distinguish between national boundaries or differing social and economic systems. Environmental cooperation offers nations an opportunity for dealing constructively with each other and for responding to the growing aspirations of ordinary people around the globe to live decently and well in healthful surroundings.

I am hopeful about the prospects of international cooperation in the environmental field. The U.S. will continue to provide leadership in developing such cooperation. I am encouraged—even more profoundly—that the common search for a better environment can be one of those activities which serves to unify nations.


In October 1971, I initiated the Environmental Merit Awards Program. Administered by the Environmental Protection Agency in cooperation with the Office of Education, this program gives national recognition to successful student projects leading to environmental understanding or improvement. Qualifications for the awards are determined by local boards. Each board consists of secondary school students, faculty, and representatives of the local community. Already thousands of high schools and summer camps from all fifty states are registered in the program. This Fall the program will be expanded to include junior high schools as well.

As I said in my 1972 Environmental Message to Congress:
The starting point of environmental quality is in the hearts and minds of the people. Unless the people have a deep commitment to new values and a clear understanding of the new problems, all our laws and programs and spending will avail little. The young, quick to commit and used to learning, are gaining the changed outlook fastest of all. Their enthusiasm about the environment spreads with a healthy contagion. Their energy in its behalf can be an impressive force for good.

As we reflect upon the characteristics and problems of the dynamic and mature society that this Annual Report of the Council on Environmental Quality describes, there should be a sober realization that we have not done as well as we must, that changes in laws and values come slowly, and that reordering our priorities is difficult and complicated. But there is ample room for encouragement in the growing capacity of a people able to assess their problems, take stock of their situation and get on with the unfinished business of shaping the United States as a model of a satisfying and healthful environment.

I welcome and salute the lead that our young people are taking in this great endeavor.

Long before America was powerful or wealthy, we were already looked to for leadership in demonstrating the possibilities of a vigorous, free society. By the time of the Constitutional Convention this country had captured the world’s imagination and stood high in international esteem, not for its material wealth, but for its ideals.

Today as nations around the globe strive to enhance the lives of their citizens,the effort directed toward a cleaner and healthier environment is a vital measure of a country’s stature.

This is a hopeful sign that the productive pursuits of peace are coming gradually to command increasing attention in the discourse and competition among nations. In the 197th year of American Independence, the quality of life enjoyed by our citizens has become a new sign to the world of our progress as a people.

I am reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s remark at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, when he pointed to the golden half-sun engraved on the back of General Washington’s chair: "Now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun."


The White House,
August 7, 1972.

NOTE: The message is printed in the report entitled "Environmental Quality: The Third Annual Report of the Council on Environmental Quality—August 1972" (Government Printing Office, 450 pp.).

On the same day, the White House released a fact sheet and the transcript of a news briefing on the report. Participants in the news briefing were Russell E. Train, Chairman, and Robert Cahn and Gordon J. F. MacDonald, members, Council on Environmental Quality.


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Chicago: Richard M. Nixon, "250 Message to the Congress Transmitting Annual Report of the Council on Environmental Quality.," Public Papers of Richard Nixon, 1972 in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Richard Nixon, 1972 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1161 765–769. Original Sources, accessed October 1, 2022,

MLA: Nixon, Richard M. "250 Message to the Congress Transmitting Annual Report of the Council on Environmental Quality." Public Papers of Richard Nixon, 1972, in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Richard Nixon, 1972 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1161, pp. 765–769. Original Sources. 1 Oct. 2022.

Harvard: Nixon, RM, '250 Message to the Congress Transmitting Annual Report of the Council on Environmental Quality.' in Public Papers of Richard Nixon, 1972. cited in , Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Richard Nixon, 1972 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1161, pp.765–769. Original Sources, retrieved 1 October 2022, from