Written by Jessica Harlan
Throughout history, our presidents have made significant impact on the environment.
It’s Presidents Day, which is a good chance to look back over the forty-four presidents who have headed up the United States, and what environmental legacy they left behind. While environmental issues have been considered crucial over the past couple of decades, you might be surprised to know that presidents have been taking green actions for far longer than that.
Read on to learn about some of the most significant and lasting achievements made by our nation’s presidents.
Benjamin Harrison: The twenty-third president, who served from 1889 to 1893, signed the Forest Reserve Act of 1891, which allows presidents to set aside woodlands to be part of the public domain. He initially designated 13 million acres of woodlands to be protected, while his two successors, Grover Cleveland and William McKinley, put in 25 million and 7 million acres respectively. The creators of the act did it not just to protect the timber but also to help prevent disruption of the water supply at the headwaters of major rivers, and to protect wildlife.
Theodore Roosevelt: Our twenty-sixth president might be considered the granddaddy of conservation, at least from a presidential standpoint. He put millions of acres of woodlands into the public domain using the Forest Reserve Act, established the first federal bird reservations (creating a total of fifty-one during his administration), and created five national parks and 150 national forests.
John F. Kennedy: Environmental writer Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, brought the dangers of DDT and other pesticides to Kennedy’s attention while in office,.He later had his Science Advisory Committee investigate DDT, which eventually led to its ban.
Lyndon B. Johnson: Shortly after taking office when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Johnson outlined his “Great Society Plan” in his January 1965 State of the Union address. This far-reaching plan had environmental aspects that later resulted in Wilderness Act of 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Act of 1965, and the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966.
Richard Nixon: Nixon’s scandal and subsequent inglorious departure from office sadly overshadowed the numerous good things he did for the environment. Most people aren’t aware that he created the Environmental Protection Agency, and signed the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. He also signed laws to protect wildlife.
Jimmy Carter: It’s no surprise that the president who went on to found Habitat for Humanity, which is known for its green building practices, also used his years in office to set in motion some lasting energy-saving measures. While in office, he created the Department of Energy with the idea that this office would explore clean and alternative fuels. He outlined the crucial need for this in a famous 1977 speech.
Bill Clinton: The environment was a major area of concern throughout Clinton’s two terms in office. During those 8 years, he protected more land than any other president since Theodore Roosevelt, despite detractors who thought some of that protected land would be better used for drilling or mining operations to help alleviate the energy crisis. He focused on clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency, earmarking more than $3 billion to be spent on clean energy technology. Under his administration, the EPA cracked down on emissions, smog, factory waste, and other pollutants.