Earth Day and the Law
The world celebrates the 50th anniversary of Earth Day today. You may be wondering why an attorney such as myself is writing about it? There is a good reason. Earth Day has a profound effect on the law in America.
Think of it this way. When Earth Day started, there were practically no environmental laws out there. But within a few months, the Environmental Protection Agency was created and soon time and money were being spent on the idea of protecting natural resources.
According to the National Constitution Center,
“Before the 1960s, environmental protection legislation was largely handled by the states, but in light of the growing awareness of environmental degradation during the 1960s, there was a movement to pass robust policies on the federal level. In the late 1960s, the first batch of federal environmental legislation was passed, including bills like the National Environmental Policy Act, which aimed to ‘eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere.’”
NEPA and similar bills produced a confusing and complicated regulatory delegation scheme
to multiple executive agencies. To streamline the regulation process, President Richard Nixon introduced an executive order in 1970 to create one independent agency with the sole task of enforcing environmental regulation. On December 2, 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was born; it was given the power to administer legislation such as the Clean Air Act of 1970. By the 1990s, the EPA was administering 12 pieces of federal environmental protection legislation, including the Clean Water Act and the Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act.”
And it just so happens I have spent most of my life practicing law in a city positively impacted by Earth Day. Greenville, South Carolina is known for its amazing downtown Reedy River and the waterfall, but it was heavily polluted back in the 1960s and 1970s as were most urban water ways. The river was deserted in downtown Greenville, and the landmark falls was covered over by a bridge.
However, because of new environmental laws, the river regained its health, and eventually people started finding it. One of them was me when I moved here as a college freshman at Furman in the mid-1990s. Now, it is the literal center and calling card for Greenville.