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Lessons in Air Quality from Richard Nixon

Friday, February 24, 2012

The "Great Question of the 70s" is the Great Question of Today. Forty years on from these remarks, and from the passage of the Clean Air Act, we still have so much work to do. We still make the same mistakes with regards to air quality, land use, and the preservation of open spaces. Yes, we're getting better. Yes, there really does seem to be a new generative consensus growing around these issues, but why has it taken so long?

Highlights from Richard M. Nixon's 1970 State of the Union Address:

“We can no longer afford to consider air and water common property, free to be abused by anyone without regard to the consequences. Instead, we should begin now to treat them as scarce resources, which we are no more free to contaminate than we are free to throw garbage into our neighbor’s yard.”

"The great question of the seventies is, 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?"

"Restoring nature to its natural state is a cause beyond party and beyond factions. It has become a common cause of all the people of this country. It is a cause of particular concern to young Americans, because they more than we will reap the grim consequences of our failure to act on programs which are needed now if we are to prevent disaster later."

"Clean air, clean water, open spaces -- these should once again be the birthright of every American."


"We still think of air as free. But clean air is not free, and neither is clean water. The price tag on pollution control is high. Through our years of past carelessness we incurred a debt to nature, and now that debt is being called."


"As our cities and suburbs relentlessly expand, those priceless open spaces needed for recreation areas accessible to their people are swallowed up--often forever. Unless we preserve these spaces while they are still available, we will have none to preserve."