From The Nation: http://www.thenation.com/article/167466/save-earth-day
April 18, 2012
Organized in 1970 by Senator Gaylord Nelson and activist Denis Hayes, the first Earth Day so frightened president Richard Nixon that he decided he had to become an environmental president if he wanted to win a second term. And unlike later presidents who invoked that title, Nixon lived up to it. He created the Environmental Protection Agency, which today’s Republicans love to demagogue. His aides pioneered such transformative measures as environmental impact reports and regular pollution monitoring. And he signed landmark environmental laws—the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and more—that on paper are still among the strongest in the world (indeed, that have been the model for the rest of the world’s environmental laws).
Nixon did all this not because he was a closet tree-hugger—the poor man wore wingtips to walk on the beach—but because he was a calculating politician. As Russell Train, the first chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and other aides later revealed in their memoirs, Nixon was keenly aware that 20 million Americans—roughly 10 percent of the population in 1970—took some kind of civic action that first Earth Day, whether it was planting trees, cleaning creeks, teaching kids or joining demonstrations. Coming in the wake of consciousness-raising by such writers as Rachel Carson and Barry Commoner and activism by Ralph Nader and antiwar and civil rights movements, this outpouring of citizen engagement led Nixon to conclude that the environment was emerging as a major public issue—one that Democrats could use against him in the 1972 election. So Nixon pre-empted that possibility by taking environmental action himself.
Continue reading at: http://www.thenation.com/article/167466/save-earth-day