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Message to the Congress Transmitting the First Annual Report of the Council on Environmental Quality.

August 10, 1970

To the Congress of the United States:

This first report to the Congress on the state of the Nation's environment is an historic milestone. It represents the first time in the history of nations that a people has paused, consciously and systematically, to take comprehensive stock of the quality of its surroundings.

It comes not a moment too soon. The recent upsurge of public concern over environmental questions reflects a belated recognition that man has been too cavalier in his relations with nature. Unless we arrest the depredations that have been inflicted so carelessly on our natural systems--which exist in an intricate set of balances--we face the prospect of ecological disaster.

The hopeful side is that such a prospect can be avoided. Although recognition of the danger has come late, it has come forcefully. There still are large gaps in our environmental knowledge, but a great deal of what needs to be done can be identified. Much of this has already been begun, and much more can be started quickly if we act now.


The accompanying report by the Council on Environmental Quality seeks to describe the conditions of our environment, and to identify major trends, problems, actions underway and opportunities for the future. This first report by the Council is necessarily incomplete in some respects, especially in the identification of trends. The National Environmental Policy Act, which created the Council, became law only at the beginning of this year. Existing systems for measuring and monitoring environmental conditions and trends, and for developing indicators of environmental quality, are still inadequate. There also is a great deal yet to be learned about the significance of these facts for the human condition.

However, the report will, I think, be of great value to the Congress (and also to the Executive Branch) by assembling in one comprehensive document a wealth of facts, analyses and recommendations concerning a wide range of our most pressing environmental challenges. It should also serve a major educational purpose, by clarifying for a broad public what those challenges are and where the principal dangers and opportunities lie.

Substantively as well as historically, this first report is an important document. No one can read it and remain complacent about the environmental threats we confront, or about the need both to do more and to learn more about those threats.


"Environment" is not an abstract concern, or simply a matter of aesthetics, or of personal taste--although it can and should involve these as well. Man is shaped to a great extent by his surroundings. Our physical nature, our mental health, our culture and institutions, our opportunities for challenge and fulfillment, our very survival-all of these are directly related to and affected by the environment in which we live. They depend upon the continued healthy functioning of the natural systems of the Earth.

Environmental deterioration is not a new phenomenon. But both the rate of deterioration and its critical impact have risen sharply in the years since the Second World War. Rapid population increases here and abroad, urbanization, the technology explosion and the patterns of economic growth have all contributed to our environmental crisis. While growth has brought extraordinary benefits, it has not been accompanied by sufficiently foresighted efforts to guide its development.

At the same time, in many localities determined action has brought positive improvements in the quality of air or water-demonstrating that, if we have the will and make the effort, we can meet environmental goals. We also have made important beginnings in developing the institutions and processes upon which any fundamental, long-range environmental improvement must be based.

The basic causes of our environmental troubles are complex and deeply imbedded. They include: our past tendency to emphasize quantitative growth at the expense of qualitative growth; the failure of our economy to provide full accounting for the social costs of environmental pollution; the failure to take environmental factors into account as a normal and necessary part of our planning and decision making; the inadequacy of our institutions for dealing with problems that cut across traditional political boundaries; our dependence on conveniences, without regard for their impact on the environment; and more fundamentally, our failure to perceive the environment as a totality and to understand and to recognize the fundamental interdependence of all its parts, including man himself.

It should be obvious that we cannot correct such deep-rooted causes overnight. Nor can we simply legislate them away. We need new knowledge, new perceptions, new attitudes--and these must extend to all levels of government and throughout the private sector as well: to industry; to the professions; to each individual citizen in his job and in his home. We must seek nothing less than a basic reform in the way our society looks at problems and makes decisions.

Our educational system has a key role to play in bringing about this reform. We must train professional environmental managers to deal with pollution, land planning, and all the other technical requirements of a high quality environment. It is also vital that our entire society develop a new understanding and a new awareness of man's relation to his environment-what might be called "environmental literacy." This will require the development and teaching of environmental concepts at every point in the educational process.

While education may provide ultimate answers to long-range environmental problems, however, we cannot afford to defer reforms which are needed now. We have already begun to provide the institutional framework for effective environmental improvement.


As my first official act of the decade, on January first I signed into law the National Environmental Policy Act. That Act established the Council on Environmental Quality. I have charged the Council with coordinating all environmental quality programs and with making a thorough review of all other Federal programs which affect the environment.

Federal agencies are now required to file with the Council and the public a statement setting out in detail the environmental implications of all proposals for legislation and for other major activities with a significant environmental impact. With the help of this provision, I intend to ensure that environmental considerations are taken into account at the earliest possible stage of the decision-making process.

On July 9 I sent to the Congress a reorganization plan which would establish an Environmental Protection Agency, consolidating the major environmental pollution responsibilities of the Federal Government. This reform is long overdue.

Responsibility for anti-pollution and related programs is now fragmented among several Departments and agencies, thus weakening our overall Federal effort. Air pollution, water pollution and solid wastes are different forms of a single problem, and it becomes increasingly evident that broad systems approaches are going to be needed to bring our pollution problems under control. The reorganization would give unified direction to our war on pollution and provide a stronger organizational base for our stepped-up effort.

The Council on Environmental Quality has begun the vital task of identifying indicators of environmental quality and determining the requirements for monitoring systems, in order to enable us to assess environmental trends. These systems are needed to give early warning of environmental problems. They will provide data for determining environmental needs and establishing priorities, and for assessing the effectiveness of programs to improve the environment. The development of such monitoring systems is essential to effective environmental management.

There is also a need to develop new knowledge through research. We need to know far more, for example, about the effects of specific pollutants, about ecological relationships, and about human behavior in relation to environmental factors. The Environmental Protection Agency should develop an integrated research program aimed at pollution control. The Council on Environmental Quality will continue, in cooperation with the Office of Science and Technology, to review and coordinate our overall environmental research effort, as well as to undertake its own environmental studies and research.

These actions represent important additions to the institutional, procedural, and informational base for effective environmental management. They hold the promise of a real leap forward in the years to come. At the same time, we must move ahead now in those areas in which we already possess the knowledge and capability for effective action.


On February 10 of this year, I sent to the Congress a special message on the environment. This presented a 37-point action program, with special emphasis on strengthening our fight against water and air pollution.

In the field of water pollution, my major legislative recommendations included:

--Authorization of $4 billion to cover the Federal share of a $10 billion program to provide treatment facilities.

--Establishment of an Environmental Financing Authority to help finance the State and local share of treatment plants.

--Reform of the method by which funds are allocated under the treatment grant programs.

--Greatly strengthened enforcement authority, including provisions for fines of up to $10,000 a day for violations.

Among my major legislative recommendations for the control of air pollution were:

--More stringent procedures for reducing pollution from motor vehicles.

--Establishment of national air quality standards.

--Establishment of national emissions standards for extremely hazardous pollutants.

--A major strengthening of enforcement procedures, including extension of Federal air pollution control authority to both inter- and intrastate situations and provision for fines of up to $ 10,000 a day for violators.

Other legislative actions recommended in my February 10 message included:

--Appropriation in 1971 of the full $327 million authorized under the Land and Water Conservation Fund to provide additional parks and recreation areas, with increased emphasis on locating new recreation facilities in crowded urban areas.

--Establishment of new procedures to encourage and finance the relocation of Federal facilities now occupying land that could better be turned to public recreational use.

--Authorizing the transfer of surplus real property to State and local governments for park and recreational purposes at public benefit discounts of up to 100 percent.

In addition, the message spelled out 14 separate measures I was taking by administrative action or Executive Order. These included such wide-ranging initiatives as launching an extensive Federal research and development program in unconventionally-powered, low-pollution vehicles, requiring the development of comprehensive river basin plans for water pollution control, re-directing research on solid waste management to place greater emphasis on re-cycling and re-use, and the establishment of a Property Review Board to recommend specific Federal properties for conversion to recreational use.

I again urge the Congress to act soon and favorably on the legislative proposals contained in that message. They are vital to our growing effort to protect and improve our environment.

I consider the recommendations in my February 10 message only a beginning-although an important one. I said at the time that we must do much more and that we would do more as we gained experience and knowledge. Our Administration is living up to that commitment.

Previously, on February 4, I had issued an Executive Order directing a prompt clean-up of air and water pollution caused by Federal agencies. This task is well underway. As I said then, the Federal Government should set an example for the rest of the country. We are doing so.

On April 15, I sent legislation to the Congress that will, if enacted, bring to an end the dumping of dredged spoils into the Great Lakes as soon as disposal sites are available. At the same time, I directed the Council on Environmental Quality to make a study of ocean disposal of wastes and report to me by September 1.

On May 19, I proposed enactment of a special tax on lead additives in gasoline, to encourage industry to provide low or non-leaded gasoline.

On May 20, I sent to the Congress a special message dealing with oil pollution caused by marine transportation of oil. The comprehensive, 10-point program set out in the message included legislative proposals, the announcement of administrative actions, and the forwarding to the Senate of two international conventions and amendments to a third for ratification. The nations of the world must take aggressive action to end the growing pollution of the oceans.

On May 23, I announced that the United States would propose a new treaty placing the natural resources of the deep sea bed beyond the 200 meter depth under international regulation.

On June 4, a revised National Contingency Plan for dealing with oil spills was announced at my direction by the Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality.

On June 11, I sent a message to the Congress requesting the enactment of legislation cancelling twenty Federal oil leases for off-shore drilling which had been granted in 1968 in the Santa Barbara Channel and creating a Marine Sanctuary.

As I mentioned above, on July 9 I sent to the Congress a reorganization plan to create a new Environmental Protection Agency. On the same date, I sent another reorganization plan to consolidate Federal marine resource management functions in a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, within the Department of Commerce. This would provide better coordination and direction of our vital ocean resource programs.


Lately, our attention as a people has repeatedly and insistently been seized by urgent concerns and immediate crises: by the sudden blanketing of cities or even whole regions with dense clouds of smog, for example, or the discovery of mercury pollution in rivers. But as we take the longer view, we find another challenge looming large: the mounting pressures of population. Both the size and the distribution of our population have critical relevance to the quality of our environment and thus to the quality of our lives.

Population growth poses an urgent problem of global dimensions. If the United States is to have an effective voice in world population policies, it must demonstrate willingness to face its own population problems at home.

The particular impact of any given level of population growth depends in large measure on patterns of land use. Three quarters of our people now live in urban areas, and if present trends continue most of them in the future will live in a few mammoth urban concentrations. These concentrations put enormous pressure on transportation, sanitation and other public services. They sometimes create demands that exceed the resource capacity of the region, as in the case of water supply. They can aggravate pollution, overcrowd recreation facilities, limit open space, and make the restorative world of nature ever more remote from everyday life. Yet we would be blind not to recognize that for the most part the movement of people to the cities has been the result neither of perversity nor of happenstance, but rather of natural human aspirations for the better jobs, schools, medical services, cultural opportunities and excitement that have traditionally been associated with urban life.

If the aspirations which have drawn Americans to the city in the first instance and subsequently from the city core to the suburbs are often proving illusory, the solution does not lie in seeking escape from urban life. Our challenge is to ways to promote the amenities of life in! the midst of urban development: in short, to make urban life fulfilling rather than frustrating. Along with the essentials of jobs and housing, we must also provide open spaces and outdoor recreation opportunities, maintain acceptable levels of air and water quality, reduce noise and litter, and develop cityscapes that delight the eye and uplift the spirit.

By the same token, it is essential that we also make rural life itself more attractive, thus encouraging orderly growth in rural areas. The creation of greater economic, social, cultural and recreational opportunities in rural parts of the country will lead to the strengthening of small cities and towns, contributing to the establishment of new growth centers in the nation's heartland region.

Throughout the nation there is a critical need for more effective land use planning, and for better controls over use of the land and the living systems that depend on it. Throughout our history, our greatest resource has been our land--forests and plains, mountains and marshlands, rivers and lakes. Our land has sustained us. It has given us a love of freedom, a sense of security, and courage to test the unknown.

We have treated our land as if it were a limitless resource. Traditionally, Americans have felt that what they do with their own land is their own business. This attitude has been a natural outgrowth of the pioneer spirit. Today, we are coming to realize that our land is finite, while our population is growing. The uses to which our generation puts the land can either expand or severely limit the choices our children will have. The time has come when we must accept the idea that none of us has the right to abuse the land, and that on the contrary society as a whole has a legitimate interest in proper land use. There is a national interest in effective land use planning all across the nation.

I believe that the problems of urbanization which I have described, of resource management, and of land and water use generally can only be met by comprehensive approaches which take into account the widest range of social, economic, and ecological concerns. I believe we must work toward development of a National Land Use Policy to be carried out by an effective partnership of Federal, State and local governments together, and, where appropriate, with new regional institutional arrangements.


The prospect of increasing population density adds urgency to the need for greater emphasis on recycling of "waste" products. More people means greater consumption-and thus more rapid depletion-of scarce natural resources; greater consumption means more "waste" to dispose of whether in the form of solid wastes, or of the pollutants that foul our air and water.

Yet much of this waste is unnecessary. Essentially, waste is a human invention: Natural systems are generally "closed" systems. Energy is transformed into vegetation, vegetation into animal life, and the latter returns to the air and soil to be recycled once again. Man, on the other hand, has developed "open" systems-ending all too often in an open sewer or an open dump.

We can no longer afford the indiscriminate waste of our natural resources; neither should we accept as inevitable the mounting costs of waste removal. We must move increasingly toward closed systems that recycle what now am considered wastes back into useful and productive purposes. This poses a major challenge-and a major opportunity--for private industry. The Council on Environmental Quality is working to foster development of such systems. Establishment of the proposed Environmental Protection Agency would greatly increase our ability to address this need systematically and creatively.


As our government has moved ahead to improve our environmental management, it has been greatly heartening to me to see the extent and effectiveness of citizen concern and activity, and especially the commitment of young people to the task. The job of building a better environment is not one for government alone. It must engage the enthusiasm and commitment of our entire society. Citizen organizations have been in the forefront of action to support strengthened environmental programs. The Citizens Advisory Committee on Environmental Quality, under the chairmanship of Laurance S. Rockefeller, has provided an important link between the Federal Government's effort and this broad-ranging citizen activity.

Similarly, the active participation of the business community is essential. The government's regulation and enforcement activities will continue to be strengthened. Performance standards must be upgraded as rapidly as feasible. But regulation cannot do the whole job. Forward-looking initiatives by business itself are also vital-in research, in the development of new products and processes, in continuing and increased investment in pollution abatement equipment.

On the international front, the level of environmental concern and action has been rapidly rising. Many of our most pressing environmental problems know no political boundaries. Environmental monitoring and pollution of the seas are examples of major needs that require international cooperation, and that also provide an opportunity for the world's nations to work together for their common benefit.

In dealing with the environment we must learn not how to master nature but how to master ourselves, our institutions, and our technology. We must achieve a new awareness of our dependence on our surroundings and on the natural systems which support all life, but awareness must be coupled with a full realization of our enormous capability to alter these surroundings. Nowhere is this capability greater than in the United States, and this country must lead the way in showing that our human and technological resources can be devoted to a better life and an improved environment for ourselves and our inheritors on this planet.

Our environmental problems are very serious, indeed urgent, but they do not justify either panic or hysteria. The problems are highly complex, and their resolution will require rational, systematic approaches, hard work and patience. There must be a national commitment and a rational commitment.

The accompanying report by the Council describes the principal problems we face now and can expect to face in the future, and it provides us with perceptive guidelines for meeting them. These deserve the most careful consideration. They point the directions in which we must move as rapidly as circumstances permit.

The newly aroused concern with our natural environment embraces old and young alike, in all walks of life. For the young, it has a special urgency. They know .that it involves not only our own lives now but the future of mankind. For their parents, it has a special poignancy-because ours is the first generation to feel the pangs of concern for the environmental legacy we leave to our children.

At the heart of this concern for the environment lies our concern for the human condition: for the welfare of man himself, now and in the future. As we look ahead to the end of this new decade of heightened environmental awareness, therefore, we should set ourselves a higher goal than merely remedying the damage wrought in decades past. We should strive for an environment that not only sustains life but enriches life, harmonizing the works of man and nature for the greater good of all.


The White House

August 10, 1970

Note: The message is published in the report entitled "Environmental Quality: The First Annual Report of the Council on Environmental Quality" (Government Printing Office, 326 pp.).

On the same day, the White House released a summary of the report and the tram script of a news briefing on it by Russell E. Train, Chairman, Dr. Gordon J. F. MacDonald and Robert Cahn, members, and Alvin L. Alm, senior staff member for environmental pollution, Council on Environmental Quality.

Richard Nixon, Message to the Congress Transmitting the First Annual Report of the Council on Environmental Quality. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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