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Remarks on Signing the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969

January 01, 1970

AS YOU KNOW, the bill we are signing today is the environmental bill. There is one line in there that I am particularly stimulated by, when I said we had to work on the environment because it is now or never.

If you look ahead 10 years, you project population growth, car growth, and that means, of course, smog growth, water pollution, and the rest.

An area like this will be unfit for living; New York will be, Philadelphia, and, of course, 75 percent of the people will be living in areas like this.

So unless we start moving on it now-there is a lead time--unless we move on it now, believe me, we will not have an opportunity to do it later, because then when people have millions more automobiles, and, of course, the waters and so forth developing in the way that they do without plants for purification, once the damage is done, it is much harder to turn it around. It is going to be hard as it is.

That is why I indicate here that a major goal, when you talk about New Year's resolutions, I wouldn't say for the next year but for the next 10 years--and I don't mean that I intend to run for a third term--for the next 10 years for this country must be to restore the cleanliness of the air, the water, and that, of course, means moving also on the broader problems of population congestion, transport, and the like.

We are going to have more to say about it in the State of the Union Message, but this is the time to say some of it.
Congress has acted very commendably in setting up the Environmental Council1 by this bill. We already have an environmental council within the administration.

1 Council on Environmental Quality.

A great deal more needs to be done There are many areas where you can work, maybe this year or 5 years or 10 years from now. It is a question of whether you put it off or do it now. This is an area where we have to do it now. We may never have a chance later. That is the way I feel.

Then when you look at it, too, I have noted in all my conversations with the heads of government of the major industrial nations--for example, Sato in Japan, Wilson in England, the German leaders, the new Chancellor, Brandt, the French leaders, the Italians, and all the rest--all of them have similar problems.

That is why we have raised this issue in the whole NATO Council, in the challenges of modern society. Moynihan has been meeting with them, as you know. 2

2 Establishment of the Committee on the Challenges of Modern Society by the North Atlantic Council was announced in Brussels, Belgium, on November 6, 1969. Dr. Daniel P. Moynihan served as United States representative to the first meeting. Announcements of Dr. Moynihan's participation in the Committee are printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 5, pp. 1198 and 1564).

What we really confront here is that in the highly industrialized, richest countries, we have the greatest danger. Because of our wealth we can afford the automobiles, we can afford all the things that pollute the air, pollute the water, and make this really a poisonous world in which to live.

That doesn't mean that the less advanced countries don't have problems, in Africa, in parts of Asia and so forth, although the greatest cities in many of those areas are beginning to confront the same problems. Some of the worst traffic jams I have ever seen are in Bangkok, even Djakarta.

Incidentally, this has to be done on a bipartisan basis and it also has to be on a bigger than Federal Government basis. You have to get the State governments in it and the city governments. It is a place particularly where massive volunteer activities are going to be necessary because of some of the problems involved.

It doesn't involve just air, water, and traffic, which are the obvious ones, but it also involves open space, leisure time. What are people going to do?

As we drove along, for example, we saw a sign pointing to Leisure World. I don't know whether any of you have been there. I was there a few years ago, 15 years ago. This is one of several very exciting projects that are being developed for older people, where they live. The people live longer if they retire sooner, if they have longer vacations. There is the question of what are we going to do with them, where are they going to go. This is why we are looking into these problems in terms that are much broader than simply the immediate ones of air, water, and so forth.

Well, I will talk some more on that later.

Note: The President spoke at 10:10 a.m. in his office at San Clemente, Calif.

As enacted, the bill (S. 1075) is Public Law 91-190 (83 Stat. 852).

Richard Nixon, Remarks on Signing the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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