Nixon, Humphrey and McGovern: Environmental Issues in Politics

Nixon vs. the Democratic presidential hopefuls on environmental issues.

| July/August 1972

  • White House
    Environmental issues play a part in the presidential campaign.

  • White House

The greening of America — for a lot of people — began in 1970 with the first Earth Day. A new awareness of environmental issues took root together with a new commitment to preserve America's environment. But two years later one finds a prospective garden of delights filled with political bramblebrush.

Something has happened . . . in the important, necessary process of moving from the streets to the courts and to endless Congressional subcommittee hearings, the environmental movement has sputtered to a slow drum roll.

There are exceptions, of course. In West Virginia, for example, strip mining became the number one issue in the recent Democratic primaries. In one race after another, locally and state-wide, citizens issued a mandate against the coal-producing industry and the United Mine Workers. Among the victors were two important environmental advocates — Congressman Ken Heckler and gubernatorial candidate John D. Rockefeller.

But what happened in West Virginia last May is not likely to happen nationally this fall. While activists in Washington continue valiantly to maintain that preserving the environment can be a potent national issue in November, one senses across the country a long, tiresome yawn.

Such indifference will become apparent in the race for the presidency. Never before has a national debate on the state of the environment appeared so necessary. A whole range of issues demand discussion . . . from automobile pollution to phosphate detergents. The Energy Crisis alone could generate enough topics for weekly debates among the candidates from now until November . . . what are we going to do about that pipeline in Alaska or that experimental atomic breeder reactor down south or oil shale out west or that gigantic hot-air plant at Four Corners, New Mexico?

But on these questions and others one can expect little but lip service from the candidates.

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