The Cost of Non-Compliance | Part 2: A Historical Timeline of Major Events (1962-1978)

April 18th, 2023 | , , ,


Uriah Donaldson presented a technical paper at the 2023 IIAR Conference titled The Cost of Non-Compliance: An Objective Analysis of Federal EPA’s Enforcement at Ammonia Refrigeration Facilities. This blog series includes excerpts from his technical paper.

Part 2: A Historical Timeline of Major Events (1962-1978)

September 27, 1962 | Rachel Carson published Silent Spring

The 1960s and ‘70s were tumultuous times in American history, fraught with division, war, and economic uncertainty. Yet, it was also a period marked by victories for civil liberties, environmental awareness, and a collective desire to do and be better. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, published in 1962, “warned of the dangers to all natural systems from the misuse of chemical pesticides such as DDT.”(1) This book is often cited as the landmark publication that initiated the modern environmental movement.. 

June 22, 1969 | The Cuyahoga River Fire 

With public consciousness awakening to environmental issues, a small oil fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, in June 1969 caught the nation’s attention. After the Civil War, Cleveland transformed from a small city into a manufacturing hub. The Cuyahoga River, which drains into Lake Erie, was the most convenient dumping ground for industrial waste and sewage. The fire of ‘69 was no surprise to the locals, as this was the 10th documented time that the river had caught fire since the Industrial Revolution.(2) It nonetheless became a symbol of a growing environmental crisis. Together with other environmental disasters, such as the largest recorded oil spill to date in Santa Barbara earlier that year,(3) The Cuyahoga River fire would become a routinely cited rationale for necessary regulation.

December 2, 1970 | Birth of the Environmental Protection Agency

Confronted with “decades of rampant and highly visible pollution”(4) growing public concern, President Richard Nixon signed a bill called the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on January 1, 1970, sent to him by Congress. NEPA’s first three stated purposes were the following: 

  • To declare a national policy which will encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment.
  • “To promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man.
  • “To enrich our understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the Nation.”(5)

In his State of the Union address on January 22, 1970, Nixon proposed making “the 1970s a historic period when, by conscious choice, [we] transform our land into what we want it to become.”(6) Following the signing of NEPA and his State of the Union address, Nixon proposed a 37-point environmental action plan in February 1970, emphasizing federal programs for water and air pollution. Recognizing that it would be impractical to implement a variety of sweeping environmental reforms through the various existing departments and on the recommendation of his advisors, Nixon proposed that Congress establish a new independent agency called the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA was made official on December 2, 1970, with William D. Ruckelshaus as the first administrator.

December 31, 1970 | The Clean Air Act (CAA)

Originally established in 1963, the Clean Air Act is possibly the most influential law in US history related to the environment. On December 31, 1970, Congress transferred the authority of the CAA to the EPA, authorizing it to set national air quality standards, automobile emission standards, and anti-pollution standards.

October 21, 1976 | Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)

In October 1976, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) was established to address increasing industrial and municipal waste issues. 

RCRA set national goals for (1) “Protecting human health and the environment from the potential hazards of waste disposal, (2) Conserving energy and natural resources, (3) Reducing the amount of waste generated, [and] (4) Ensuring that wastes were managed in an environmentally sound manner.”(7)

Three primary programs were created to achieve these goals: solid waste, hazardous waste, and underground storage tanks. The solid waste program encouraged each state to create comprehensive plans for non-hazardous industrial and municipal solid waste management and landfills and prohibited the open dumping of solid waste. The hazardous waste program created a system for tracking hazardous waste from the cradle to the grave. Finally, the underground storage tank program created a system for regulating underground tanks storing petroleum products and hazardous substances.(8)

August 2, 1978 | Love Canal Disaster

Just a few years after RCRA was established, the Love Canal Disaster exploded onto the national scene. Love Canal, a neighborhood in Niagara Falls, New York, was used as a dump site for municipal refuse and industrial waste from the 1920s to the 1940s. Hooker Chemical Company (the sole owner of the landfill at the time) ceased operation of the dump site in 1952 and covered it with a clay seal to prevent leakage.(9) The property was subsequently sold to the Niagara Falls School Board which proceeded to build a school less than one hundred feet from the landfill.(10) The school district sold the remaining land to private developers and the Niagara Falls Housing Authority. During the construction of the sewers for these new housing developments, the clay walls of the landfill were breached, which allowed toxic waste to enter the soil and groundwater. The entire event “displaced numerous families, leaving them with longstanding health issues and symptoms of high white blood cell counts and leukemia.”(11)

(1); (2) La Bella, Laura. Not Enough to Drink: Pollution, Drought, and Tainted Water Supplies. United States: Rosen Pub., 2009.; (3); (4) EPA Journal, Volume 11, Number 9, November 1985; (5) EPA Journal, Volume 11, Number 9, November 1985 page 7; (6)EPA Journal, Volume 11, Number 9, November 1985 page 7; (7); (8); (9-11)

The previous blogs in this series are available in the following links:

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