Gallery: Why Nixon Created the EPA

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Forty years ago today, Richard Nixon's Administration officially created a new entity, the Environmental Protection Agency.

1970 was a year of tremendous environmental action by Nixon and Congress.The President signed the National Environmental Policy Act on January 2nd, delivered a call to make "the 1970s a historic period when, by conscious choice, [we] transform our land into what we want it to become" in his State of the Union Address, and ended the year with the creation of an independent agency to regulate the environment.

It's almost impossible to imagine such strong bipartisan support for environmental legislation these days, but politicians of all stripes were responding to real and serious problems in the country's towns, suburbs, and wilderness areas.

To return that support, the newly created EPA decided to hire a slough of photographers to document the environmental problems extant in 1970s America. The Documerica project, as it was known, did not make a big impact on the national debate of the day, but it did provide us a remarkable record of the local pollution problems that beset average Americans. It's not surprising policymakers agreed that the nation needed these reforms, even if it cost some small amount of economic growth. Scenes like the ones shown in this gallery are why Nixon, one of the left's most despised figures, created the Environmental Protection Agency.

All image captions come directly from the EPA.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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