December 31, 2017

1970. The New Clean Air Act is Signed Into Law

Nixon Signs the Clean Air Act of 1970
"A younger Doug Draper, sporting a gas mask and sign reading; 'If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the pollution', in front of a polluting mill in Welland, Ontario during the first Earth Day," April 22, 1970 (source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

December 31, 1970

President Nixon signed into law today congressional legislation that serves notice on the Detroit auto industry to create its own technological revolution—or someone else will.

The Democratic Congress voted, and the Republican administration concurred, that if that nation has the choice of its present gasoline-powered transportation or an atmosphere free from auto exhaust pollution, then the people must opt for clean air.

It's by far the most far-reaching environmental legislation ever enacted in the history of the US, and will affect the lives of every American, the national economy, and even the appearance of the country as investors come up with new designs to meet the deadline for a virtually emission-free car by 1976.

The new law, signed at the White House at noon, specifies that the motor car industry must come up with a new engine by January 1, 1976 which produces 90 percent less carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and other pollutants allowable in the 1971 models.

Although many auto engineers say the five-year deadline is too short a time for such a radical design change-over, the Democratic sponsor of the tough legislation, Maine's Senator Edmund Muskie, insisted Detroit could do the job if it had to—although there is a provision to grant a company a one-year extension on new engine production under certain circumstances.

Ironically, Senator Muskie, a 1972 presidential hopeful, was not invited to the White House bill signing—sure evidence of the political potency of environmental pollution as a developing issue for the elections two years away.

The new Clean Air Act also authorizes a billion dollars over the next three years for research and anti-pollution aid to the states.

In addition, the new law provides for the establishment of national air quality standards, which requires the separate states over the next four to six years to enforce these standards.

Industries or power plants violating the federal standards will be subjected to fines and jailing. And the law gives the government the right to inspect private property, subpoena records, and requires factories to install pollution monitors if violations are suspected.

In signing the new Clean Air Act, President Nixon said 1970 was the year of the beginning of the job of cleaning up the environment. 1971 will be the year for action.

If, as it appears now, the environment will become a major issue in the 1972 race for the White House, there will be action all right as both Democrats and Republicans play to outdo each other at pollution politics, which in this case is the advantage of a two-party system.

With rigid and fair enforcement, only the nation can win.

This is Bill Downs in Washington with "The Shape of One Man's Opinion," a service of ABC News.