This Presidents Day, we’re taking a moment to celebrate some of the “greenest” Presidents in our nation’s history. You might be surprised to find that half of them are Republican.
Let’s start with President Richard Nixon (Republican). As president, Richard Nixon passed some of the most important environmental legislation in U.S. history. The focus of his efforts was protecting people from environmental hazards. Nixon passed the Clean Air Act to control air pollution across the country. The law is thought to be one of the most comprehensive air quality laws in the world. He passed the Clean Water Act to control pollutant discharges into U.S. waters. This law protects drinking water sources for more than 117 million Americans from becoming contaminated. He also passed the Endangered Species Act, which of course protects endangered species from going extinct and preserves our food chain.
Nixon is also the one who established the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. The U.S. EPA was created for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment. To sum it up, Nixon, a Republican, enacted some of the toughest environmental regulations of any president in U.S. history.
Ironically, every one of his landmark achievements is now at risk of being rolled back, eliminated, or defunded by current President Donald Trump, who claims environmental regulations are bad for the economy. Click here to take action. But enough about Trump.
President Jimmy Carter (Democrat) is another president worth our attention. In 1979, Carter became the first president to ever put solar panels on the White House. At the time, the Arab oil embargo had caused a national energy crisis, with oil prices jumping from $3 per barrel to $12 per barrel. Carter called for a campaign to conserve energy across the country and decided to put up 32 solar panels on the White House to set a good example. In his first year as president, he created the Department of Energy, passed the Soil and Water Conservation Act, and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.
He also helped to further strengthen the Clean Air Act by setting limits on industrial sources of pollution. A critical component was establishing fines equal to the cost of cleanup for companies that did not comply. Carter understood the American people shouldn’t foot the bill for industry’s pollution (something Democrats and Republicans today should seriously think about).
In early 1980, Carter signed legislation to give the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funding to clean up abandoned toxic waste dumps (aka “Superfund sites”). And, he pushed for the passage of the Alaskan National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which provided special protection to over 100 million acres of land, including national parks, national forests, and wild and scenic rivers. All of these achievements land him on our list of “green” presidents to celebrate.
Next up, President Teddy Roosevelt (Republican). President Roosevelt was considered the first modern environmentalist president. During his presidency, Roosevelt took aggressive actions to preserve the balance of the natural world. He signed at least 50 executive orders protecting natural resources and wildlife. For example, in 1903, plumes for women’s hats were in high demand and that had led to the decimation of shorebird populations. After visiting Pelican Island in Florida to see for himself, Roosevelt created the Pelican Island Bird Reservation.
Through the Forest Reserve Act, he protected 150 million acres of land as public land. This eventually lead to the creation of the U.S. Forest Service. Year after year, he continued his crusade, protecting more land and more species from being devastated.
Roosevelt was an avid hunter and taxidermist, but he understood that if the actions of hunters, miners, and timber cutters weren’t controlled, they could pose a serious threat to entire ecosystems. For Roosevelt, it was about balance, so that everyone who enjoyed and depended upon our natural resources could continue to benefit.
Last but not least is President Barack Obama (Democrat). Now, we should probably mention that Green For All has a special affinity for this president. Inspired by our co-founder Van Jones’s best-selling book The Green Collar Economy, Jones served at the President’s request as special advisor on green jobs.
Many of Obama’s policies helped to jumpstart the green economy and bring it to disadvantaged communities. In 2009, Obama’s stimulus package not only helped the U.S. out of the Great Recession, it also invested billions in clean energy technology. These programs helped to make wind and solar energy more affordable in the last nine years. Obama also helped to fund the Green Jobs Act, which put hundreds of thousands of Americans to work building a more sustainable future.
What some people probably don’t know is that Obama also fought to bring justice to coal miners. He put forth the POWER Plus Plan, which would have deployed $1 billion for workforce and economic development in coal communities feeling the effects of a global transition to a new clean energy economy. His proposal was blocked by the Republican-controlled Congress. But that didn’t stop him. He found a way for his idea to move forward through the POWER Initiative. This initiative began awarding some smaller grants available for economic and workforce development projects in Appalachia and other coal communities across the country.
Obama also played an international leadership role on climate change, signing on to a global agreement to curb climate change known as the Paris Climate Agreement. In 2015, he introduced the Clean Power Plan to address one of the largest sources of the U.S.’s share of climate pollution: power plants. It was the first ever federal rule to limit pollution from power plants. Overall, Obama made protecting the environment a important cornerstone of his presidency.
Take action to defend these presidents’ legacy:
Tell the U.S. EPA to protect Clean Air.
Help us spread the message on social media (use #GreenForAll #PresidentsDay):
- Name two Republican presidents who were "green." Check your answers at greenforall.org/greenpresidentsday #GreenForAll #PresidentsDay
Who was the first President to put solar panels on the White House? Check your answer at greenforall.org/greenpresidentsday #GreenForAll #PresidentsDay
- Can you name four Presidents who were "green"? Hint: Being green isn’t partisan: greenforall.org/greenpresidentsday #GreenForAll #PresidentsDay
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