What happened then?
In 1965, President Johnson became the first American president to sign legislation concerning water quality and clean air. These laws established federal authority to address environmental threats transcending state boundaries. Since then, our environment and public health have improved drastically while our economy has continued to grow.
The Water Quality Act of 1965 (enacted October 2, 1965) solidified a system of cooperative governance whereby states develop water quality standards for interstate waters under federal oversight to ensure minimal standards of health and safety. As a result, by the early 1970s, every state had developed and enacted water quality standards. Since then, states have successfully revised their standards to reflect new scientific information, the impact of water quality on economic development, and the results of water quality controls.
The Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Act of 1965 (enacted October 20, 1965) established the first federally mandated air emission standards for cars, and paved the way for the broader Clean Air Act and Climate Action Plan we know today. Since enactment, this act has created market opportunities that have helped to inspire innovation in clean air technologies in which the U.S. has become a global market leader. In 2011, fuel efficiency standards were raised for the first time since 1990. In 2014, the U.S. achieved record fuel efficiency for the third straight year, becoming a world leader in fuel efficiency standards.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was established in 1965 to preserve, develop, and assure accessibility to outdoor recreational spaces for the enjoyment of all Americans. To date, the fund has supported parks and historic sites in nearly every county in America. It also has invested in important conservation efforts and recreational opportunities among a diverse range of recreational interests, boosting tourism revenue for local economies across the country. With funds coming primarily from oil and gas receipts paid to the federal government by energy companies utilizing resources from the Outer Continental Shelf, the LWCF is already paid for. Nevertheless, the LWCF will expire this month absent congressional reauthorization.
Why it still matters today?
An overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree that global warming is happening and that human activity is the primary cause. The twelve warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998. As we continue to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, our planet’s temperature will continue to rise. The United States remains the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases. World leaders are set to gather in Paris this December to negotiate a shared agreement to responsibly combat climate change. President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency are acting now to implement the Clean Power Plan and Clean Water Rule to make progress fighting climate change, secure a clean energy future, and provide clean drinking water for all Americans.
What’s happening now?
House Republicans continue to fail to take air and water pollution issues seriously and have repeatedly acted to tie the hands of the Obama Administration, cut investments in clean energy and water infrastructure, and strip public lands protections. For example, this year’s House Republican Energy and Water Appropriation bill cut investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy programs by sixteen percent, but increased funding for fossil fuel research above the President’s budget request. House Republicans are working to halt the Clean Power Plan and Clean Water Rule, despite public support and the legal foundation provided by the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts 50 years ago.
What needs to happen moving forward?
Congress needs to make targeted investments in the next generation of clean, renewable energy technologies that will lay the foundation for a more sustainable energy future for our children and grandchildren. Similarly, Congress needs to address long-standing water quality issues in rural and urban areas, and make the necessary investments to modernize our water infrastructure. Climate change is exacerbating droughts and wildfires, so Congress also must act to strengthen communities’ ability to respond to these disasters.