Celebrating Pioneers In Environmental Law

Nearly 50 years ago, thousands of Americans rallied in the spring of 1970 to celebrate the first Earth Day, an event that marked the beginning of the modern environmental movement. As we approach the 50-year milestone, the Environmental Law Institute has interviewed and recorded the stories of 24 of the men and women who inspired, created, and implemented U.S. framework laws to protect public health and the environment. We asked them why they chose to work on environmental problems and what caused the rise in public concern and support for new environmental laws in the early days. We learned how sweeping new laws like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act came to be created and carried out by able leaders from both political parties, what innovations in those laws made environmental law work well, and where they fell short of expectations.

The pioneers also provided perspective on today’s environmental agenda and how the lessons of the past might help today’s leaders adopt new approaches to move it forward. We were told that today’s successful strategies are likely to be more collaborative and decentralized, better informed by science and communications technology, and led by a new generation of leaders in all sectors, undaunted by the complexity and global scale of today’s environmental risks. But we also heard that bold action on a new national environmental agenda may be out of reach with the growing gulf between the Democratic and Republican parties on what should be done to tackle 21st century problems and the inability of congressional leaders to forge bipartisan solutions. We believe our viewers and listeners will be intrigued and informed by many fascinating personal portraits of these pioneers and their reflections on what it will take to move forward.

Scott Fulton
President, Environmental Law Institute

View a topical index of quotes from Environmental Pioneers