Forty-five years ago, an oil well being drilled off the coast of Santa Barbara, California blew out. At the time, it was the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Forty-five years ago, too, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, caught fire—again. Cities from New York to Philadelphia to Los Angeles were regularly blanketed in harmful smog.
One year later, inspired by the bipartisan efforts of Democratic Senator Gaylord Nelson and Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey, 20 million Americans took part in the first Earth Day demonstrations. Across the country, people gathered in the streets, in parks, and on college campuses to call for air, water, and wildlife protections. The strength of Americans’ convictions led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. As a result, our air is safer to breathe, our water is safer to drink, and more of our natural resources are protected for future generations.