The Bateson Building

The Bateson Building

Architects of Governor Jerry Brown’s Office of Appropriate Technology design the first energy-conserving, self-ventilating building in Sacramento, the Bateson Building.

April 18, 1977

In a televised speech, President Jimmy Carter announces his energy plan, including goals to lower U.S. energy demand, reduce gasoline consumption, cut the portion of oil imported into the U.S., increase domestic coal production, and increase the use of solar energy. Carter also proclaims his goal of getting 20% of the nation’s energy from renewable energy resources by the year 2000 during his 1979 Solar Message to Congress.

August 4, 1977: Carter's Ambitions

President Carter establishes the Department of Energy (DOE), charged with carrying out a comprehensive national energy plan that reflects the federal legislation. The DOE takes accountability for long-term research and technological development, energy regulation, nuclear weapons, and energy data collection and analysis.

June 15, 1978

The Supreme Court uses the 1973 Endangered Species Act as reason to stop the construction of the Tellico Dam in the Tennessee Valley Authority vs. Hill case. The decision upholds the rights of an endangered species over unrestricted expansion, and reflects growing American opposition to dam construction.

Love Canal protestor
Public Domain

A Love Canal protestor.
July 1978: Successes and Failures

Reporter Michael H. Brown raises questions that lead to the discovery of long-term dioxin contamination at Love Canal, a neighborhood in Niagara Falls, NY. Up to 21,000 tons of toxic waste had been dumped in the canal by the Hooker Chemical Company from 1942-1952 and caused significant numbers of birth defects, abnormalities in children, and miscarriages.

The national media fallout from the Love Canal disaster leads to the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act, more commonly known as the “Superfund” legislation, which mandates clean up of abandoned hazardous waste sites by the parties responsible. Superfund will be signed into law on December 11, 1980.

October 25, 1978

The Nimbus-7 spacecraft is launched as the first satellite with the technology to take comprehensive worldwide measurements of the ozone layer.

November 9, 1978

The Energy Tax Act creates an incentive for ethanol use. This is the first instance of using tax credits to encourage fuel efficiency and renewable energy.


President Carter appoints Earth Days organizer Denis Hayes as head of the Federal Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI) and allocates billions for solar technology research. The SERI is one of the only federal programs dedicated to rethinking our current energy system, but its budget will be cut dramatically in 1981 under the Ronald Reagan administration.

Three Mile Island
Public Domain

Three Mile Island
March 28, 1979

The meltdown of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Middletown, PA, causes the evacuation of 140,000 people. It will take more than ten years to clean up fully.

June 20, 1979

Solar heaters are installed on the White House roof in support of Carter’s Federal Solar Research Institute. President Carter heralded the solar panels, arguing that “we must balance our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking resources.”

In 1980, the price of oil will jump to $30 a barrel.

September 25, 1979

In order for the Tellico Dam to be built, the U.S. Congress exempts the Tellico Dam from the Endangered Species Act, the precedence of which the Supreme Court had argued the year before. The species at risk, a small fish called the snail darter, is relocated to the Hiwassee River. This exception sets a precedent that will allow specific projects to be excluded from the Endangered Species Act.

Early 1980s

The world population hits 4.5 billion, the total economic loss caused by great weather and flood catastrophes increases nearly 55% in the 1980s compared to the previous decade, and the arctic ice cap continues to melt. CO2 concentration hits 335ppm, up from 315ppm in 1960.

Despite the categorical changes in legislation and a new enforcement agency set up in the previous decade, no significant progress can be detected on most environmental fronts.

July 24, 1980

Commissioned by President Carter in 1977, The Global 2000 Report to the President is released by the Council on Environmental Quality and the U.S. Department of State. This study echoes statistics first seen in Limits to Growth that pointed to current trends in the environment and what that will mean in the coming decades.

February 17, 1981: Reagan's initiatives

New President Ronald Reagan issues an Executive Order that gives the Office of Management and Budget (OMB ) the power to regulate environmental proposals before they become public. Reagan also cuts the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by 12% and staff by 11%. The solar water heating system on the White House roof, installed by President Carter, will be dismantled in Reagan’s second term in August 1986.

September 1981

President Reagan cuts the EPA’s budget to 44% of its 1978 level, and the number of enforcement cases submitted to the EPA during the fiscal year will decline by 56%.

May 1985

Nature magazine publishes an article providing evidence that confirms the ozone hole over the Antarctic. This article creates a new wave of media attention on the now-stalled environmental movement. The ozone is estimated to have been declining at about 4% of the total volume per decade since the 1970s. This study and confirmation by the Nimbus-7 satellite catalyzes a torrent of studies investigating the consequences of ozone depletion.

October 17, 1986

Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), a subset of the Superfund Amendments and Reorganization Act (SARA), requires industries to report toxic releases to the general public. The federal law creates the new State Emergency Response Commission (SERC) to enforce these new requirements.

September 16, 1987

The Montreal Protocol is signed by the U.S., Japan, Canada, and 21 other countries, agreeing to phase out ozone-depleting CFCs by the year 2000.

Dr. James Hansen
Public Domain

Dr. James Hansen
June 23, 1988

NASA scientist James Hansen warns Congress about the consequences of global warming, and argues that the ozone layer is eroding much faster than was predicted.

November 18, 1988

President Reagan signs the Ocean Dumping Ban Act of 1988, a law that prohibits all waste dumping in the ocean starting in 1992.

December 6, 1988

The World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environmental Program establish the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC provides balanced scientific information regarding climate change and will release Assessment Reports in 1990, 1995, 2001, and 2007. The panel will be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its last Assessment Report in 2007.

Exxon Valdez cleanup
Public Domain

The Exxon Valdez cleanup
March 24, 1989

The Exxon Valdez tanker spills 11 million gallons of oil, killing more than 250,000 birds and covering over 1,300 square miles of ocean with oil. The accident is the largest oil spill in the history of the U.S.

April 22, 1990: The Anniversary

More than 140 countries celebrate the 20th anniversary of Earth Day, calling attention to environmental issues for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The Clean Air Act is amended for tighter restrictions on air pollution emissions, and the Pollution Prevention Act provides incentives to corporations to reduce pollutants. In a 1989 Gallup poll, 76% of Americans call themselves “environmentalists."

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