United States

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Environmental

1910-1932: Public lands and their use or conservation have long been a concern in American life. Although national parks have existed since 1872, the National Park Service is established in 1916 to link and administer them. The 1928 Flood Control Act launches a vast program of levee construction in the Mississippi River Valley.

1933-1940: The New Deal brings conservation measures in part to employ idle workers: The Civilian Conservation Corps at its peak employs half a million people. The Tennessee Valley Authority, established in 1933, is an ambitious government plan to build large and small hydroelectric dams as well as manage flooding, erosion, and water resource use.

1941-1947: The use of atomic weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki reveals the force of the atom bomb and its deadly environmental, as well as human, impact; the sense of a new, ominous era is profound. Concern with optimal management of federal land continues. The Bureau of Land Management is created in 1946; the 1947 Materials Act allows sale of natural resources without selling the land itself.

1948-1956: With the rise of homeownership and the development of suburbia, water quality becomes a prominent issue. The first Water Pollution Act is passed in 1948; several more will follow. The U.S. becomes a net importer of oil in 1953. The 1954 Atomic Energy Act allows private power companies to develop nuclear plants.

1957-1964: The Niagara Power Act allows the New York State Power Authority to build a dam at Niagara Falls. Air quality joins water quality on the list of major public concerns. The first Clean Air Act is passed in 1963. The Kennedy administration seeks to improve management of public lands through a policy of "retention and multiple use."

1965-1971: Environmental awareness grows in the public mind and as a topic of national policy. The 1969 National Environmental Policy Act enshrines this policy commitment and generalizes such practices as environmental impact assessments. Earth Day is celebrated for the first time in 1970. The Environmental Protection Agency is set up that year, and a major Clean Air Act is passed.

1972-1978: The Environmental Pesticide Control Act is passed in 1972. When the oil shock hits in 1973, energy becomes a chief concern. Construction of the Alaska Pipeline is approved in 1973. Nixon's and Carter's energy programs call for conservation but emphasize domestic hydrocarbon development and use of coal. A 1978 act bans the killing of ocean mammals.

1979-1985: The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant leak in Pennsylvania sparks concern and distrust in nuclear technology; new nuclear plant development will soon cease. In 1980 the government creates the toxic waste Superfund, which pays for emergency cleanup while the government sues the polluters. Reagan's first interior secretary, James Watt, angers environmentalists with his plans for public land use.

1986-1992: Congress passes the Clean Water Act in 1987 over Reagan's veto. The market-based system of "emissions trading" is pioneered. It creates a market in tradable rights to emit a capped quantity of pollutants. In 1989 a massive oil spill from the Exxon "Valdez" tanker kills wildlife and spoils pristine territory in Alaska. It results in a billion-dollar settlement agreement.

1993-1999: The Clinton administration takes an active stand on environmental issues such as emissions reduction and public land management. Emissions trading is expanded from acid rain to sulfur dioxide; "ozone depleters" are targeted for phase-out. A series of rules improves public environmental information. But the strong economy results in high sales of gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles (SUVs).

2000-2003: The Bush administration slows environmental rulemaking. It opts out of the Kyoto climate-change treaty and demands that developing countries assume a greater share of greenhouse-gas reduction. It favors tax incentives for emissions reduction and signals policy changes on public land management. The Senate narrowly rejects a push for oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

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Categories: Overview | Political | Economic | Social | Environmental | Rule of Law | Trade Policy | Money
Graphs: Growth | Income | Inflation | Unemployment | Well-being | Trade Volume | Trade (CAB) | Debt

Related: Video | LinksView all categories for years from to | See Full Report | Print