U.S. Environmental History


Gross wetland losses in coastal counties decreased between 1992 and 2007, but gross gains were not enough to offset the losses. Photo credit: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/soils/survey/?cid=stelprdb1117258

Environmental policies exist to protect our environments while creating minimal interference with commerce. In the early 1900’s there was not much regulation on polluting the environment. In 1899, the Rivers & Harbors Appropriation Act was passed. It is the oldest federal environmental law in the United States, making it a misdemeanor to pollute navigable waters within of the United States, helping protect waters and coastal land. It also made it illegal to dam navigable streams without a license or permit from Congress. In the early 1900’s environmentalists began demanding proper channeling of levees of rivers and streams because of devastating flooding. In 1928, Congress authorized major levee improvements in New Orleans with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers shoring up flood control systems along the entire lower Mississippi to contain river control. In the 1950’s, LSU Geology Professor James P. Morgan began to document dramatic rates of land loss in Louisiana’s coastal zone.

In the 1960s and 70s began an environmental movement in the United States, resulting in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. From the 60’s to 80’s were the peak time that oil and gas companies dredged canals, creating new open water areas, drowning wetlands and allowing salt-water intrusion. Land loss insight was really acknowledged and identified in the 1970’s, after many years of damage occurred. In 1972, the Clean Water Act was passed prevent pollution to protect waters and provide assistance to publicly owned water treatment facilities. Also in 1972 the Coastal Zone Management Act was passed, which allows state and federal government organizations to work together to protect the United States coastal zones from over development, providing federal funding to conserve coastal areas.

In 1990, Congress passed the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act to rebuild Louisiana’s natural infrastructure. Later the Coast 2050 was developed to prevent more ecosystem loss, using the same natural forces that initially built the landscape.

Three extremely important characters during this time were Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot and Richard Nixon. Roosevelt protected wildlife and public lands by creating the U. S. Forest Service and preserving bird reservations, national game preserves, national forests, and national parks. As time passed through out America’s history, people began to place value in the environment and see the negative impacts. Pinchot was the first Chief of the United States Forest Service, where he was the first to show the public benefits of managing forests. President Richard Nixon signed the executive order creating the EPA. In the 70s there was an increasingly alarming concern for environmental pollution. Also this year was the first Earth Day, where 20 million Americans participated. This shows the increasing knowledge and care for the environment.

As time has passed and more damage occurred, more damage has accumulated with more flooding and more erosion. This has led to the coastal population demanding help and the government passing more policies to help.

Timeline through history:

  • 1899 Rivers & Harbors Appropriation Act
  • Early 1900’s Environmentalists began demanding proper channeling of levees of rivers and streams (source)
  • 1928 Major levee improvements in New Orleans (source)
  • 1950s Documented dramatic rates of land loss in Louisiana’s coastal zone (source)
  • 1960s & 70s Environmental movement begins
  • 1960s – 80s Oil and gas companies dredged canals for exploration (source)
  • 1970 Environmental Protection Agency established
  • 1972 Clean Water Act (source)
  • 1972 Coastal Zone Management Act (source)
  • 1990 Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act (source)
  • 1996 Coast 2050
  • 2005 Estuaries and Clean Waters Act
  • 2005 Water Resources Development Act
  • 2010 National Ocean Policy


Fracking, the drilling technique that has sparked public outcries and environmental concerns, has been expanding offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Fracking is where chemicals, water and sand are shot into the bottom of a well to stimulate the flow of oil and gas, then it can be removed easily. For the past 70 years this technique has been used on land, and only for the past 20 years has it been used commercially offshore.

Scientists who have studied fracking and industry representatives say environmentalists are overreacting about the environmental dangers of fracking. Environmentalists are concerned because they don’t know when or where these chemicals are being used in the Gulf of Mexico, which is important because the chemicals need to be treated to make sure of no negative environmental impacts. The Environmental Protection Agency has a water discharge policy that allows small amounts of these chemicals to enter the Gulf. This information of the amount of chemicals being released is not easily accessed. To better the fracking procedures and add transparency to the companies and organizations using this technique, it would be beneficial to all parties to allow easy access to the information of when and where fracking chemicals are being released into the Gulf, and also the quantity.

Maddie Duhon


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