Environmental Legacies of US Presidents

By Eva Lewandowski

In honor of Presidents’ Day, I thought it would be nice to write a blog entry about US presidents who have positive environmental legacies.  Most of our presidents have had some sort of environmental impact, either good or bad, but there are a few who are widely remembered, at least in part, for their environmental stance.

When most people think of presidents with a strong environmental legacy, they think of Teddy Roosevelt.  A passionate hunter and outdoor enthusiast, President Roosevelt made conservation a national issue.  His creation of National Parks, Monuments, and Forests brought large tracks of land under the protection of the government, and he finalized the creation of the US Forest Service.  While some might take issue with the more utilitarian aspects of his conservation stance, there is no doubt that he was one of the most influential figures in American conservation and environmental history.

President Lyndon Johnson is usually remembered for the tragic manner in which he assumed the presidency, as well as the dramatic public declaration of his decision not to seek re-election.  However, he also played a crucial role in the environmental movement of the 1960s.  He and his wife were both great proponents of conservation, and they raised awareness of many environmental issues.  President Johnson worked closely with his Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall, which eventually led to the signing of the Clean Air Act and the Wilderness Act, among a host of other environmental legislation.

Many Americans recall President Jimmy Carter’s development of the national energy policy, his handling of the energy crisis, and his upfront dealings on the Love Canal emergency.  While Carter’s environmental policies were often politically motivated, his commitment to energy conservation and renewable energy was apparent when he installed solar panels and ordered thermostats to be kept at lower temperatures at the White House.  President Carter also signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which protected more than one hundred million acres of land in Alaska.

While today’s political climate often leads to deadlocks or dangerous compromises on environmental issues, the truth is that the office of the presidency still has a great deal of power to create positive environmental change.  I encourage everyone who is concerned about a specific environmental issue or about the general state of the natural world to write to President Obama.  It’s important that our voices are heard!

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