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Earth Day 1970 Brought America the Clean Air Act. What Will Earth Day 2010 Bring?


The Earth Flag, which activist John McConnell designed for the first Earth Day in 1970.

Recent environmental debates in have tried to address the role of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  in combating climate change. Does the EPA have the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate green house gas emissions? Last year’s EPA endangerment finding says yes, while an amendment to the Clean Air Act Senator Lisa Murkowski proposed earlier this year says no. This debate might not exist at all, however, were it not for the organizers of the first Earth Day in 1970.  The Earth Day National Teach-In, brainchild of Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, brought 20 million Americans into the streets to call for a cleaner environment. Later that year, Congress passed the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts and created the EPA.

Princeton Alum Lisa Jackson GS '86 is the US EPA Administrator. Her job would not exist if not for the first Earth Day in 1970.

In that spirit, the Earth Day Network is organizing a march on Washington D.C. this April 25, the Sunday immediately following the 40th anniversary of the original Earth Day. The purpose of the march is to call for comprehensive legislation that will fight climate change and build a green economy for America. Princeton SURGE is organizing a bus for Princeton students to attend the march. If you would like to go, please email SURGE secretary DJ Judd at with your name, phone number, and whether you plan to ride the bus both ways, by Sunday, April 18th. [sign up deadline extended to Monday, April 19th at noon] [update: we have just received permission to register a bus without a full list of names. So you can still sign up by emailing with your name and contact information, or by signing up at the SURGE table at the Earth Day celebration this Thursday, 4:30 to 7:30 on the Frist south lawn.]

Senator Gaylord Nelson, the force behind the first Earth Day, addressing the 1963 Democratic National Convention. Courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Years after the original Earth Day, Senator Nelson wrote:

“Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time not the resources to organize the 20 million demonstrators who participated from thousands of schools and local communities. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.”

Let’s make Earth Day 2010 an even bigger grassroots success.

For more information, email

[Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this post mistakenly said readers who want to go to the climate march should email Alexandra Landon. They should actually email DJ Judd ( with their name, phone number, or sign up at the SURGE table at Thursday’s Earth Day celebration, 4:30 to 7:30 on the Frist south lawn.]

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