Fifty years after President Richard Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California, has created a permanent outdoor exhibit called “The President and the Planet: Richard Nixon and the Environment.”
The exhibit is open for self-guided tours, and displays the impact of many of Nixon’s numerous environmental initiatives, such as the Clean Air Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the Endangered Species Act.
“It was in 1970 that my grandfather signed a series of executive orders to protect the environment, which culminated in the creation of the EPA in December of 1970,” said Christopher Nixon Cox, the eldest grandson of Nixon and a member of the board of directors of the Nixon Foundation, at an online event to dedicate the exhibit on Dec. 3.
Cox said Nixon always greatly enjoyed the outdoors. As a child, Nixon would ride his bicycle from Whittier to Los Angeles every day to pick fresh produce to sell at his parents’ small grocery store.
However, in the 1960s, Nixon witnessed hundreds of New Yorkers die from toxic smog, while oil spills devastated California’s wildlife, said Cox.
“He felt it was his mission to bequeath a better environment to his children and grandchildren than the one he had seen develop in the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s,” Cox said.
During the event, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former governor of California, was interviewed by Hugh Hewitt, president and CEO of the Nixon Foundation.
“I was always a big fan of Richard Nixon,” said Schwarzenegger. “I became a Republican because of Richard Nixon.”
The former governor attended the grand opening of the Nixon Library in 1989, where he first met Nixon in person.
“He [said], ‘You should run for governor.’ So he was actually the first one that proposed that idea to me,” said Schwarzenegger.
Schwarzenegger said he will always remember Nixon for his dedication to cleaning up the environment, as well as being willing to work with members of the Democratic Party. He similarly praised Ronald Reagan for creating the California Air Resources Board.
Andrew Wheeler, current administrator of the EPA, said air pollution in the United States dropped 77 percent from 1970 to 2019, even though the country added 100 million people to the population and the economy grew 285 percent.
“Then, as now, it was a Republican president who was called on to balance the tensions of environmental protection and economic growth,” said Wheeler.
“[Nixon] saw environmental health as something all Americans could agree upon, telling Congress in his 1970 State of the Union speech that ‘restoring nature to its natural state is a cause beyond party and beyond faction.’”
Another speaker at the dedication event was Benjamin Backer, president and founder of the Conservation Coalition, a free-market environmental group. The event also included a panel discussion featuring former EPA administrator Bill Reilly, former EPA administrator and New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, former CalEPA administrator James Strock, former president of the American Enterprise Institute Christopher DeMuth, and Dr. Roger Turner of the Philadelphia Science History Institute.
The Nixon Library is open to the public Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, museum exhibitions have moved outdoors, and admission tickets are available at a reduced rate.