Environmental Law Timeline

  • Pennsylvania Tree Ordinance

    First Tree Regulations in America Pennsylvania colony governor William Penn ordered colonists to conserve one tree for every five cut down.
  • Lacy Act

    The Lacey Act prohibited the transport of illegally obtained wildlife across state lines, and outlawed hunting in Yellowstone National Park.
  • Missouri v. Illinois and the Sanitary District of Chicago

    Missouri filed suit against Illinois to stop polluting the Mississippi River with waste from the city of Chicago. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Illinois, thereby allowing the City of Chicago to continue draining city sewers into neighboring rivers. The Court issued this concern: “It is a question of the first magnitude whether the destiny of the great rivers is to be the sewers of the cities along their banks or to be protecting against everything which threatens their purity. To deci
  • Preservation of Bison

    In his annual message to Congress, President Roosevelt suggested, “provisions should be made for preservation of the bison,” calling it a “real misfortune” should the species become extinct. The American bison population, once 70 million, had dwindled to fewer than 300.
  • Raker Act

    After a seven year debate between environmentalists and Californians seeking water rights, Congress passed the Raker Act, authorizing the flooding of Hetch Hetchy Valley and the building of O’Shaughnessy Dam, in Yosemite National Park.
  • Salt Lake City Air Pollution

    Salt Lake City was the first U.S. city to conduct a large scale survey of air pollution.
  • Emergency Conservation Work Act

    As part of his New Deal plan during the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt asked Congress to pass the Emergency Conservation Work Act. Under the Act, thousands of unemployed young men were recruited into a “peacetime army” called the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), also known as “Roosevelt’s tree army.” Their job was to protect against erosion and the destruction of natural resources. CCC camps existed in every state.
  • Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act

    Congress passed the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act in an effort to control Dust Bowl storms, erosion, land use and conservation. Over 100,000,000 acres of U.S. prairie land were affected by the Dust Bowl. The catastrophe inspired the largest migration of Americans in U.S. history, as 2.5 million Dust Bowl refugees moved away from the prairie.
  • First Ethanol Plant

    The first ethanol plant opened in Atchison, KS. The biofuel brand, Agrol, was sold throughout the Midwest with the slogan, “Try a tankful—you’ll be thankful.”
  • Bald Eagle Preservation Act

    Congress passed the Bald Eagle Preservation Act to prevent the extinction of the national symbol. The bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list in 2007.
  • Los Angeles Smog

    Heavy smog conditions forced city officials to close schools in Los Angeles for most of the month of October.
  • Antartic Treaty

    The Antarctic Treaty protected Antarctica from the dumping of nuclear waste. To date, 46 countries, including the United States and the former Soviet Union have signed the treaty.
  • Wilderness Act

    Congress passed the Wilderness Act, establishing the National Wilderness Preservation System to “secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.” By 2001, there were 90 million acres of preserved wilderness in the U.S.
  • Water Quality Act

    President Johnson signed the Water Quality Act to strengthen federal water pollution laws and outline water quality guidelines for states/
  • Sierra Club v. Morton

    The Sierra Club sued Morton to stop the building of Mineral King near Sequoia National Park.
  • "Blue Marble" Photo

    Blue Marble NASA released the “Blue Marble” photo of earth from space, giving Americans a first ‘outside’ look at their planet. The photo helped raise awareness of environmental issues.
  • Colorado River Bill

    Colorado River Bill ended a decades-long dispute in the American West by authorizing the construction of the Central Arizona water diversion project, allowing the seven states of the Colorado River Basin to draw from the river’s annual flow.
  • Cuyahoga River Ignition

    Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River ignited, as the chemicals and pollution floating on top of the water caught fire. Images of the fire, along with a Time magazine article accusing the river of “oozing rather than flowing” sparked nationwide attention to pollution.
  • National Environmental Policy Act

    The National Environmental Policy Act was one of the first laws to establish the broad national framework for protecting the environment. The Act demanded that all braches of government give proper consideration to the environment prior to building airports, buildings, military complexes, highways, parks, and other activities.
  • "Crying Indian"

    The Ad Council and Keep America Beautiful first aired the “Crying Indian” commercial on nationwide television, inspiring popular interest in the environment.
  • Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill et al

    The federal government, via the TVA, spent $80 million to begin construction of Tellico Dam in the Tennessee Valley. Hill, a scientist, held up construction on the basis that construction of the dam would harm the snail darter, and petitioned that the snail darter be added to the Endangered Species list. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hill.
  • Alaska National Interests Lands Conservation Act

    Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, designating over 100 million acres of parks, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas throughout the state.
  • "Superfund" Act

    The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (Superfund) was established to provide funds for cleaning of uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites, along with accidents, spills, and other emergency releases of pollutants or contaminants into the environment. The Act also gave the EPA power to prosecute polluters.
  • Long Island Garbage Barge

    Long Island garbage barge, Mobro 4000, began a 6,000 mile journey up and down the East Coast, looking for a dumping place. The barge became a popular icon representing the mounting waste crisis in America, but in reality, the barge was simply a victim of circumstance, caught up in legal red tape preventing any city from allowing it to dock.
  • Montreal Protocol

    The Montreal Protocol, an international treaty, was first signed to eliminate ozone-depleting hydrocarbons from the environment. It was adopted by so many countries that it has been hailed as an example of exceptional international cooperation. Since the Montreal Protocol came into effect, harmful ozone-depleting hydrocarbon production has significantly decreased.
  • Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife

    The Supreme Court ruled against the Defenders of Wildlife had failed to establish sufficient standing to sue, as outlined in Sierra Club v. Morton. The plans of the Defenders of Wildlife members to “some day” revisit potentially threatened habitats were not enough to establish actual or imminent harm.
  • Julia Hill, Redwood Protest

    Julia Butterfly Hill, age 23, lived for 735 days in the top of a 180-feet tall California Coast Redwood tree and successfully blocked its destruction.
  • David Chain Death

    David Chain was killed by a tree felled by foresters while protesting in a forest to protect the destruction of old-growth redwood trees.
  • An Inconvenient Truth

    Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore released An Inconvenient Truth, and the following year, won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to raise awareness about global warming.
  • EPA Issued New Air Quality Standards

    The EPA Issued New Air Quality Standards to control daily “small” or “fine” particulate matter— soot, dust, and particles too small to see. Fine particulate matter, which pollutes the air, comes from things like car exhaust, smokestacks, and coal-fired power plants.
  • Live Earth Concerts

    Live Earth concerts around the world featured Madonna, the Black Eyed Peas, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, and the Beastie Boys, to raise awareness of climate change.
  • Great Lakes Compact

    Great Lakes CompactGreat Lakes Compact signed by all eight Great Lakes states in an attempt to prevent distribution and sale of water to nonregions.