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Powers of the People on Earth Day 2017

— April 19, 2017

We are facing perils from Trump, both houses of Congress, and the Supreme Court. Our safety and happiness is in existential peril from pollution and political powers. We, the people, need to reassess our civic and moral duties to act. Earth Day is a great day to start.

Nader describes in an interview how we arrived at today’s predicament and what we can do about it.1 An historical review of how Americans worked to protect themselves can be informative and inspirational. Nader’s book Unsafe at Any Speed, published in 1965, resulted in the motor vehicle safety laws that were enacted in 1966.

“Since 1966, Nader has been responsible for: at least eight major federal consumer protection laws such as the motor vehicle safety laws, Safe Drinking Water Act; the launching of federal regulatory agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Consumer Product Safety Administration; the recall of millions of defective motor vehicles; access to government through the Freedom of Information Act of 1974; and for many [Author’s note: actually millions] lives saved.2

Ralph Nader, lawyer and critic of auto safety standards, stands on an overpass above Interstate 495, a beltway circling Washington, D.C., Aug. 1967. Nader is the author of “Unsafe at Any Speed.” (AP Photo)

As we approach Earth Day, April 22, 2017, a review of some videos that led up to Earth Day 1970 provides informative and inspirational resources for citizens and lawyers who continue to fight for health, safety, environmental and economic justice for all of us.

Shortly after I joined the Public Health Service Air Pollution program in 1966, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) produced a 1967 video called Don’t Leave It All To The Experts. It’s an important message for the public to get involved.3

The Clean Air Act was amended in 1970 specifying a 90% reduction in auto emissions. In a 2010 interview, Leon Billings, former Senator Edmund Muskie’s (D-ME) staffer, described some of the progressive features of the law (deadlines, scientific health goals above regard for economics, and technology forcing standards) that came into being with enormous public support after Earth Day 1970.4

Former House Committee Chairman Henry Waxman from California was interviewed on “Why the Clean Air Act Was Adopted.” He spent 40 years providing superb leadership to protect the public health.5

But despite the progress since 1970, a recent study shows how we are still losing lives to air pollution today. The MIT study estimates 200,000 early deaths each year in the U.S. due to air pollution.6

What We Did Not Know Then & Tools We Have Now

One thing that is better today than it was on Earth Day April 22, 1970, is that today we have information and Internet tools that were not available back then.

  • In 1971, we did not know of the Lewis F. Powell Jr. Memo in which he laid out a strategy for corporations and the wealthy to fight the public interest movement – where Nader was labeled “the most effective antagonist of American business”. Powell, months later, was appointed by Nixon to the Supreme Court.7
  • Mark D. Catlin has created a library of more than 1,000 historical videos of workplace and environmental health and safety subjects available to the public on YouTube. Just one example is his playlist of 53 videos of “Why We Need Earth Day”.8 Mark’s publicly available library is an under-utilized, but very valuable, resource for citizens, workers, and the legal community.9
  • Public Interest Groups: Today we have potent citizen groups such as Public Citizen, founded by Ralph Nader. See their initiative described in The Existential Threat of Trump’s Corporate Cabinet.10
  • Nader suggests we focus on Congressional Districts. I have made available a Mapping tool of Congressional Districts. While it can be used for any problems for which there is data, I have it populated with vehicle deaths for each year 2002 – 2015.11

This Earth Day, we the people have powers that we can use to protect ourselves.


  10. views/2017/01/10/existential-threat-trumps-corporate-cabinet

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