The Nixon Library, in Yorba Linda, is celebrating the 100th birthday of President Richard Nixon today. Many Americans have forgotten how much President Nixon meant to this country with regard to worker and environmental safety. As a Republican he could have opposed the legislation that founded OSHA and the EPA, among other related agencies, but he didn’t and that might be part of his greatest legacy, at least in domestic affairs.
OSHA’s website has this to say about the times Nixon lived in and the impact he had on safety in the U.S.:
The late ’60s was a turbulent time in America. The nation faced serious concerns both abroad and at home. Civil rights, women’s rights, Vietnam, and the environment all demanded the country’s attention.
At the same time, occupational injuries and illnesses were increasing in both number and severity. Disabling injuries increased 20 percent during the decade, and 14,000 workers were dying on the job each year. In pressing for prompt passage of workplace safety and health legislation, New Jersey Senator Harrison A. Williams Jr. said, “The knowledge that the industrial accident situation is deteriorating, rather than improving, underscores the need for action now.” He called attention to the need to protect workers against such hazards as noise, cotton dust, and asbestos, all now covered by OSHA standards.
In the House, Representative William A. Steiger worked for passage of a bill. “In the last 25 years, more than 400,000 Americans were killed by work-related accidents and disease, and close to 50 million more suffered disabling injuries on the job,” he pointed out during the debate. “Not only has this resulted in incalculable pain and suffering for workers and their families, but such injuries have cost billions of dollars in lost wages and production.”
On December 29, 1970, President Richard M. Nixon signed The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, also known as the Williams-Steiger Act in honor of the two men who pressed so hard for its passage.
The Act established three permanent agencies:
the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) within the Labor Department to set and enforce workplace safety and health standards;
the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in what was then the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to conduct research on occupational safety and health; and
the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC), an independent agency to adjudicate enforcement actions challenged by employers.
And here are the facts about the founding of the EPA, according to their website:
It may be hard to imagine that before 1970, a factory could spew black clouds of toxic into the air or dump tons of toxic waste into a nearby stream, and that was perfectly legal. They could not be taken to court to stop it.
How was that possible? Because there was no EPA, no Clean Air Act, no Clean Water Act. There were no legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect our environment.
In Spring 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day as a way to force this issue onto the national agenda. 20 million Americans demonstrated in different U.S. cities, and it worked!
In December 1970, Congress authorized the creation of a new federal agency to tackle environmental issues, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In 1970, President Richard Nixon and Congress established the U.S. EPA in response to the growing public demand for cleaner water, air and land. EPA was tasked with the challenging goal of repairing the damage already done to the environment and to establish guidelines to help Americans in making a cleanerand saferenvironment a reality.
A liberal blog claims that Nixon was more liberal than Obama, and in many ways he was. However I think he was pragmatic and he appears to have cared deeply about his country and his countrymen. Whatever his foibles might have been, Nixon left a lasting legacy of safety in this country and peace throughout the world. We can be thankful for that as we note the 100th anniversary of his birthday.