More than any other legislator in the nation’s history, Senator Ed Muskie is environmental law’s champion. Over forty years ago, Muskie helped secure passage of an extraordinary series of ambitious and demanding air and water pollution control laws that sought no less than to redefine the relationship of humankind here in the United States to our natural environment. The upshot has been the nation’s enjoyment, for more than four decades, of enormous economic growth without the kind of accompanying environmental destruction witnessed during the same time period in the nations lacking such controls. While President Richard Nixon is properly credited as playing a critical role alongside Muskie in promoting tougher environmental laws, Nixon’s role is both routinely overstated and best understood as yet another expression of Muskie’s influence. Nixon can be fairly touted for creating the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and trumpeting, along with Muskie, passage of the federal Clean Air Act, the nation’s first comprehensive pollution control law that imposed sweeping and ambitious restrictions on emissions of air pollutants from motor vehicles and stationary sources. What is too often forgotten is that Nixon’s environmentalism was short-lived (lasting less than two years), was largely a product of political posturing rather than personal ideology, and was clearly aimed at undercutting Muskie’s prospects as Nixon’s Democratic opponent in the 1972 Presidential campaign.

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