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You are a museum curator, and have to create an exhibit for your community about the history of environmental law in the U.S. The American Bar Association has been working with your boss (your teacher!) to assemble some very important laws, cases, and events related to environmental law to include on the timeline.

Unfortunately, your museum can not afford to host an exhibit highlighting everything on your boss’ list.

Your job as curator is to select the most important laws, cases, and events from the list, in order to best educate your museum visitors about environmental law and its impact on your community. What will you include? What you will leave out? Why?


1. Review the list of possible timeline exhibit events.

2. Select 25 items from the list to include on your exhibit timeline. As you create your exhibit, you’ll want to look for the most important events, historically significant events, and the most relevant events for your community. You want your exhibit viewers to be well-educated about the history of environmental law and environmentalism in their community and throughout American history.

3. Use Google Docs to create a timeline. Place the events listed on the paper on your timeline, in chronological order.

4. Once your timeline is assembled, go the copy of timeline events listed below this question, and mark all of the events that you used on your timeline so you have a record of them for later.

5. Explain why you chose your specific events. (Convince your teacher that the event is important enough that it should be included in the timeline!)

Homework Assignment

Using the list of possible timeline events, and the events that you marked as used on your timeline, write 3-4 sentences for each event describing why it is important enough to be part of your exhibit. In doing so, you should answer the following questions for EACH event on the timeline:
• Why should we know about the event?
• How does the event impact you today?
• Why is it important for your community members viewing your exhibit to learn about the event?

Environmental Law Possible Timeline Events

Year Event
1681 Pennsylvania colony governor William Penn ordered colonists to conserve one tree for every five cut down.

1872 Congress passed the Yellowstone Act, making Yellowstone the first national park "dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people" and "for the preservation, from injury or spoilation, of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders. . . and their retention in their natural condition."

1900 The Lacey Act prohibited the transport of illegally obtained wildlife across state lines, and outlawed hunting in Yellowstone National Park.

1900 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 decide the whole matter at one blow by an irrevocable fiat would be at least premature.”

1905 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.

1906 Congress passed the Burton Act, which preserved Niagara Falls from hydroelectric power facilities.

1907 Georgia v. Tennessee Copper Company and Ducktown Sulphur:
Georgia filed suit against the Tennessee Copper Company and Ducktown Sulphur because fumes from the companies were coming across the state border and polluting communities, killing forests, and making Georgians ill. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Georgia, that the Tennessee Copper Company must regulate fumes that were traveling across state lines. Chief Justice Holmes opined, “It is a fair and reasonable demand on the part of a sovereign that the air over its territory should not be polluted on a great scale by sulphurous acid gas, that the forests on its mountains should not be further destroyed or threatened by the act of persons beyond its control, that the crops and orchards on its hills should not be endangered.”

1913 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.

1916 Congress established the National Park Service. Today there are approximately 400 national parks across America, comprising approximately 4% of the entire U.S., or 84.6 billion acres of preserved land.

1921 New York v. New Jersey and Passaic Valley Sewerage Commissioners:
New York sued New Jersey commissioners to stop dumping sewage in the New York harbor. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of New Jersey, and the dumping continued.

1926 Salt Lake City was the first U.S. city to conduct a large scale survey of air pollution.

1933 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.

1935 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.

1937 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.”

1940 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.

1947 President Truman established Everglades National Park. Just prior to the park’s designation, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas published The Everglades: River of Grass.

1954 Heavy smog conditions forced city officials to close schools in Los Angeles for most of the month of October.

1959 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.

1962 Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, which warned about the dangers of pesticides, especially DDT, to water supplies and wildlife. The federal government outlawed the use of pesticides like DDT several years later.

1963 Congress passed the first Clean Air Act, which regulated air pollution and emissions.

1964 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.

1965 President Johnson signed the Water Quality Act to strengthen federal water pollution laws and outline water quality guidelines for states/

1965 Sierra Club v. Morton:
The Sierra Club sued Morton to stop the building of Mineral King near Sequoia National Park. Questions arose over Sierra Club’s legal standing—they personally were not impacted by the building of Mineral King, so did they have the right to file suit? The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Sierra Club could file suit only if any one of its individual members were impacted by the building of Mineral King. Thus, the standing requirement that a third party with no direct interest in a case may file suit on behalf of members with direct interests was established. Justice Williams famously dissented, arguing that environmental issues, because the environment impacted everyone, were not subject to legal standing rules.

1968 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.

1968 The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act passed by Congress and President Johnson to protect waterways from pollution, commercialization, and development.

1968 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.

1969 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.

1969 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.

1970 The first Earth Day was celebrated by 20 million people across the country. Earth Day was first organized by Gaylord Nelson, a former Wisconsin senator, and Denis Hayes, a Harvard graduate student. Today, Earth Day is celebrated annually around the world.

1970 The Environmental Protection Agency was established to “create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony.”

1970 General Motors president Edward Cole promised Americans “pollution free” cars by 1980.

1971 The Ad Council and Keep America Beautiful first aired the “Crying Indian” commercial on nationwide television, inspiring popular interest in the environment.

1973 Congress passed the Endangered Species Act to protect what are now known as Endangered Species from possible extinction.

1974 Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act to be administered by the EPA, protecting Americans from contaminated drinking water. The EPA still regulates public drinking water as a result of the act.

1977 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, upholding the legitimacy of the Endangered Species list, in spite of the public funds poured into the dam project. Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote in his opinion, “It is clear that Congress intended to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction whatever the cost.”

1980 Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, designating over 100 million acres of parks, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas throughout the state.

1980 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.

1987 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.

1987 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.

1988 NASA warned Congress of the effects of global warming.

1989 The Exxon Valdez oil spill dumped 11 million gallons of oil, devastating Prince William Sound off the coast of Alaska, and images of oil-soaked ocean life flood American homes. Spill results in Exxon v. Baker.

1990 The Oil Pollution Act streamlined the EPA’s ability to prevent and clean up catastrophic oil spills.

1990 A gallop poll found that 76% of Americans considered themselves “environmentalists.”

1992 The Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, resulting in the signing of the Convention on Climate Change and the Earth Charter, a global pledge to control global warming.

1992 Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife:
The Defenders of Wildlife sued the Department of the Interior to modify the Endangered Species Act to apply to U.S. actions taken in foreign nations, rather than actions only in the U.S. or at sea. Based on the Court’s earlier ruling in Sierra Club v. Morton, the Defenders of Wildlife had two members file affidavits saying that they had traveled abroad to observe the habitats of endangered species (the Nile crocodile in Egypt and the Asian elephant and leopard in Sri Lanka) and planned to visit these habitats again. 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.

1997 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.

1998 David Chain was killed by a tree felled by foresters while protesting in a forest to protect the destruction of old-growth redwood trees.

2005 Kyoto Protocol implemented as countries around the world pledged to reduce the emission of gasses that contribute to global warming.

2006 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.

2006 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.

2007 Massachusetts v. EPA:
Massachusetts files suit against the EPA for not establishing greenhouse gas requirements in the state. The EPA argued that it, as a federal agency, could not regulate individual state issues. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Massachusetts, that the states, via the EPA, may regulate greenhouse gasses.

2007 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.

2007 San Francisco Oil Spill:
On November 7, a South Korea bound container ship struck a tower supporting the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge spilling 58,000 gallons of oil in the San Francisco Bay. Dozens of dead and injured seabirds were immediately found following the spill. The spill fouled miles of coastland and according to area scientists, could threaten the lives of the bay’s birds, fish, invertebrates, and marine mammals for years. A day after the spill, oil could be spotted 15 miles north of the city, and at least eight beaches in San Francisco and Marin County were ordered closed.

2008 Great Lakes Compact signed by all eight Great Lakes states in an attempt to prevent distribution and sale of water to nonregions.

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Lowell Bailey

Bedford-North Lawrence High School
595 N. Stars Boulevard
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