Lesson Plan: The 1970s and the Environment

Setting the Stage

Bob Bostock, a head speechwriter for George W. Bush administration EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, talked about views of environmental regulation at the onset of the 1970s. The U.S. Capitol Historical Society hosted this virtual event.


This lesson plan opens with reflective questions that ask students to reflect on the natural environment in their local communities and potential steps to improve certain aspects. Students then watch, analyze, and respond to an introductory video that presents an overview of the public sentiment regarding environmental regulation shortly before the 1970s began. Next, students engage in an engagement activity, where they view seven video clips that detail various aspects of the 1970s, including the Santa Barbara Oil Spill of 1969, the first Earth Day in 1970, and bipartisan efforts of Congress and the administrations of Richard Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Jimmy Carter. Students then complete an application activity where they conduct research into three specific pieces of environmentally-focused legislation or other acts of choice from the 1970s, preparing a presentation to share with their peers. The lesson concludes with three reflective video clips and a summative writing prompt.


  • SET UP

    This lesson offers several options for you to use with your students whether you are teaching in class, using a hybrid model, or engaging through distance learning. It can be completed in steps as a class or students can move at their own pace and complete the activities independently.

    You can post links to the videos in the lesson along with the related handout and engage in discussion to share responses on a discussion board or learning management system.

    You can also save and share the following Google resource for students to use with this lesson.

    Handout: Graphic Organizer (Google Doc).

    In Google, choose "File" then "Make a Copy" to get your own copy. You can make any needed adjustments in the instructions such as which activities students need to complete, when it is due, etc. and then make it available to them via Google.


    Pose the following brainstorming questions to your students, directing them to record their responses in their graphic organizer, share with a partner, and then with the class if they choose.

    • Describe the natural environment in your local community.
    • What aspects of the environment could be improved, and how might you approach the issue(s)?

    Play this introductory video clip [Clip #1] (2:12) of head speechwriter for George W. Bush administration EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman Bob Bostock discussing views of environmental regulation at the onset of the 1970s. Direct your students to answer the following questions on their graphic organizer.

    • What does Bob Bostock mean when he says the 1970s environmental movement “started out of the blue?”
    • Review Nixon’s 1968 radio address on natural resources (American Presidency Project) that was described in the clip. Briefly summarize his 12 points.
    • Why didn’t the environment get “much play” during the 1968 Election? What evidence does Bostock provide?

    Direct your students to their graphic organizers to view and define the vocabulary terms that will appear in the lesson in the chart in their graphic organizer handout. The vocabulary words are also listed to the right on this webpage. We recommend having your students define and present the terms in a jigsaw activity to save time.

    Depending on time and resources, you may consider having your students define and present the terms in a Frayer's Model activity, where each student takes one or two items. Students can then post their models around the room for reference throughout the lesson. Note: This is not an all-encompassing list of terms included in each video. We recommend you previewing the video clips to determine any necessary additions/subtractions to this list for your specific students.


    Direct students to the engagement section of their graphic organizers. Have students students view each clip, take notes, and answer each question. Direct students to prepare to present their findings with the class when finished.

  • Clip #2: Events of 1969 (2:15). Bob Bostock talked about two events that "raised the issue" of environmental regulation. The U.S. Capitol Historical Society hosted this virtual event.

    • What event occurred on January 28th, 1969? Why was this event a “wake up call” for President Richard Nixon?
    • Based on the clip, summarize the impact of second event that occurred in 1969.
    • What legislation was introduced in response to the events of 1969?
  • Clip #3: Cuyahoga River (4:33). Author David Stradling discusses the history of fires on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio (OH).

    • What happened on June 22, 1969? According to David Stradling, what caused the event and how did local officials respond?
    • Why did people “confuse photographs” of the 1969 and 1952 events?
    • How did Time Magazine describe the Cuyahoga River in 1969?
  • Clip #4: NEPA and SOTU (1:22). Bob Bostock talked about the passage of NEPA and Richard Nixon's 1970 State of the Union Address.

  • Clip #5: Earth Day (4:38). Denis Hayes, co-founder of Earth Day and president of the Bullitt Foundation, talked about the creation of Earth Day and sustainable development efforts.

    • What do you see and hear in the opening archival clip of Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI)?
    • According to Denis Hayes, what “sparked” the Earth Day movement?
    • Based on the clip, describe the roles of Nelson and Hayes in organizing the Earth Day movement. What were their goals?
  • Clip #6: Congress and the EPA (3:28). Bob Bostock talked about 1970s bipartisan Congressional cooperation regarding the environment and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

    • According to Bob Bostock, what were the five main points of President Richard Nixon’s February 1970 message to Congress (American Presidency Project)?
    • Why did Nixon’s environmental agenda require “bipartisan cooperation?”
    • What did Nixon propose in July of 1970? Based on the clip, why was this proposal offered?
  • Clip #7: Legislation During Nixon Administration (11:13). Bob Bostock talked about 1970s environmental legislation passed during Nixon's administration.

    • Based on the clip, describe the Clean Air Act’s (1970) development and passage.
    • What environmental issues did President Richard Nixon address in his February 1972 message to Congress (American Presidency Project)? How did Congress and the EPA respond?
    • According to Bob Bostock, why did Nixon veto the Clean Water Act (1972)? Describe the “bipartisan” efforts of the era.
  • Clip #8: Legislation After Nixon Administration (1:33). Bob Bostock talked about 1970s environmental legislation President Nixon left office.

    • What bills did President Gerald Ford sign into law in 1974 and 1976?
    • According to Bob Bostock, what “significant” piece of legislation did President Jimmy Carter sign into law?

    Have your students view the application section of their graphic organizer. In clips #7 and #8, Bob Bostock describes many different pieces of environment-focused legislation and actions during the 1970s. Each of the different acts and actions is listed in the chart in the graphic organizer (and listed below).

    Direct your students to select three of the items listed for further study. Have them conduct their own research and utilize resources from the lesson to prepare a presentation describing the cause(s) and effect(s) of each of their selections.

    • Clean Air Act (1970)
    • Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972)
    • Clean Water Act (1972)
    • Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) Ban (1972)
    • Endangered Species Act (1973)
    • Legacy of Parks Program (1970s)
    • Safe Drinking Water Act (1974)
    • Toxic Substances Control Act (1976)
    • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (1976)
    • Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (Superfund) (1980)

    Allow time for your students to prepare and share their presentations from the application section of the lesson. Then, direct your students to view the following three clips that offer reflective thoughts. Note: clip #11 is optional.

    Have your students record their notes and answers to the questions in their graphic organizers and share with a partner, small group, or the class.

  • Clip #9: Bipartisan Support and Recent Decades (3:35). Bob Bostock talked about environmental bipartisan cooperation during the 1970s and recent "less productive" decades.

    • What does the 1970’s “bipartisan support” reflect, according to Bob Bostock?
    • Based on the clip, why have the decades since the 1970s been less “productive” with regard to environmental issues?
  • Clip #10: Legacy (3:55). Bob Bostock talked about the legacy of environmental efforts of the 1970s.

    • According to Bob Bostock, why do some people think President Richard Nixon’s actions regarding the environment were “extraordinary?”
    • How does Bostock counter these claims?
    • What role did Nixon’s staff play in advancing his administration’s environmental record?
  • OPTIONAL - Clip #11: Archival Photos (12:12). Bob Bostock talked about several archival photographs from the Nixon era.

    • Based on the clip, what impact did being raised and living in California have on President Richard Nixon’s interest in the environment?
    • According to Bob Bostock, what did the Nixon family “love,” and what might this have “shaped?”
    • What roles do tree plantings play for politicians, according to Bostock?
    • Describe the “bipartisan” example of the photograph of Nixon’s dedication of a sequoia grove to Lady Bird Johnson.

    After your students are finished with the reflective clips, direct them to complete the final culminating writing prompt in their graphic organizers, and have students share their responses, comparing their perspectives with their classmates' perspectives: In clip #10, Bob Bostock describes the 1970s as an example of how to “get something done.” Having now learned about the decade, describe its legacy and ongoing impact. Be sure to include evidence from the video clips in the lesson to support your argument.

Additional Resources


  • 1968 Presidential Election
  • Bill
  • Bipartisan
  • Bureaucracy
  • Conference Committee
  • Council On Environmental Quality
  • Decade
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • National Environmental Policy Act (1970)
  • Oil Slick
  • Presidential Cabinet
  • State Of The Union Address
  • Veto
  • Voice Vote


Bureaucracy & RegulationEnvironmental Policy & Land UseExecutive BranchLegislative BranchU.S. History


Middle SchoolHigh SchoolUniversity