15 Images That Prove Why We Desperately Need a Strong EPA

Photo: David Hiser

With the Environmental Protection Agency currently under attack, it’s a good time to reflect on what big swaths of this country looked like before Richard Nixon created the organization in 1970. Almost 50 years ago, the Republican former president commissioned a photography project called Documerica to illustrate miles and miles of environmental degradation, advocating for the need for the agency. The following are some of the most striking images from that project.

Photo: In the 1970s, the Moab City Dump created haze and smoke visible in the nearby town. The La Sal Mountains are seen behind the burning rubble. 

Photo: Marc St. Gil
The Atlas Chemical Company, in Marshall, Texas, discharged black soot that covered anything nearby. Landowner M.P. Anderson successfully sued the Atlas Chemical Company in 1975 for damaging his property.
Photo: Marc St. Gil
Children play in the water of Lake Charles, directly across from the Olin Mathieson Chemical Plant in Louisiana.
Photo: Erik Calonius
A sign at the edge of the Potomac River in 1972 warns against swimming due to severe water pollution.
Photo: Arthur Tress
The municipal incineration plant and landfill of Gravesend Bay, New York, served as a playground in 1973.
Photo: Marc St. Gil
Abandoned cars along the Mississippi River, near New Orleans.
Photo: Charles O’Rear
This entire field of straw in the Imperial Valley, west of El Centro, California, burned in less than half an hour. Smoke was visible for 20 miles.
Photo: Wil Blanche
A rusting barge deposits debris in the Hudson River near the newly built World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, 1973.
Photo: Charles O’Rear
Dead fish at Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, near Las Vegas, Nevada.
Photo: Boyd Norton
A sign advertises Moab as a destination for industry, not tourism, in 1972.
Photo: Charles O’Rear
Waste floating on the Colorado River five miles south of Parker, Colorado.
Photo: Charles O’Rear
Sunbathers at Huntington Beach, California, while an oil platform works offshore.
Photo: Arthur Tress
A sign on a Staten Island beach warns beachgoers of polluted water and sand.
Photo: Charles O’Rear
Oil derricks located near the Sandpiper Golf Course in Santa Barbara County, California.
Photo: Dick Swanson
A bicyclist holds her ears as a jet takes off from National Airport in Washington, D.C. Noise pollution was another issue the EPA worked to prevent.