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US History – The Environment and Natural Resources, 1968-80

7. Reagan and Environmentalism

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In the final module, we take a look at the policies of President Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980, who repudiated environmentalism. Reagan supported the “Sagebrush Rebellion” of Western farmers who opposed the widespread federal ownership and regulation of western lands. His Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, and his EPA administrator, Anne Gorsuch, were openly hostile to environmentalists and declined to meet with them. Environmental lobbying groups, including the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation, enjoyed a membership surge and became powerful lobbies in Washington DC. Reagan soon discovered that he had miscalculated the voters’ mood and was forced to restore an active and sympathetic approach to environmental affairs.


In this course, Professor Patrick Allitt (Emory University) explores how the issue of the Environment and Natural Resources were dealt with during the period 1968-1980. In the first module, we will examine how in the late 1960s environmentalism became a mass movement in the United States. We will then turn to see how politicians responded to this movement. In the third module, we will see how American views on the environment changed when the economy began to slow in the 1970s. We will then turn to look at the history of nuclear power in the US and how it’s growth slowed after the Three Mile Island accident. After this we turn to the issue of natural resources and examine how academics disagreed over this issue. In the penultimate module, we will explore how Republican and Democrat views on the environment began to splinter in the 1970s. In the final module, we will explore the policies of Ronald Reagan towards the environment.


Patrick N. Allitt is the Cahoon Family Professor of American History at Emory University. He specialises in American intellectual, environmental, and religious history; and has authored seven books, including A Climate of Crisis: America in the Age of Environmentalism.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Allitt, P. (2021, November 18). US History – The Environment and Natural Resources, 1968-80 - Reagan and Environmentalism [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Allitt, P. "US History – The Environment and Natural Resources, 1968-80 – Reagan and Environmentalism." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 18 Nov 2021,

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