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History of DEC- 1970s

The decade begins with the creation of the department on the first Earth Day. During the 1970s, the newly created agency not only assumed responsibility for existing water quality programs, such as water treatment plants, but was in the forefront of creating programs to deal with emerging issues like air pollution and solid and hazardous waste. Important steps were taken in planning for, and acquiring, land to be protected. Relationships were formed among government agencies and between government and the private sector to cooperatively improve the environment. Important legislation was passed and long-term funding sources for environmental purposes were begun. Milestones include:


  • April 22, the first Earth Day, legislation is signed merging the duties of the Conservation Department with some programs of the departments of Health, Agriculture and Markets and some state commissions to create the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). DEC is one of the first state agencies specifically formed to oversee environmental concerns, and it precedes the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by more than six months.
  • July 1, DEC opens its doors and immediately begins to wrestle with urgent problems of the day, like the health risks of using pesticides, mercury pollution, solid waste management and recycling, flood protection, and recreational access to wilderness areas.
  • The federal Clean Air Act sets national, health-based standards for air pollutants and auto emissions, requiring states to submit air quality plans.
  • The first New York State endangered species list is created.


  • New York State bans DDT. The widely used pesticide was found to cause cancer and accumulate in the food chain, posing a risk to public health and the environment. DEC's pesticide controls are the most comprehensive in the country. EPA follows New York's lead one year later with a nationwide ban on DDT.
  • EPA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development take their first steps in protecting children's health through lead-based paint prevention activities, including detection and treatment of lead-based paint poisoning, limiting lead use in certain consumer items, and banning the use of lead-based interior paints in residences built or renovated by the federal government.
  • New York State establishes the Adirondack Park Agency.DEC's Division of Law Enforcement is created and legislation upgrades the newly named Environmental Conservation Officer (ECO) from peace officer to police officer status, with authority to enforce all New York State laws. DEC's first 240-officer force is trained at the State Police Academy.


  • The federal government passes the Clean Water Act.
  • To address raw sewage flowing into the nation's rivers, lakes and streams, EPA embarks on a major national commitment to build an advanced network of sewage treatment facilities. In New York State, the Construction Grants Program begins to allot the billions of dollars needed for construction of most the state's wastewater infrastructure.
  • The U.S. and Canada sign the International Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to begin cleanup of the Great Lakes, which contain 95 percent of the nation's fresh water.
  • The Environmental Quality Bond Act to fund land acquisition, solid waste aid, sewage treatment, air pollution control and resource recovery is approved by voters.
  • Five Rivers Environmental Education Center in Delmar is dedicated.


  • New York State bans phosphorus in all cleaning products but dishwashing detergents in response to water pollution concerns. High levels of phosphates prior to the ban led to green water caused by excessive aquatic growth, especially in Great Lakes Erie and Ontario.
  • Federal Endangered Species Act protects habitat for plants and wildlife.
  • State controls established on use of tidal wetlands.
  • EPA begins the ban that will phase out all use of lead in gasoline, resulting in a 98 percent reduction in lead levels in the air. The phase-out protects millions of children from serious, permanent learning disabilities by helping to reduce blood lead levels by 75 percent.


  • New York passes the Rare and Endangered Plants Act, protecting rare and endangered native state plants.
  • The Forest Tax Law passes, providing tax breaks to landowners who actively manage land for wood production.
  • Under the new Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA begins work to protect public health by setting health-based standards governing the quality of the public water supply, including requirements for physical and chemical treatment of drinking water.
  • EPA sets the first national standards limiting industrial water pollution.


  • DEC partners with Cornell University to begin a seven-year survey of hundreds of mountain lakes and streams to evaluate their vulnerability to acid rain.
  • Both the Tidal and Freshwater Wetlands Acts pass, protecting wetlands, in recognition of their important role in surface and ground water quality, flood and erosion control, and fish and wildlife habitat.
  • New York passes the Mined Land Reclamation law, requiring restoration of land after mining ceases.
  • DEC takes steps to prevent discharge of cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the Hudson River from General Electric industrial plants.
  • The State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) passes, requiring expanded environmental review of projects undertaken by state and local governments.
  • Car makers begin installing catalytic converters in new motor vehicles to meet EPA emission standards designed to protect public health from harmful air pollution.


  • Bald eagle restoration begins.
  • DEC moves to prevent General Electric Company from discharging PCBs into the Hudson River.
  • The insecticide Mirex is discovered in Lake Ontario fish, leading to closure of lake fishery.
  • New York places controls on aerosol cans containing chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). CFCs destroy the Earth's ozone layer, which protects life from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun.
  • Responding to public concern over "midnight dumping" of toxic wastes, EPA starts to establish controls over hazardous waste from the time it is generated, through transportation, treatment, storage and disposal, under the new Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
  • The federal Toxic Substances Control Act passes and EPA begins efforts to protect public health through controls on toxic chemicals.


  • The federal government amends the Clean Air Act, adding more stringent requirements to clean up air pollution. Controls are established on industrial sources, and automobile exhaust emission standards are put in place for carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons, leading to marked improvements in air quality.
  • Osprey restoration begins on Long Island.


  • New York State declares a public-health emergency when toxic pollutants seep into homes in the Love Canal development in Niagara Falls.
  • Legislation is enacted giving DEC the authority to regulate hazardous wastes and the location of future hazardous waste facilities. The agency is also given the authority to oversee inactive hazardous waste sites.
  • The Division of Law Enforcement creates a K-9 Program with one officer and one German shepherd. By 2010, the program grows to eight K-9 teams stationed throughout the state.
  • EPA and other federal agencies ban the use of CFCs as a propellant in most aerosol cans.


  • The first female Environmental Conservation Officer (ECO) is appointed.
  • Because of their potential for causing cancer and other adverse health effects, EPA bans two herbicides containing dioxins.

Other Milestones of the 1970s

  • The State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) is created to help control discharges of wastewater into the streams, rivers, lakes and marine waters of New York State.
  • DEC works with Vermont and Quebec to restore trout and salmon fisheries in Lake Champlain.
  • Sport falconry is legalized.
  • Fisher are reintroduced into the Catskills.
  • Roughly 134,000 acres of land are purchased by the state or otherwise protected, including the 12,500-acre Santanoni Preserve; 7,100 acres in Long Island Pine Barrens; 9,182 acres in the Adirondacks (including 12 mountain peaks) with an easement on another 7,000 acres.
  • The statewide Urban and Community Forestry program is established, promoting education and tree plantings to improve urban areas.
  • DEC begins a new era of Great Lakes fisheries management with enactment of major clean waters legislation, long-term research and monitoring of fish communities, broader international cooperation, and intensive trout and salmon stocking efforts.

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