Secretary of State Edmund Muskie is photographed in 1980. The Maine native was a driving force behind the nation’s Clean Air and Clean Water acts. U.S. National Archives photo

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, first held April 22, 1970, when 22 million Americans protested for a cleaner environment.

It was a time when it was legal for toxic smoke to be spewed in the air, and for toxic waste to be dumped into streams and rivers.

The Earth Day protests 50 years ago promoted the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by Congress the following December.

The federal Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act followed, in large part thanks to the late U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie, D-Maine. Muskie grew up in Rumford near the then-polluted Androscoggin River. After graduating from Bates College in Lewiston, becoming governor and then U.S. senator, Muskie shepherded through Congress the landmark Clean Air Act in 1970 and the Clean Water Act in 1972.

Nicknamed “Mr. Clean” in Congress for his environmental work, Muskie’s life and legacy can be traced at www.bates.edu/archives/edmund-s-muskie-and-his-legacy/biography/.

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