The Dirty Dozen

Breaking up the Dirty Dozen

Environmental Action Newsletter,

November 11, 1972. (Click image for full article)

Peter Harnik on the Dirty Dozen.

Gaylord Nelson helped to start the environmental movement in part because environmentalists lacked the political capital to be taken seriously, but after Earth Day this changed. The new environmental lobbying organization was eager to prove that it had the muscle to affect political change in an electoral capacity. Environmental Action began to venture into the political sphere with the Dirty Dozen Campaigns. EA staff spent months scouring congressional voting records, searching for lawmakers with poor environmental records in preparation for the 1970 congressional elections.

Elections Decimate the Dirty Dozen.

EA Newlsetter...

The first campaign was for the November 1970 congressional elections. Environmental Action spent several months researching congressmen’s voting records before identifying 12 congressmen who were enemies of the environmental movement. Environmental Action leveraged their national credibility with the media and the public to identify and defeat lawmakers who were not responsive to the national climate on environmentalism. The first Dirty Dozen included E. Ross Adair, R-Indiana; William Ayres, R-Ohio; William Cowger, R-Kentucky; David Dennis, R-Indiana; George Fallon, D-Maryland; John Kyl, R-Iowa; Earl Landgrebe, R-Indiana; Odin Langen, R-Minnesota; Byron Rogers, D-Colorado; Henry Schadeberg, R-Wisconsin; Lawrence Winn, R-Kansas; and Roger Zion, R- Indiana. 

Letter to the editor of EA Newsletter praising the Dirty Dozen Campaign, September, 1972.

Letter Praising EA's Dirty

Dozen Campaign, Sept. 1972.

These men were identified as enemies of the environmental movement and EA resources were devoted mobilizing local groups to influence and publicize the election. For example, E. Ross Adair from Indiana’s Fourth District in Fort Wayne was said to “consistently oppose issues which Environmental Action considers to be of the utmost domestic priority.” In his time in Congress, he “aided in the destruction of the environment” by supporting legislation that would build the SST, support the highway lobby, limit mass transit expenditures, eliminate funds for nature areas, oppose pesticide control and eliminate federal subsidies for sewage treatment. Seven out of twelve of the original Dirty Dozen lost their reelection campaigns.

The Dirty Dozen Takes the Field

EA Newsletter, August 31, 1974.

Environmental Action considered The Dirty Dozen campaigns to be a victory, but there was room for improvement. The election results established that the environment was now a significant political force. The New York Times wrote in an editorial that “A new ingredient, and a good one, has been added to American election campaigns—the candidate’s record on improving the environment.” Emboldened by their success in 1970, EA ran Dirty Dozen campaigns in 1972, in which they defeated 4 candidates, and 1974, in which they defeated 8 candidates.

Sources for this Page

Adam Rome, The Genius of Earth Day: How a 1970 Teach-In Unexpectedly Made the First Green Generation.

Environmental Action Newsletters.

Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day: The Making of the Modern Environmental Movement, Wisconsin Historical Society,

Interview of Peter Harnik by Kiegan White, December 8, 2017, Ann Arbor, Michigan.