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Celebrating Pioneers In Environmental Law

A topical index of quotes from Environmental Pioneers | View Pioneers In Environmental Law

What influenced and motivated leaders to work for environmental protection?

John Adams

“You know, the wonderful thing about growing up on a farm is that you’re very close to nature, and you’re very far from other people.  You grow up and what you have is nature around you, and you play with nature.  That certainly had a big impact on my life.  Then, I married a woman who came from the Smokey Mountains, an old Smokey Mountain family. At Duke, I met her. Her father was a great forester.  Working with Patricia has been really a great part of my love of nature.  That’s the beginning of my love of the environment."

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Michael Bean

“I grew up in a small town in Iowa in the banks of the Mississippi River and it had a profound effect upon my career, I believe, because I spent all my free time playing in the woods behind my house or on the river.   Number of my friends and families had little makeshift cabins on the riverside, and catching snakes, fishing, catching frogs, catching turtles.  Just being in the outdoors was really a part of my childhood and I think that had a profound effect on my respect for nature, my interest in nature, and ultimately my career choice.” 

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Henry Diamond

“Well, I grew up in Southeast Tennessee in Chattanooga and had a lot of outdoor opportunities and particularly hiking and civil war battlefields.  And then an opportunity came along with working with the working of this Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission which was one of the first serious looks at environmental and resource issues which Laurence Rockefeller chaired and so it went from there.“

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J. William Futrell

“My grandparents’ family farm was an inholding in Kisatchie national Forest, and my uncle’s farms were surrounding, and I spent most of my summer there working on the farm…Active in the Boy Scouts.  And so nature was a real given.  The first book that I added to my personal library was Roger Tory Peterson’s Birds of America, a Christmas present when I was six years old in 1941.”

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Denis Hayes

“I grew up in one of the most stunningly beautiful parts of the United States in the Columbia Gorge in the Pacific Northwest.  I spent my summers chasing around through forests around those primeval. (?)  My father worked for a paper mill in the town.  Most everybody worked for the paper mill in the town that I grew up in, it was a historic ill town. And not only were they clear cutting the forests around us but there were no kinds of air pollution controls at all, so they poured out hydrogen sulfite and sulfur dioxide completely unconstrained."

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George J. Mitchell

I grew up in Waterville, Maine on the banks of the Kennebec River.  Back then before the passage of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act in the United States, 85% of our nation’s waterways were polluted and unfit for any human use and the Kennebec River was one of those.  Right across from where I lived, there was a huge paper mill, just upriver was a textile mill, and all of the municipalities upriver discharged their waste in theriver.”

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Mary Nichols

“I think [moving toward environmental issues] was inevitable once the decision was made to move to Los Angeles.  I was not part of any environmental movement or organization prior to that time.  I’m sure like many of the other old-timers that you’ve interviewed, I never had a class in environmental law because environmental law didn’t exist at Yale when I was a student there, so there was no opportunity even I I had been inclined in that direction.  But my motivation for going to law school and my background before was what I had worked in the Civil Rights Movement, I had gone South with a group of students as an undergraduate and became enamored with the possibilities of law as a career.”

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William Rodgers

“It certainly started with my childhood which moved rather quickly from Brockton to a farm and this was a family farm in Brockton, Massachusetts, and it got taken by route 24, that’s the route that goes down to Cape Cod, and the loss of that farm and the methods by which it was lost I know were never lost on me.  O the right and wrong of that was extremely clear very early.  They split the farm, leaving a few acres on the other side, ruined the wetlands, knocked down the barn, and all these memories that I have and even my mother’s voice mentioning the John A. Volpe Construction Company. Volpe of course later became secretary of Transportation, but these messages were not lost on me.”

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J. Gustave Speth

I think one gets predisposed to certain issues and possibilities at a very young age.  I remember I used to go every summer to a beautiful place in the mountains of North Carolina, a place called LakeJunaluska.  And when up there one summer, and the lake was dead, just dead.  They had…I think a tannery had dumped all of its waste into that lake and it smelled and we couldn’t go fishing and you couldn’t swim in it if you couldn’t fish in it.  And I had the experiences like that growing up when pollution as rampant in our country.  And I think that sort of gave me a little predisposition but even more important, probably, was the fact that coming out or going through law school in the 60’s there were a lot of us at that point that wanted to use our legal training for some bigger social purpose and really didn’t want to go into the big law firms or even the little law firms. “  

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Robert Stanton

“I grew up in Mosier Valley, one if not the oldest settlements in Texas founded by African Americans immediately after the Civil War.  It was rural in character, so I spent a great deal of time out of doors, both for play and both for work. I did a lot of ranch work, a lot of farm work.  So I had an appreciation for the natural environment.”

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Russell E. Train

I think one gets predisposed to certain issues and possibilities at a very young age.  I remember I used to go every summer to a beautiful place in the mountains of Nor“I grew up with an interest in the outdoors.  My father was a naval officer.  He loved hunting and fishing and saw that I got considerable exposure to those interests.  As a boy, I did quite a bit of mountain climbing in the Adirondacks and that sort of thing  in my earliest background.”

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How did new environmental organizations use the new federal laws?

John Adams

We also began to look at direct action against the big polluters.  Why did we do that?  Very often there are conflicting problems with a state or a county or a town taking on somebody that has a big economic interest in the area.  Politically, it is very hard to do.  There are plenty of polluters out there that use that for their advantage.  NRDC decided that one of the things that we could do, because we built up a reservoir of resources, we would take on the big polluters, and let the world know that there’s an environmental side out there that’s prepared to take these big cases on.  There’s  a lot of those cases."

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Francis Beinecke

“We really started as a litigating organization.  We have a very rich legal history.  Earlier today I was at Columbia Law School and I was saying he students studying environmental law at Columbia are reading case after case of precedents that really NRDC established in the 70’s and 80’s.  Law is absolutely a fundamental for NRDC.”

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James Moorman

At the turn of the 19th to 20th century, there was a lot of talk in the country about administrative agencies. The idea was that administrative agencies would combine the powers of executive, legislative and judicial and bring all the information necessary to deal with problems.  And we created things like the ICC and the Federal Trade Commission, all of these things.  Little time passes and people start complaining that “This isn’t working out quite the way we thought,’ because what happens is the industry seems to capture these administrative agencies and then they seem to do what the industry really wants.  Well what liberal standing to sue for environmentalists did was it broke up the bipolar industry-regulator; it created a tri-polar situation where public group is in on the action—deeply resented, by the way, by industry and some bureaucrats.  So what happened in the environmental area was the beginning of a new model—the three polar model.  And by getting us an effective seat at the table, EPA for example is an agency that has not been captured.  Now it’s not been captured by environmentalists,  but it’s never been captured by industry." 

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What are the major achievements of the environmental movement and law?

John Adams

"I really believe the United States has been a model for environmental protection.  No other country did it as well as we did when we started in the Clean Air Act and all the various statutes.  They became a model for the world.  You take a look at New York City.  Ten years ago you couldn’t walk down Fifth Avenue, The diesel buses were blowing diesel smoke in your nose and would like to kill you.  Now through litigation and negotiation and legislation, that’s all gone….In 1969 raw sewage was going down every river in the country.  Rivers were used to get rid of sewage…..Think about the Hudson and the Cuyahoga.  Think about the fact that the salmon streams that we damned up are not being opened and fought about."

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Michael Bean

"Well, I think the Endangered Species Act has done well in the sense that nearly all the species it seeks to protect are still with us, very few of those have gone extinct, and the number of those that are now recovered and taken off the list is growing albeit slowly but our national symbol, the bald eagle, the peregrine falcon, the brown pelican, the American alligator and others are examples of specie that have recovered to the point that they no longer need the act’s protection."

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Leslie Carothers

“Certainly when I was at EPA in Washington, I think I would have to say my primary source of pride was being involved in taking the lead out of gasoline.  I developed the enforcement programs for that and I actually participated in writing the brief and arguing the cases defending the rules. And it established a leading case on how much evidence you need to show that a material presents a risk of harm to health.  I look back on that and people are sometimes surprised that it was a very tough case to win even though 200,000 tons of lead were going into the air from motor vehicles every year. We didn’t have a lot of evidence about the effects of relatively low levels of led on the body and on peoples’ health…so I only won that case by one vote, five to four, which seems kind of crazy when you think about lead.  Now, of course, we have vast amounts of information to show that low levels of lead impair both physical functioning and intellectual development.”

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Henry Diamond

“We’ve had some good experience with parks and open space through the Land and Water Fund, and so I think the building blocks are all better , not as good as they should be in some cases,  but the major achievement is that environment is important and that’s….was not true in the ‘50s and’60s.”

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James Moorman

[Discussing the petition by the Center for Law and Social Policy to the Secretary of Agriculture to de-register the pesticide DDT and proceedings in the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.] “Basically we got a great standing opinion called EDF v. Hardin and sort of an order to the secretary to in 30 days present the court with their views on all of this for reviewing purposes. …At the end of the day basically what the court held was that we had standing to do this and that he had to hold the deregistration proceedings.  I then went out to the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund…But a man named Bill Butler…went to work for EDF and he conducted the hearings which went on for a while which ultimately resulted in the decision by Ruckelshaus de-registering DDT.  …I really think it made EDF seen as  a serious organization.  And it led to the demise of DDT.  What could be better?  It had to be the most important thing I ever did.”

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Mary Nichols

“I feel that if I had been planning as a kid on a field to go into where I would be able to look back at the age I am today, which happens to be 70, and say, what have I accomplished, I couldn’t have picked a better field than air pollution because we had strong legislation, we had despite all of the battles we fought with industry overall, the level of public support for dealing with cleaning up the air has been strong over many years and different administrations in Washington and at the state level, and where we were able to unleash all kinds of new interesting technologies and to actually be able to demonstrate that we could make a difference."

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David Sive

“What do you consider the most important accomplishments of your career? What have been the most important achievements in environmental law and policy?  Those are really one question, differently stated.  When I think of the most important accomplishments, it’s difficult to pick out any one, but they involve the birth and growth of the law as a separate body of law.  The cases which I’ve been involved in; some won, some lost. The legislative work, and the creation of the groups and organizations that comprise the environmental movement.  These four aspects are really a summary of what you might call the accomplishments of the work.”

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Henry Waxman

“I can’t single out any one.  I’m very proud of the Clean Air At.  I was delighted we got a Safe Drinking Water Act.  We got it at a time when we were in the minority because republicans had closed down the government under Newt Gingrich, and then they were looking for accomplishments in 1996 and we said “Fine.  We’ll gave you accomplishments if it’s a really strong good law, but we’re now going to give you an accomplishment just so you can go to the people and say  you did something when you didn’t. So, we got that law passed.”

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What are the shortcomings in the environmental record?

John Adams

"The overfishing that’s taking place across the world verges on being criminal.  So many fish are being taken out.  We’re using drag lines to get it.  It's like clear-cutting down there.  We have to deal with that.  We have to get the countries of the world to understand that they need those fish stocks."

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Francis Beinecke

“Oceans are clearly an issue of the commons.  There are many, many nations involved, no single nation is going to pass legislation.  We have to get our policy set first for the coastal waters that the United States has authority over.  We’re doing that at the state level, some great successes in California on marine protected areas.  We need to do it on the federal level, how we manage our marine resources, how we manage our fisheries."

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Leslie Carothers

"My personal view is that it bothers me that we still do not have scientific and policy tools that let us set standards for toxic chemicals that are not hugely controversial.  We can’t seem to get consensus on that, and I know because I had to set an air quality standard for dioxin in 1987 [in Connecticut] which was a horrible job to have to do, how much dioxin in the air should be allowed.  And EPA was working on a standard for dioxin then and they still aren’t done with it.  It’s still not final.…I think it’s been an obstacle that the science and the policy consensus has not evolved in that area.  I say that simply because I think there is unfinished business.”

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William Eichbaum

“I think one of the limitations of the regulatory system that we’ve seen in this 40 years is it’s pretty good if you are talking about point sources, water pollution, sewage treatment plants.  But when you begin to talk about what I would call more diffuse sources whether it is the farm fields of America or it’s the tract housing of the suburban Montgomery County in Maryland, I don’t think we figured out how to make these activities benign or sustainable. “

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J. William Futrell

But the greatest failure, as I pointed out in my acceptance talk for the ELI Annual Award is the failure to take on the agricultural sector because in environmental law in the industrial sector, we have staked out the territory, and there’s a question of implementing and filling in the blanks and enforcing But in the agricultural sector, the issues have never been really addressed."

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George J. Mitchell

“The second danger that I’m concerned about is the environment, climate change, global warming, by the time the science is unanimous as some of he opponents want, the damage may already have been done.  Even now we’re seeing the early effects in places like Miami and other coastal regions, and that’s going to become more and more of a problem over a few decades and the longer we wait to deal with it, the more difficult it is to control it. So I think that’s a very real concern. And because it is all over the world, because the world is divided into just under 200 countries and no one can have total control anywhere, it’s very difficult and therefore I think imperative for America in its role as world leader to take a strong stand and to do what we can do encourage others to do the same.”

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James Moorman

[Regarding efforts to discredit environmental science] “So what’s the difference between what’s happened now with regard to climate?  The answer is big bucks.  Now they are multi-million dollar efforts funded with huge amounts of money.  I mean very large amounts of money and combined with the cooperation of a major news network, Fox News.  So this didn’t happen.  You didn’t have anything like this until fairly recently.”

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William Reilly

"The biggest roadblocks to moving environmental progress, law and policy particularly, I think, are one, a perception on the part of the country that we’ve essentially solved the most pressing environmental problems; that the air and water are very significantly cleaner than they were 25 or 30 years ago.  The memories of people do so go back that far suggest they should be reassured.  This has been a great American success story and it has.  I think as long as we have that aura of contentment or complacency, it will be hard to move on some of the more demanding problems that have been unaddressed such as pollution from farmland from building sites, for example, those so-called non-point source problems, or moving on climate and the regulation of carbon. "

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William Reilly

The disappointment I have about the evolution of the climate debate is how little regard is paid by critics to the science.  We’ve had something like eleven national academies of science give their views; definitive views on the human intervention, the human effects, and human role in climate change.  That has had very little difference in terms of influencing policy.  It’s a retreat from something that was very important to me at EPA which was to say, “Let’s follow the science.  Let’s recognize that science changes."

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William D. Ruckelshaus

“[I]f you take energy as an example, if the twin issues of our reliance on these very unstable parts of the world for our oil supply don’t convince you that we had to do something at least to reduce that dependence on these unstable parts of the world…then you’re concerned about climate change and excessive use of fossil fuel and the impact of carbon, the impact of those two should direct public policy toward a much more aggressive effort to develop alternative forms of energy.  That’s the big presidential issue."

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William D. Ruckelshaus

“The President has created a National Ocean Council that’s issued the National Ocean Policy, and the Republicans in the House said no funding for anything that has to do with the National Ocean Policy. Well, it’s a lot easier to give the president advice as to what to do than to be there yourself and figure out how to make it happen, and I think the adoption of the National Ocean Policy and creation of a national ocean Council just make sense.  Just try to coordinate the 15 separate public federal agencies that have significant impact on oceans, coordinate their activity to make sure it doesn’t destroy those resources that are important to all of us makes common sense and where these guys come off to say we should never fund anything that has anything to do with the National Ocean Policy.  It’s baffling to me.”

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George P. Shultz

“I think it’s absolutely relevant that there is a huge volume of opinion in the scientific world that our use of energy is causing the climate to warm up.  There are skeptics around.  Personally, I’m convinced that it’s happening.  One of the most interesting is a video that I’ve seen of the disappearance of sea ice in the Arctic.  It’s about a 25-year period, it goes along very slowly and then all of a sudden, about ten years ago, it suddenly—it’s almost like the sea ice is being swallowed.  So I think we have to worry about discontinuity. Or to put it a different way, we’ve got to get going on this.  And it seems to me we can say to people who are skeptical, ‘Look, shouldn’t you take out an insurance policy.  Maybe you’re wrong but the consequences are bad. ‘ And actually, the insurance policy isn’t that expensive."

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J. Gustave Speth

I think the thing I am probably proudest of, though again, in an unfortunatekind of way, we issued three reports, really, on the problem of global climate change.  Including one that actually didn’t get out until 1981, the last month of the Carter administration in January of 1981. We issued our final report on climate change and said, then, that we needed government policies to sharply restrict the emission of carbon dioxide and green house gases in our country and internationally.  And that we should join with other countries to set an international goal that would keep carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from building up and more than 50% above the pre-industrial level.  So we knew enough 30 something years ago now, that we knew this was a very serious issue 30 years ago, we knew there was enough science to justify action 30 years ago, and we knew enough to put a very crude but still plausible number on what the limit of the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere ought to be.”

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J. Gustave Speth

“Another thing is going to happen, you’ve already seen some signs of it, is what I call the climate-water-food-energy complex. I mean, how all of these issues are going to come together and affect each other.  The water supply, climate change, food production.  You know, in a world of where there’s an extra 2 billion people coming along by mid-century and the energy issues of how this plays out, that’s going to be the hugest challenge that humanity has ever faced."

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Robert Stanton

“What comes to mind immediately is the Chesapeake Bay which is a major initiative not only on the part of this administration but prior administration that we do things in our daily life that contribute to the degradation of the quality of water through the many tributaries that ultimately flow into the Chesapeake Bay.  There is a major effort, as you know, at the local, state, and national level to try to rectify some of those consequences.  The other is the restoration as somewhat of an iconic or symbolic restoration project that has received and continues to receive tremendous bipartisan support is the restoration of the Everglades.”

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Russell E. Train

“I think the climate change issue or issues are probably the most crucial environmental, or any issue facing this country.  I think we may have reached the tipping point where no matter what we do we cannot fully change the course of degradation from climate change the acidification of the oceans, the collapse of sish stocks and a whole range of matters that may well have reached the point of no return.”

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Henry Waxman

“No question about it, the climate change issue is very, very frightening.  I thought a good point was made when someone said even if you don’t believe in all the dire threats and fears that might come about from climate change if there’s a 10 per cent chance that’s going to happen, would you be willing to take that kind of a gamble, a 10 percent chance that we would destroy the atmosphere that sustains life?  So just to be prudent and to move the economy in a way that will I think be a dramatic step forward for jobs and a more profitable world that we ought to be doing a lot of the things that people have told us we need to do to transform our economy from solely fossil fuels to alternatives and efficiencies that will not cause this threat to the environment”

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The optimism expressed by the pioneers that that the public will return and the politicians...

John Adams

“When we have Google and other of these new high tech organizations willing to challenge the oil, gas, and the coal people, there will be a different outcome, and we will pass climate legislation.  We  will have a very, very positive future.  Right now, there’s still a bit of  a stranglehold by the old industrial types, but we’re gaining on them.  That’s what the hope for the future is.”

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Michael Bean

“I think it is challenging to gain the interest of the younger generation that is accustomed to screens and indoor activities in a virtual world as opposed to the natural world."

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Francis Beinecke

"I think young people are the future.  I think having people look at these issues differently who are of their time and generation who are creative and innovative about how to solve these problems is very, very important.” … “It’s a thrill, not only here where it is very exciting in the United States but particularly going to China where the environmental movement is just beginning.  They don’t have necessarily the civil society developed in the same way or certainly to the degree that we do, but there is a civil society burgeoning there.  There are young people who care about these issues who want to make a difference and be a voice.  It’s just exciting to see.”

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Leon Billings & Tom Jorling

"Well, I’m not optimistic politically at the moment, but one of the things that you really appreciate and find rewarding in teaching as Tom and I have in the last couple of years is there’s a whole generation of people out there who think the environment belongs to them and they think they’re entitled to a clean environment.  And they look at a picture of Beijing and you show them what Los Angeles looked like when we started all of this and say “There but for the grace of God go we,’ they appreciate that these are their resources and they ‘re going to protect them."

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Leslie Carothers

“I like the quotation that Gus Speth included his book from the late and distinguished Chicago economist Milton Friedman who basically said that crisis is what laid the foundation for change and that the role of academia as well as think tanks like ELI and others is to keep generating ideas so that there are ideas lying around when the time becomes right.  And I think as he put it, when the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.  And I think that’s going to happen on the climate front and …that the energy challenge and the climate challenge will be front and center again and we will do constructive things to prevent it from undoing all that we’ve gained."

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William Eichbaum

“And I think a major purpose of organizations like the World Wildlife Fund where I work, like ELI, is to not necessarily get the right solution or not necessarily to assure that by 2020 there are 6,000 tigers in the wild rather than 3,000 are there are today but to carry out the struggle for those objectives and the informing of that struggle in a way that helps build the human heart understanding of the ethical dimension of what this is about.  Because that’s where the human spirit grows and that is where the human spirit finds, I think, the will to do some of the hard economic, social, innovative choices that this conversation suggests we may have.”

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Kinnan Golemon

“I think we ought to spend more of our time is on the things that we can be doing now that will have an effect if the predicted outcomes are like what we think.  So I would—I’ more of a let’s go deal with the thing that we can deal with now and  they will have some impact, more of toward an adaptive kind of approach.  I’m not so worried about sea rise way out in the future.  If it happens, fine.  I don’t think there’s a lot we’re going to be able to do to change it.  But there’s some adaptive things we could be doing now that in the event that happens, the results won’t be nearly as bad.  And in the meantime, we’re helping people today.” (Skip to end of paragraph) “ … “I’m not too worried about those future generations as much as I am the ones that are here today and are going to be here next year and five or ten years from now.  Why aren’t we spending more effort to look at that aspect?  And if we do, I’m thinking long run, we’ll handle 100 years from now probably in a lot better way than what we’re thinking we’re able to do now."

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James Moorman

"I think the oil and coal industry are sinking us frankly and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

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William Reilly

“We are stalemated and so one wonders, “What will get us off the dime?” And American politics can turn on a dime but we haven’t had an event that has done that and my worry that when we do have such an event it might be a catastrophic one."

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William Reilly

“I taught at Stanford after I left EPA and taught a series of lectures in virtually all the schools there; law and engineering and business and the college and was struck by how sophisticated the students there were in the way they addressed the environment, considered its possibilities, thought about the relationships between technology and engineering n environmental improvement and one has to be somewhat confident about the sense that this is a greener generation.  In some ways perhaps a bit more cynical a generation about the potential of public policy and probably more materialistic generation, frankly, than the ones the have gone before.”

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William Reilly

Well, I think anybody who has experienced the environment of the past forty years has to be hopeful, has to be optimistic.  I mean look at, look at what we set as our priorities and name one in which we have not made very significant progress, whether it’s air pollution control in our major cities, whether it’s efficiency of our vehicles no we’re moving on seriously, whether it’s the cleanliness of our water and the ability to sustain fish life in the waters of all across the Northeast and the Great Lakes.  Lake Erie of course has come back.  We have these success stories all over the country."

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David Sive

"I think young people continue to be the great supporters of environmental policy and litigation and the chief hope is in those efforts by young people.  I take most pleasure inspiring young people in both the legal side and the political side.  I’ve met a large number of young people as students in law schools, law school students…The young people are responsive.  It’s one of the great pleasures of the work."

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J. Gustave Speth

"Oh I have hope.  I think we can and in a way we must.  And in the end we will.  This issue, really, is the sort of one of timing, whether we’ll have the foresight and the intelligence to act in these respects before we…you know, the decline is so extensive that it really forces our hand."

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Robert Stanton

“It worries me but it does not surprise me.  Often you hear individuals of my age or younger that we spent a lot of time out of doors doing thus and so.  And I would have to put that in context of what my experiences were.  There was no alternative.  You spent time out of doors to play other than in the house which perhaps you would have had was radio and maybe a black and white television with maybe two or three channels, only four to the max.  And I suspect if we were honest with ourselves, if we were to grow up in contemporary society, we would be inclined to use the same electronic gadgetry—I shouldn’t say that—but gadgetry as our young people use today.  So every society is confronted with opportunities and they make choices in terms of how they avail themselves to the opportunities.”

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Russell E. Train

“I think human beings give me hope.  I think human beings are always very resilient in the final analysis so what we see today might not be what we see tomorrow. We have a younger population coming along which seems to have a strong interest in the environment."

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Henry Waxman

“Well, I’m basically an optimist.  I don’t believe in just giving up.  If you care about things you have to be willing to fight for them, not just make a speech somewhere about you wish things were better or how because we have unaccomplished goals, it must be those people in power are not doing what they should be let’s forget about it all.  If you care about these issues, you’ve got to be there and fight whether you are in public office or a citizen, an activist, a businessperson, whatever it I, we’ve got to fight for the common good.  So I still believe there’s a lot we can do."

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Are there new strategies and tools to address today’s environmental problems?

Michael Bean

“Well, I was at EDF for more than 30 years and EDF I think underwent a transition itself in that time that I was there.  I arrived some 10 years after the organization was established and its original informal motto was ‘Sue the Bastards.’  By the time I left, the formal motto was ‘Finding the ways that work.’ I think that reflected a transition on their part from reliance upon litigation as the sole means of accomplishing their ends to a reliance on economics and business savvy and incentives to encourage and reward beneficial behavior across a wide variety of fronts.  They of course were intimately involved in tackling the acid rain problem through sulfur dioxide emission credit trading and have pursued similar strategies for other problems.” 

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Leslie Carothers

“Well, the one thing that stands out in my mind that was somewhat of a revelation to me was the impact of disclosure on performance particularly by industry.  As you may recall, in the 1980s, there was a horrible pollution catastrophe in Bhopal, India where a chemical leaked out from the plant. …It was a terrible accident and it caused a lot of thinking here as well as elsewhere about well, what about these chemicals? Shouldn’t we know more about what’s being discharged from plants even if it’s legal?  And so they amended federal law, the cleanup authority, to add this huge list of chemicals and required every company who emitted over a certain threshold to report them…Bill Reilly, who was the head of EPA in 1990 leveraged this program by coming up with and inviting companies to participate in the Voluntary Reduction Program… Lots of companies signed up.  Well, at United Technologies, we reduced that inventory of emissions by about 97% over the next four or five years by changing our coatings, changing our solvents, tweaking some processes, eliminating some processes, and I was struck having watched it at close range that disclosure of information can have a very motivating effect even if there’s no regulation that demands that you do anything about it."

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William Eichbaum

“I think as we moved into the ‘90s the corporate world moved very much into what I would call the prevention mode.  And then of course then we began to get activities such as waste reduction, recycling, and those kinds of practices, changing product design.  I think what we’re now getting to is sort of a new age which I would call the age of innovation which is the complete redesign of basic products so that they essentially, if possible, have at least as a product zero or very little environmental footprint.”

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Kinnan Golemon

“And some of what I’ve seen over time is we have an industrial, and to some extent, a municipal complex that has come to the total attitude of change.  In the late 60’s, early 70’s, even on to the late 70’s, often times I was not viewed by my clients as being something that was really the best thing that ever showed up because I was telling them look you need to be thinking about, then, your business differently.  And you need to be making investments.  As you’re making  changes, on the environmental side as well as an increase in productivity or whatever. “… “But certainly by 1990, pretty much, there’s always a few renegades in any set of society.  But particularly in the industrial sector, the whole world had changed in terms of the way they addressed things.”

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Kinnan Golemon

“Well, I think we have a much better understanding of the environment that we did forty years ago. I think we have some very good programs around the country that are trying to educate people as to incorporating environment into everything we do and understanding that it is a matter of tradeoffs."

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Mary Nichols

“The regulatory program certainly has evolved in some respects in ways to make it less difficult for industry to comply…We certainly do a better job I think of using market-like tools and creating systems where people can bank and trade and use credits that help to smooth out the problem of compliance.” 

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Mary Nichols

“But in the area of vehicle emissions, I think we are learning increasingly that it’s also possible for technology to be used in a way that can defeat our regulations and so we have to constantly be going back and evaluating whether our tests and protocols are actually leading to real world results that we’re trying to achieve , and I think that’s going to be a more important focus area.  The Volkswagen episode, the defeat devices they were using for a period of many years without being detected has shown us that some of the things we thought we knew we didn’t and so we’re going to have to make some changes as well.”

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William Reilly

“Well, I really believed in pollution prevention at EPA and that is essentially what a lot of our most successful companies are practicing.  The incongruity is that the party of business, the Republican Party, appears to lag the more progressive business roundtable leadership of American business.  That is something that has always struck me as curious, that there isn’t more credence paid to the very distinguished leaders of several of these companies who can quite clearly articulate why it is valuable to them to reduce waste, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, to go beyond the law on certain areas of reducing toxics which many of them have done, toxic emissions.  That is a message that has not successfully penetrated the walls of Congress.” 

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William Reilly

"I’m also proud of the Clean Air Act Amendments.  The integration of market incentives and the trading of sulfur dioxides to recue acid rain was, I think a great step forward both in itself and what it’s achieved.  It’s been a very effective law, but also in demonstrating a new alternative to command and control; a supplement to command and control that seemed to me the environmental community itself needed to understand.  You can get only so far with certain kinds of compulsions and we demonstrated that in the Clean Air Act and I think it has proved a model we can emulate in other areas."

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William Rodgers

“And I can’t get totally pessimistic about the law and the future direction of the law because remember I know of the Indian tribes and when I started the Indian tribes were living in hovels, the Muckleshoot, the Puyallup’s were fugitives in their world and they’re now the biggest employers in Pierce County. So, tell me that the law doesn’t do anything and I guess I won’t believe it.”

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Many leaders want to increase public engagement and inclusiveness in the environmental movement.

Francis Beinecke

“The only thing I would add is that I think we’re at a time where the environmental movement needs to reach out to a much broader public.  For 30 years many in the country sort of thought, well the environmental movement can protect the environment and I’m going to go and do my thing which is different, whatever it happens to be.  I actually think that to achieve environmental progress there has to be a commitment and underpinning across the fabric of American society that believes in the value of environmental protections to their well-being. I actually think there is that feeling that we’ve done a lot of polling, we’ve seen there’s always a wide majority of people, in the 60 to 70% believe strongly in clean air and clean water.  We need to unleash those voices because I think everyone has a stake in their own well-being and in their environmental future."

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Leslie Carothers

“And let me say clearly that I think the public is well aware that the climate is changing.  People know that they’re turning their air conditioners on earlier.  They know that flowers are blooming earlier.  Some of them may think, well, this is just  nature and a natural cycle, but I think people are aware that there’s something going on that is a threat to their livelihoods and their children in particular.  But they don’t see an answer.  They don’t see a path forward because we haven’t had enough people able to say we’re a can-do country, we can fix this problem if we all pull together.” 

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William Eichbaum

"Today I fear that the problems are sufficiently complex and do require a significant change in economic activity that real progress will require not only that public concern but a much more fundamental attention to issues in a non-regulated way by the corporate world, in my view.  And I think this third stage, which I would call innovation, to eliminate the environmental footprint is really important and going to have to come at a technological, engineering, science, and then manufacturing production innovation."

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Denis Hayes

“I suppose in a more profound level in terms of what needs to be done today is that the environmental movement to the extent that it still exists as a movement needs to become revitalized and more inclusive."

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Mary Nichols

“It’s true that in California—and I’m sure this is true elsewhere—environmental organizations and their members tend to be, I’m sorry to say, aging and in many instances more white, more affluent than the state as a whole, and so when they go into the legislative arena or into a controversial issues, questions are going to get raised about, well who do you speak for, some narrow interest basically that’s separate from the broader interest of the public?  And I think that environmental organizations have generally done a pretty good job of answering that, both in terms of working to diversity themselves and the projects they take on but also making the case that breathing cleaner air is beneficial to everybody and that they can provide technical and legal support for programs that do that in a way that is of material and visible assistance to constituencies that may not necessarily be dues-paying members of their organizations."

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George P. Shultz

“Well, I think there are steps involved, yet people are saying, yes, there is a problem and the problem is the problem.  Now what are the solutions?  What are they?  Are there any examples? And can’t we do something about the problem? “ Sometimes people describe problems as if they’re sort of out of control and there’s nothing you can do about it.  It’s very important when get people convinced there is a problem to be able to say “Yes, there are things you can do so, let’s do A-B-C.  And if there are some examples, you can point to it and just my imagination here I can say, ‘look over there, they’re doing it,’ and that’s how things are happening."

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Robert Stanton

“And I would see that the enforcement of the various environmental laws also has a direct relationship to the demands of the people or the public.  And it would be my hope that -well, let me back up. One of the concerns that I still have is that there is not, at least from a visible perspective, the broader spectrum of the American public that are really involved in the so-called Conservation Movement.  I would like to see more of an ethnic and racial minorities involved in the conservation whom in laymen ways, volunteer capacities, and in leadership. And there is not." 

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Many say the poor performance of the U.S economy and the harm to many Americans’ standard...

Francis Beinecke

“The economy is tough, there’s no question about it.  It clearly has an impact on the public interest community particularly because we all depend on the generosity of others.  I think as far as putting the policies in place, it requires us to be much more aware of knowledgeable about what the economic implications are of the policy initiatives that we propose.  I don’t think there’s any environmental solution that is going to succeed if the economic considerations are not built into it."  

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William D. Ruckelshaus

“But I think today the attitude of the public primarily I think as a result of economic downturn but not exclusively.  Some of it is issues themselves that affect a much broader swath of the public than they did earlier.  It’s not nearly as supportive of protecting the public health and environment as they once were.  They are in the theoretical level.  When it comes right down to practice they’re less supportive.”

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David Sive

“Yes, I think the concern is the recession, because, wrongly, I think, people and politicians and public officials look upon the environmental interest and  the economic interests or the interests of social and economic justice as opposed to each other.”

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J. Gustave Speth

"I mean, you know. We’ve never made too much progress on the environmental front in our country when you have 40 percent of the families with incomes below less than twice the poverty line.  And so much economic insecurity, all the studies showing how vulnerable what’s left of our middle class is to falling out of the middle class." 

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How were the new environmental laws conceived and enacted?

Leon Billings & Tom Jorling

We talked about changing the statute to one of great discretion to more mandatory.  But what happens if an agency under a mandate doesn’t do it?  There was really no remedy.  And so, what the citizen suit provision provides is access to the citizens, to the federal court to compel mandatory action to be performed. That has been hugely successful especially by the environmental advocate groups.  And then the second thing was often we could hear testimony from states and fed, “we can’t enforce because it’s just too big.  There’s too much out that they that we can’t do it.’ So the answer to that was to give citizens the ability to enforce.”

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David Sive

[On the need for an Environmental Law Reporter] “I think they thought, correctly, we did, that there should be one reporter which puts together the building blocks which make environmental law and publishes it.  Those building blocks were from administrative law, constitutional law, zoning law, the law of civil practice, federal practice, and some aspects of constitutional law.  Those fragments came together to create environmental law, the name of which was not popularly used until 1968 or ’69.  It was a new term, and in ’69 or ’70, the first courses at law schools were give in environmental law.  I think the most prominent one was Joe Sax at Michigan law School. “ [Professor Sax, another giant in the field, passed away before ELI could arrange for an interview with him.]….I think the most basic point is that environmental law is an aspect of the environmental movement.  I always say that the environmental movement has two features.  One is litigation, the legal side.  The other is political action, the political side. Virtually every great environmental controversy has the two aspects together.”

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Henry Waxman

It took us years before we got the Clean Air Act Law established in all those different areas in 1990.  It took years of keeping the issue out front and center, looking for ways to develop the consensus and alliances to actually get things done.  I was able to do it because I stuck with it, and others will be able to do the same kinds of things if they stick with it and really believe in what they’re doing.”

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What aroused new public concern for the environment in the early seventies?

Henry Diamond

“I think it was leadership.  I mean, In New York which one and over the years has been a leader among states and social programs and labor law.  And there was Nelson Rockefeller and Laurence Rockefeller who were important influences and supported by a strong citizen movement with people like David Sive and John Adams and others.  So that was a fortunate coming together.  But I think it’s true that New York had the first environmental conservation department.  It had the first state park system and it was a leader."

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William Eichbaum

I think the movement of the 70s was triggered by a couple of things.  One, the air and water were demonstrably dirty, so there was a real issue.  People began to write evocatively about it, Rachel Carson certainly being at the top of that list but others.  And then there were crises. There was the Cuyahoga River famously caught on fire.  There were die offs of seals in the Baltic Sea.  So not only was there the general (?) but there were these crises and there was this literature evolving.  And I think that came together in a way that triggered a response by people that said ”We want to do something about this."

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Denis Hayes

“In 1960s if you’d asked the average person what the environment meant they wouldn’t have had an answer.  Some husky fraction of people who graduated from college had taken a psychology course would say that the environment is the thing other than heredity that determines personality.  It didn’t have any of the connotations.  By 1970, there was not only an essentially universal understanding of what we meant by the term but 80 percent of the people described themselves as environmentalists.  It was one of those profound tipping points in society.  Second there was the raft of legislation that came after it. Third was a political shift that occurred."

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Robert Stanton

“Fast tracking into the 60s and 70s, as I sort of looked at the evolution of environmental law, you can trace it to individuals and to groups as well.  I think about Silent Spring, Rachel Carson, which really heightened our awareness about what we were doing in terms of ue of herbicides and pesticides and what have you.  I think about Secretary Udall’s book, Quiet Crisis, in which he describes some of the things we need to address if we are to have a quality environment in a just society.”

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Russell E. Train

“Undoubtedly in the late 60’s or early 70’s there was an upsurge of public interest in and concern for the environment.  I think it was an issue that had basically never been dealt with in any kind of comprehensive way before.  Go back to Theodore Roosevelt and you have the National Forest Initiatives and so forth but pollution—forget it.  Nobody worried about pollution which I think was probably why the environmental revolution came about. The air was so bad you could see it, smell it, and taste it.  You couldn’t ignore the fact of rampant air pollution around the country.  Plus, disasters like the Santa Barbara oil spill or the Cuyahoga River in Ohio catching fire.  These things really got the public’s attention, as well they should have.  With that I think the issue also had a lot of appeal for young people, the youth of the country.”

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Aggressive and capable lawyers led many new environmental agencies.

William Eichbaum

1970 was when I went to work for the State of Pennsylvania and created what was then called the environmental pollution strike force and that was really an effort for the first time, certainly in Pennsylvania, and really in almost any state to effectively enforce environmental laws.  This was a period of tremendous change and it was very rapid.  The federal laws were rapidly becoming much more—much stronger with stronger regulatory standards and enforcement provisions.  There was evolving entire complex set of relationships between that strengthened federal system and the role of the states often as the implementers and the enforcers."

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William D. Ruckelshaus

When EPA was created, it was created under the executive reorganization act…So what they did to create EPA was to take 15 agencies and pieces of agencies and put them under one umbrella and called it the Environmental Protection Agency, submitted it in the form of a plan of the congress and that the congress didn’t veto, obviously they didn’t…I had some very good people in the agency who understood government, understood government management, who could help me as well,  and I just had to learn this going.  I mean not only have to manage the internal aspects of the agency itself, but also the relationships for the congress, the relationship with the White House , with the office of management and budget, and with other agencies.  We were affecting every agency in government. …Then we had to show the public that we were serious about enforcing these laws, and it seemed to me we needed to take on some big cities, we needed to take on big industries and the public had demanded something to be done about pollution.  Here was an agency that was going to try to be responsive to the government’s or to the public’s demand and so trying to get it organized internally and at the same time taking these external steps.  I’ll tell youone thing it was very exciting."

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On the importance of issues in the international arena.

William Eichbaum

"I think in the future the international arena is going to be extraordinarily important. It is now for many of our environmental issues.  We’ve certainly seen that with issues such as CFC’s, ozone depletion.  We’ve seen the failure of our ability to do something internationally in the effort to control the emission of greenhouse gases with the failure of Copenhagen"

“I think that there’s a potential that international agreements or arrangements for dealing with greenhouse gases and litigation of greenhouse gas emissions could also be brought under the umbrella of the 1992 Rio Convention.  But in a much more informal way than people thought they were going to try to negotiate with the post-Kyoto protocol to that convention so that you might have bilateral agreements. You might have national plans as were committed to at Copenhagen and Cancun that would exist informally under the Rio Convention but because of transparency, because of accountability, because of reporting, because of those other kinds of engagements, in fact over time, it adds up to a self-implementing system with the actual action happening within national government and within economies as the national level." 

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J. William Futrell

“Going back, the Sierra Club’s an international program.  I was a champion of the club international program….So the fact that ELI wasn’t doing international was just a matter of time.  …When Eastern Europe opened up, Bill Reilly, who was then head of the Environmental Protection Agency and his Assistant Administrator Tim Atkeson, who was the Assistant Administrator for international and a strong friend of the Environmental Law institute, sent the Hungarians to ELI to design training courses…and we took it from there.”  

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J. Gustave Speth

“I was moved tremendously by the results of the Global 2000 Report…And so, you know, it seemed to me we were building this fool’s paradise at home because we were doing all this domestic work while we were neglecting the global scale issues that the Global 2000 report had highlighted.  So, I said, well, we really need an institution that is going to bring these global scale issues into the public policy realm in our country an internationally.  And again, I was very lucky to find a foundation that was interested in funding this. …the MacArthur Foundation…and we were able to launch the World Resources Institute to deal specifically with making these global scale environmental challenges par of our policy dialogue, part of public understanding, part of media coverage here there had been a lot of neglect until that time.  And I think WRI has had a huge role in that regard."

“You know, we have increasing international commerce and we have increasing international pollution and.… And yet we have never been able to empower a world environment organization to really go out and clean up and protect the global environment."

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How did the civil rights movement influence early environmental leaders?

J. William Futrell

“ We were encouraged by the use of the law.  Further, the 1964 Civil Rights Act of 1964 stretched and the implementation thereof of judicially stretched the Commerce Clause to its full limit. Without that full limit stretching, of the commerce clause, upholding the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act would have been impossible because these acts rest on the widest possible reach of the Commerce Clause…It also taught me about First Amendment freedoms.  And so the freedom of assembly, of meetings, of putting up posters, all of this was going to be very important for me and my environmental organizational activities.”

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Mary Nichols

“I didn’t really know any lawyers, but I got to see lawyers in action at the frontlines doing really important things when we were trying to register voters and change the whole makeup of the Southern system; at that point, the key roles in many instances were being played by people who could go into court and defend us or challenge, and it was inspiring.  It made me want to be a lawyer.”

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J. Gustave Speth

“Well, I remember a moment when I was on the old New Haven railroad…and was reading the New York Times…It could well have been a story about NEPA moving its way into the Congress and another story about the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and I said to myself, “My gosh, why don’t we have a legal defense fund for the environment? That’s something we can do."

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New federal laws called for close partnership with the states.

Kinnan Golemon

“You take most of the programs that you have at EPA., some segments of those originated either in Texas or California.  The Injection Well program, the EPA, when the Safe Water Act came in, EPA didn’t know how to run it, the Injection Well Program.  So what they do, they got Texas and Oklahoma to lend them employees where the federal government paid their salaries to come to work and help set-up the programs. The permitting parameters, because these people have been running these programs for years ad knew how to set the parameters and the regulatory requirement to be sure to protect the groundwater from injection activities and what not.  So there’s a long history.  And people in Texas don’t like being told very well that they don’t know what they’re doing.  And far too often, they get that message from the north bank of the Potomac then people don’t react very well to that."

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Mary Nichols

The federal state partnership that has characterized all of our major environmental statutes is one that is very dynamic.  It is always changing in terms of which of these two levels of government is the most active and the most interested in actually doing something about the environment.  And it’s always tense because each level of government thinks it has a better handle on what really needs to be done. …But I think at the end of the day it has proven to be mostly a positive system because each level of government tends to gravitate towards the thing they do best and the federal government, at least with respect to clean air, through setting National Ambient Air Quality Standards and keeping an eye on those that are the weakest links in the system so that they bring up the states that are laggards to a level of environmental competence at least, that is more protective of their citizens than their own local and state governments would give them.  And the ability also of EPA to provide technical support and assistance in regional issues has been very helpful and important."

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William D. Ruckelshaus

“So when I was in the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, I represented the state department of health and the air pollution control board, the water pollution board  were in the state board of health.  And because states competed so strongly for the location of industry within their boundaries, these were very weak departments in the sense of being able to affect industrial conduct in any significant way and people had always threatened to move if you push them too hard.  And so when I came to the Federal Government and EPA started, it was my impression that what we needed to do is centralize the enforcement power of the government over environmental problems and there would be no place to hide. (5) (Tr.  Minute 10)…[The states] were very mad about EPA’s existence at the beginning.  I went around and talked to the state agencies’ directors at the time.  I remember coming out here at the State of Washington the guy was furious.  This was a comment on his performance as the person in charge of the water agency at the time, and even though he knew that they weren’t as good as they should have been because there wasn’t enough public support for what they were doing, he was still resentful of the fact that here comes the central government and telling me what to do.  Now most of that is history, most of that is gone but there’s still some tension between the states and the Federal government.  And I think the states being closer to the problem like some of these  issues of non-point sources we were talking about should be better at dealing with the that the Federal government is, but they’re not always better.”  

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Others emphasize, however, that citizens are in fact, engaging and organizing to solve local...

William D. Ruckelshaus

“And where they once decide they can do a lot more together an they can by fighting each other.  Then it’s like magic, everything changes and they begin to think well that’s what you want us to do, we can do that, we can’t do that, or we may be able to accomplish this or do it this way and they’ll have the same end result and all of a sudden, they begin to work together and we’ve got a river in the southern part of Puget Sound called the Nisqually in which there’s an Indian tribe, a lot of small farms, Weyerhaeuser has a big timber operation there., Fort Louis is in that  same watershed so it’s mountain or near and there are a lot of small towns there.  They have come together around the plan that they’ve all signed on to and it’s bout 80% completed now and that river is essentially restored from where it was started."

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