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Landmarks: What is the most significant environmental achievement of the past decade?
EPA Journal asked this question of a broad spectrum of Americans leaders. The diverse responses reflect the different perspectives of the participants. The answers follow:
John R. Quarles, Jr.
Former EPA Deputy and Acting Administrator
Partner, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius
Author of "Cleaning Up America"
What a difference a decade makes. It is hard now to take our minds back to those first days of EPA when everything was popping loose and nothing clearly organized. It was, as Bill Ruckelshaus quipped, like running the 100-yard dash and having your appendix out at the same time.
Today EPA is solidly established as a major organization in the institutional structure of our country. EPA has vastly expanded statutory authorities, strengthened staff capabilities, a larger budget, and a regulatory impact that touches industrial practices and individual lifestyles throughout the Nation.
The record of achievement is impressive--and not just in terms of regulations jamming the Federal Register, or even in dollars spent on pollution control. The important point is that real progress has been made to control pollution. Trends of degradation have been reversed. The water and the air are getting cleaner. Much more is being learned, and done, to protect our health and the environment.
Yet the challenge before EPA is still enormous. Ten years ago we were unsure whether the public would support tough environmental programs. Today we know they will, but the awesome challenge is to design programs that are efficient, fair, and effective. The future success of both EPA and the national environmental effort depends on how well that challenge can be met.
Through it all, the great strength of EPA has been its people. EPA attracted an extraordinary pool of talent at all levels and across its many programs. Despite the inevitable turnover, the level of commitment and the level of capability have made EPA an extraordinary Federal agency. Like its many other alumni, I am deeply proud to have been a part of it.
Robert W. Fri
Former EPA Deputy and Acting Administrator
President, Energy Transition Corporation
Any number of individual events could qualify as the most significant environmental achievement of the past decade. But I believe that an even more significant, and certainly a more lasting accomplishment has been the shaping of the institutions that will continue to protect our environment in the years to come.
The Environmental Protection Agency is one such institution, but there are many other groups. Regional, State, and local agencies, citizens' groups, and industry all contribute. These institutions do not always agree on how best to do the job--nor, in our society, should they--but they share the common goal of environmental protection.
What is perhaps most important is that these institutions function throughout the country, where the action is. Even the Federal agency operates through strong regional offices, a source of considerable pride for those who advocated the regional system 10 years ago.
In short, the most significant environmental achievement of the decade is people committed to continuing progress.
E. M. Estes
President, General Motors Corporation
The most significant progress is that we have been able to eliminate, without any doubt, new gasoline automobiles as a major contributor to air pollution. At Federal statutory levels, 1981 model cars emit 96 permit fewer hydrocarbons than an uncontrolled car of the 1960s, 96 percent less carbon monoxide and 76 percent fewer oxides of nitrogen.
Achieving this reduction--while at the same time improving fuel economy--required the development of a number of new technologies. The most notable was the catalytic converter, which is one of the major developments in U.S. automotive history.
Introduced on 1975 models, the catalytic converter is now used by foreign manufacturers as well as domestic ones, and it has a proven record of dependable, effective, trouble-free service.
For 1981, General Motors is teaming a new, three-way catalyst with an on-board computer on our gasoline cars. Called Computer Command Control, this system is the lastest advance in emissions control technology. It allows General Motors to achieve the lowest emissions ever the highest average fuel economy in our history--a projected 23.1 mpg for 1981.
Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson
It would be difficult to pick out and choose the one most important achievement over the past ten years in improving the quality of life as a result of environmental protection legislation. I think of the strides that have been made in cleaning up many of the Nation's rivers, the improved "breathing capacity" of some of our large cities, and the increasing amount of land that has been set aside for parks and recreation areas.
But having had a front row seat when the environment became a part of my husband's agenda early in his term of office and a worker in that "vineyard" ever since, I have watched with a growing sense of excitement and hope a significant outgrowth of these efforts--the evidence that our national consciousness of environmental problems has greatly expanded and along with it our ability to affect preservation measures through the many avenues of participation open to citizens.
Richard A. Snelling
Ten short years ago, as EPA was born, I attended another birth here in Vermont. It was an event of such consequence to the Vermont environment that this year we gathered together to celebrate its 10th anniversary, in the same spirit that America commemorates the first decade of EPA. It was the passage of Vermont's premier environmental law, Act 250.
These two still very young legal entities sprang from the same inspiration--a respect for the natural environment. We believed, quite prudently as it turns out, that the environment should have a voice in the decisions we made about our future. We believed that the environment had rights too.
Both EPA and Act 250 were suspected, from the moment of their births, of being spoilers. "They will turn back the clock," their critics claimed, "they will return our land to wilderness."
Ten years later, most of those critics are silent. Our experiments in environmentalism have proved to be quite rational exercises in human and natural relations.
Vermont is proud of its environmental record over those 10 years, and equally proud of the productive relationship it has enjoyed with EPA. EPA's programs, especially those which have been designed in partnership with State environmental officials, have provided Vermont with good support for its own commitment to sensible environmental planning.
The world has changed markedly since 1970. So much of what we believed 10 years ago has been abandoned, or forgotten, or proved wrong. To our credit, our faith in our environment remains strong today in no small part because of EPA.
The Vermont environment, and its boon companion, Act 250, wish EPA a very pleasant birthday, and many happy returns of the day.
Charles "Mac" Mathias, Jr.
U.S. Senator (R-MD)
The most significant environmental achievement over the past 10 years may also be the environment's most important challenge in the years to come.
The greatest achievement I have noticed over the past decade is the change in attitude of people toward how we treat the environment. On April 22, 1970, Americans for the first time celebrated Earth Day. On that historic days everyone was talking about protecting the quality of life. We made the protection of our natural and man-made environment a national priority.
Since then much of this talk has been translated into action by government and by citizens. The decade of the 1970s saw standards for clean water and clean air set for the first time. We had finally realized what the byproducts of an industrial society can do to the environment. The past 10 years have also seen the creation of groups and agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, charged with safeguarding the Nation's environmental health. Citizens' groups like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation have come to play an increasingly important role in working with government. This effort was the result of a national resolve and the realization that a clean environment is in all of our interests.
Nowhere is this change in attitude more visible than on the Chesapeake Bay. On a recent tour of the Bay, I was struck by the very positive interest in the Bay's problems and in finding solutions to those problems. Watermen, farmers, developers, government officials, and people in the recreational business, all now seem to know about the Bay, its problems, and the fact that their lifestyles affect the future of the Bay.
The greatest challenge then will be whether these attitudes will be able to prevail into the 1980s in the face of mounting economic pressures to relax environmental standards. Today, two urgent domestic problems--our need for energy independence and the necessity to control inflation--dominate the national consciousness and the national agenda. Will the environment be a casualty in the rush to meet these great challenges? The most significant change in the environment in the next ten years may be our minds. We must then work hard to maintain the positive attitude developed since 1970 to insure what has been accomplished in the past decade is not undone in this decade.
U.S. Senator (D-W.Va.)
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
The decade of the 1970s was one of great accomplishment in the environmental area. The passage of laws, the establishment of government agencies, the corporate decisions, the activities of citizen groups all were but components of what I consider the most significant achievement of the past 10 years: the emergence of an environmental consciousness and the adoption of an environmental ethic throughout our Nation.
The cumulative result of this activity has added a new dimension to our pursuit of the American dream. We know now that the quality of life is of equal importance with the materials goods that have given us our high standard of living and national wealth. We realize that our air, water, and other natural resources are finite and must be protected to assure the kind of future we envision.
The acceptance of environmental values in the years immediately past constitutes a commitment to the future and is one of the strongest indicators of the maturing of the American society.
Environmental Reporter, The New York Times
I think the most significant environmental development of the last decade has been the American public's recognition of environmental imperatives, and the impetus and sustained support the public has given to environmental enhancement.
Without that grass-roots sentiment, the National Environmental Policy Act could not have passed and become a legal keystone for environmental reform; Congress would not have felt the pressure for the basic environmental legislation; the Environmental Protection Agency might have been impotent; and the Council on Environmental Quality could not have achieved its stature as an influential national 'conscience.'
Opinion polls have consistently shown continuing public concern for environmental quality, and the public has never quibbled about the considerable costs, even though it is the public that ultimately pays all the bills.
This public sentiment has been massive enough to offset the fact that it has been to a great extent amorphous and unfocused. But the essence of the Environmental Revolution is citizen participation in public decision-making. Public support is not the same thing as public participation. Citizen participation has made a significant start. But it needs to develop rapidly to meet the challenges of the decade ahead.
Jessie M. Rattley
Councilwoman, Newport News, Va.
President, National League of Cities
Since the early 1970s, the National League of Cities has advocated a national policy of urban conservation to improve the quality of life in our Nation's cities. This policy recognizes that the future of America's urban areas depends in large part of how effectively they can compete as desirable places in which to live and work, and that much of their attractiveness is determined by the quality of their environment. For municipal officials, a major accomplishment of the past decade was the integration of environmental programs as a major building block in a national strategy of urban conservation.
For cities, the payoff from pollution control efforts has been remarkable. Our rivers and lakes, once smothered by community and industrial waste, are again becoming suitable for recreation. City waterfronts are experiencing a physical and economic renaissance, and many urban areas are beginning to reverse the longstanding deterioration of their air quality. These achievements did not come easily. They involved billions of scarce local tax dollars, and, for local elected officials, choices which often were politically unpopular.
As we enter a new decade, city officials are committed to preserving and enhancing the environmental gains of the 1970s, and to working in partnership with citizens, the private sector, and other levels of government to meet the new challenges posed by energy development, hazardous waste disposal, and the sweeping impact of accelerated technological change on the environment.
Thomas L. Kimball
Executive Vice President, National Wildlife Federation
When the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed into law on January 1, 1970, it marked the decade as one in which a consideration for environmental quality became an integral part of living in the United States.
Actually, NEPA was a remarkable legislative response to an increasing concern expressed loudly by millions of Americans awakened to the dangers of environmental degradation. The idea behind NEPA was a simple, but far-reaching one: 'Look to the future.' By requiring Federal agencies to spell out a proposed project's environmental consequences, the Act signalled an end to the myth that all development amounts to progress.
Following NEPA, which also created the Council on Environmental Quality, came more than two dozen other environmental improvement and protection laws, from the Federal Water Pollution Act to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The EPA was established. All these new laws emphasized the important change in the manner of doing business in the United States established by NEPA.
Perhaps we can begin this new decade by seeing the final approval of a bill that enhances NEPA's policies: an Alaska lands bill allowing for economic development as well as for conservation of priceless natural resources.
Mayor, Los Angeles
In the largest sense history must truly look back at the decade of the 1970s as that pivotal time when the leading nations on Earth--the most affluent, the most educated, and the most fortunate of people--chose to examine the true implications of their actions for future generations.
In the 1960s, we were living in a very different world. At that time, it was standard practice to schedule freeway and wastewater treatment plants construction to match straight-line population growth projections, to build new model airliners simply because they could go faster, and to approve subdivisions if they included proper building setbacks and the significant number of curb cuts.
The enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act signaled the beginning of the new era, prescribing a simple process for a simplistic view of a newly recognized problem. The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970 required us to measure the whole problem, the degree of air pollution everywhere, and then to discover how to solve the problem--and to keep it solved. The Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972 built upon and improved this approach. These were all imperfect first attempts in an area still imperfectly understood. But, if there was any doubt that the convictions of the Nation were firmly set for success, enactment of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts of 1977 should have laid this to rest.
Americans have clearly made the decision to live, work, and play with a sense of propriety. If the systems we have legislated for this new value are still imperfect, perhaps ponderous, let us work to perfect them in the next decade. In the meantime, history will recognize these last ten years as the time when the first Nation in history chose to accept a degree of responsibility for its actions.
James B. Hunt, Jr.
Governor, North Carolina
It's just an old river. A very old river. And in North Carolina we're proud we saved it.
On May 17, 1980, the New River--the oldest river on the continent and the second oldest in the world--was dedicated as a scenic river under both State and Federal Acts. This meant that the gently meandering river's 26.5 mile corridor through North Carolina would be protected in its natural state--now and for the generations to come.
The dedication capped a 14-year struggle to keep the New River as it is and ended the threat that a power company's system of dams and reservoirs would destroy it, inundate 42,000 acres and displace 3,000 people. Citizens of North Carolina and concerned individuals from across the United States rallied to the defense of the river, gained State and Federal Government support, and won.
Saving the New River is an important environmental accomplishment in itself. Beyond that, it is a powerful example of effective citizen action. In North Carolina the lesson of the last 10 years is that valuable resources can be safeguarded when the people and their leaders persevere. The commitment and determination of our people is, perhaps, our greatest natural resource and the key to meeting the environmental challenges of the coming decade.
Vice President and Director, Conservation Department, International Union, United Auto Workers
I believe, in the years ahead, the environmental benefits accruing from Sun Day 1978 may even compare favorably with the incredible impact of Earth Day 1970 and all its success in creating awareness/impetus for enactment of legislation to curtail pollution. The United Auto Workers contributed initial funding and assisted Denis Hayes, et al, in organizing Sun Day, as we had the first Earth Day. We felt that by utilizing environmentally-cleaner solar power, rather than continuing total dependence on conventional pollution-causing energy sources, we could tremendously benefit the environment.
We first became enthused about solar power from the personal experience gained through constructing our own solar projects in 1974-1975 at the United Auto Workers Family Education Center on Black Lake at Onaway, Mich., but were also convinced that a big national push was needed to get the country moving to solar power. The week-long Jobs-Environment-Justice Conference held there in 1976 (to combat the slowing of environmental progress due to environmental blackmail) reinforced our conviction that solar power would also serve as the much-needed vehicle to bring trade unionists, consumer organizations, and urban groups together with environmentalists.
Many organizations and people got together for the first time on May 3, 1978, and successfully advocated the increased use of solar power. A lot of the folks are still working together today, too, but on various pro-environment programs and projects in addition to solar power.
Significant, environmental achievement in the last 10 years? SUN DAY!
Henry W. Maier
The dramatic decline in national energy consumption growth patterns has been the most significant environmental achievement in the last decade. There has been an actual decrease in our daily consumption of gasoline and a very sharp decrease in the annual growth rate of electric power consumption. This turnabout will have major second order effects in maintaining and improving environmental quality. Declining growth rates in the consumption of fossil fuels should prove beneficial to the urban as well as the national environment. The conservation trend will serve to improve our economy along with our environment.
In Milwaukee we have known for quite some time that energy conservation and environmental conservation are tightly bound to one another. The Mayor's Office has recently requested a volunteer group--the Science and Technology Utilization Council--to develop a long-term energy management plan for our public and private sectors. We see energy conservation as an economic and environmental investment. Milwaukee has already achieved some significant reduction in energy usage in both the public and private sectors. This project can and will bring about further improvements in conservation and in resulting environmental quality.
President, United Steelworkers of America
The 1970s saw a national commitment brought into being by legislation to the protection of our environment and the protection of the health and the safety of American workers.
The passage of such bills as the Clean Air Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act gave us a total package to address the problems of the environment. It was recognized that there is a bond between the protection of workers in the plant and the protection of the community at large.
The enterprise and the community in which it is located are linked in a variety of economic ways. They are also linked environmentally. The economic good to the community of the enterprise should not be destroyed by any adverse impact it might have on the health of its workers and the health of the general population surrounding the plant. Economic welfare cannot be achieved at the price of health disintegration. Furthermore, health protection is a continuum. It would be of little value to see the worker in the plant protected from a toxic substance only to find that his family, his neighbors, and himself are exposed to the same substance outside the plant gate.
This binding of the workplace and the community under the various laws passed in the last ten years is an essential approach to environmental protection. Any weakening of this comprehensive program for the environment, either inside or outside the plant, is bound to have an adverse effect on the health of both workers and the communities in which they live.
We must maintain our resolve that the laws we have passed for worker and environmental protection are not diminished. A lessening in any area of environmental protection would mean an eventual lessening in all.
David M. Roderick
Chairman, Board of Directors, United States Steel Corporation
The most significant environmental achievement of the last decade has been the progress made in industrial pollution control, and I am especially proud of the progress which has been made by U.S. Steel Corporation and the entire steel industry. The steel industry is controlling 96 percent of its emissions to the air. Control of water pollutants is now over 90 percent and will be at about 96 percent within the next few years. In steelmaking areas, air quality and water quality have improved dramatically. Air pollution alerts and fish kills are comparatively rare.
With this much progress behind us, we must now look to the future. With environmental quality high, we must now give greater attention to other environmental problems--unemployment, inflation, decreased productivity, the energy crisis and national security. We are dedicated to continuing environmental progress necessary to meet health-related environmental requirements, but once health needs are met, a balance must be struck between marginal environmental improvements and the attainment of other national economic and social goals. Capital, which is involved in attaining these goals, is limited. There is not enough to go around. Choices must be made, and the mechanisms for making these choices must be developed if we are to remain a strong, secure, and free Nation.
Executive Director, The Sierra Club
The most significant achievement lies in the profound change which has taken place in public thinking over the last decade. This underlies changes in public policy and makes them possible. Following 1970, various surveys of public opinion have repeatedly returned to the same questions to test public sentiment, and they have consistently shown majority support for strong environmental programs. A recent survey for Resources for the Future showed 62 percent of the public counting themselves as sympathetic to the movement, with 42 percent of the public favoring environmental protection regardless of the cost. Some 30 percent were neutral, with only 4 percent unsympathetic. Other surveys generally show over half to two-thirds of the public favoring strong programs. Deviations from this norm only occur occasionally in polls that pose extremely tough questions of trade-offs involving jobs or energy availability--questions that usually depart from reality in the starkness of the choices posed.
The general trend in the polls also shows that there are majorities sympathetic to the movement in all income and educational classes. Surprisingly enough, the RFF poll even shows slightly more blacks than whites sympathetic to the movement. This is a profound change from the early 1970s. Over 60 percent of both liberals and conservatives and Democrats and Republicans are sympathetic. In truth, environmentalism has become a central value in the thinking of most Americans.
In the last ten years new laws have been implemented to control air pollution and water pollution. Major amendments to the Clean Air Act have required the State to develop regulations that will have a significant impact on air pollution sources. Changes in State law resulted in extensive development of regulations and standards dealing with public water supply systems. Water supplies are also being developed and upgraded under a new incentive by the Kansas Department of health and Environment. Kansas has been a leader in the Nation in the area of solid and hazardous waste management. Improvements in State regulations during the 1970s have virtually eliminated most solid waste problems and have laid the groundwork to eliminate others. Advances were made in the 1970s to deal with hazardous wastes, but the greatest impact will likely be made in the 1980s.
The largest project of the decade, and the one that would have to be considered the most comprehensive, is the development of the Kansas Water Quality Management Plan. This plan deals with every aspect of water management. All sources of water pollution in the State were addressed. Many studies were made and are still in progress that will be the basis for new regulations and control measures. This document will also be a foundation for an overall environmental plan for Kansas.
R. O. Anderson
Chairman of the Board, Atlantic Richfield Company
Over the past ten years, we have witnessed an outpouring of legislation and regulation aimed at protecting and enhancing the human environment--the air we breathe, the water we drink and use for recreation, and the land on which we live and work. These laws and rules evolved from a growing realization and concern that most human activity impacts our environment. I believe this growth of environmental awareness has been the most notable environmental achievement in the last decade.
Even with the increased industrialization during the period, significant progress has been made in checking the rate of environmental degradation and in the reduction of some pollutants. Our streams and rivers are cleaner and our air contains less sulfur dioxide. While the environmental task is not complete, we are headed in the right direction. We have a challenging task in balancing our environmental concerns with economic vitality that is so necessary to the well-being of our citizens.
Director of Health and Safety, Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers International Union, AFL-CIO
The greatest achievement is the elevated consciousness and extreme concern over the magnitude of the environmental problems confronting mankind. Linkages are better understood. We see that contaminants at work affect workers, and subsequently the community through diverse pathways. There is an understanding that the toxic grave is not the end, but the beginning of even more devastating damage. We have an awareness that the ultimate insult is now probably the irreversible damage to a yet unborn generation. We understand the fact that cancer and other major diseases, including senility, can be attributed for the most part to the environment and therefore are preventible. This holistic perception that seems to have settled upon the people of our country and increasingly among other populations is to me the single most important environmental event to date because of the possibility there now exists to go from awareness to significant change.
Chairman, President's Council on Environmental Quality
The most important environmental achievement in the last ten years is that we have demonstrated our national capacity to care and to act. Our environmental protection laws and programs at all levels of government and the private organizations that help make them work are an historic accomplishment and testament to this capacity. As with the civil rights movement, we have proven again that America can still learn big lessons.
The capacity to care and to act will be put to another great test in the 1980s. Our domestic environmental efforts of the past decade have given us the experience we badly need to face the unprecedented global challenges of population growth, loss of natural resources, and environmental contamination.
Edward I. Koch
Mayor, New York City
The greatest environmental accomplishment of the last ten years has been getting people to be conscious of the need to conserve the environment, based on the fact that it is limited and the air does run out and the water does become less available and energy sources do become depleted. People now understand the need for conservation and for the restoration of those sectors of the environment, such as the air, the water, and the land, that have been desecrated. This has created expectations which weren't there before and which if not realizable as quickly as we would like, nevertheless have become real goals.
Co-Chairman, Urban Environment Conference
The awakening of the American people to the dangers and hazards of the workplace environment is, in my judgment, the outstanding accomplishment of the past environmental decade.
The skills and insights of environmental scientists have made this more than a superficial event. Millions of American working men and women in all kinds of work--in offices, in mines, in factories, in hospitals, and on farms--have come to realize that what they touch, breathe, hear, and see at their workplace affects their lives and their longevity.
Today--except for the Nordic countries of northern Europe--there is no other place in the industrial world besides the U.S.A. where there is more consciousness or more being done to make the workplace safe and healthful.
EPA, OSHA, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission stand as enlightened guardians of health and safety. What they do to carry out the law is often not as important aw what they do to raise the level of sensitivity and information--so that people on and off their jobs can grapple with the complexities of their total environment.
We care about their enforcement, and we cherish their insights.
Coleman A. Young
Significant environmental activities over the last decade have been concerned with air, water, solid waste, pesticides, radiation, and noise. However, since Michigan is the focal point of the Great Lakes Basin--having one-fifth of all the fresh water in the Nation, one-fifth of the U.S. population, and one-fourth of U.S. industry--water and pollution control have been priorities here in southeastern Michigan.
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is responsible for control and treatment of waste water for over 75 communities of southeastern Michigan, essentially responsible for the protection of public health and for the removing of sources of pollution from the sourrounding rivers and streams.
Detroit has the largest single treatment facility in the Nation, and the Detroit River carries one of the Nation's largest flows of water. Its exceptional quality and quantity continues to be an extraordinary asset to the Detroit Metropolitan area.
Since the early 1970s, the water quality has improved dramatically. This achievement has had a major effect on our recreational facilities, especially in the once-polluted waters that are now swimmable and fishable. This significant achievement has played a major role on the Detroit River and in the surrounding Great Lakes.
These improvements are directly attributed to improved sewage treatment processes. As a result, there will be more treatment stages, longer retention of wastes during treatment to improve the removal of pollutants, additional aeration and secondary clarifier capacity, and plant effluent will receive additional chlorination and additional sludge thickening capacity.
It is important to acknowledge the presence of problems when environmental pressures are posing unusual challenges. However, I believe that during the 1980s our technology will have advanced far beyond today's know-how.
We are in the environmental business because it is concerned with the fundamental requirement of everyone's everyday living.
I intend to continue to meet these responsibilities in the decade just beginning.
David R. Brower
Chairman and Founder, Friends of the Earth
It is likely that for the first time in the Earth's history natural hazards to humanity have slipped into second place, and within the past ten years have been topped by hazards of our own invention. It was not enough to have to cope with avalanche, coastal erosion, drought, earthquake, flood, frost, glaciers, hail, hurricane, landslide, lightning, pestilence, tornado, tsunami, volcanic eruption, and wildfire. With a strange determination to achieve a quicker life through chemistry, human beings have devised substances with which the environment itself cannot cope, which have become toxic bread cast upon the waters, not fit for human use when it returns. We have denied ourselves the chance to say "as right as rain" because of the acids and toxic metals we have added to the cloud's burden and to the aquifer's, too. Finding background radiation not hazardous enough, we have found uncontrolled ways to augment it and to top that off with genetic engineering and the Pentagon computer!
Not yet content, we have made substantial progress toward blocking our own best efforts to correct our errors. We opened the decade with a National Environmental Policy Act, an Environmental Protection Agency, and a Council on Environmental Quality--moves that were exemplary in the global view. We proceeded through the decade trying in various ways to disassemble this achievement. Realizing that the way a society governs itself is through coercion willingly accepted (laws and regulations), rather than waiting until voluntary good will takes effect universally, we wrote good laws and regulations, and then went to Madison Avenue to have them tried and executed--in the gas chamber of media saturation.
The good news for the 1980s is that people are the best bet for correcting problems they have created. There is still an opportunity to reduce the tension those problems are creating. The Global 2000 Report points to the dire need. But it is not an opportunity that will last much longer.
International President, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees
I believe the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 contains a provision that represents an important environmental gain for public employees. The OSHA Act itself, which established a worker's right to a safe and healthy workplace for the first time, specifically excluded public employees. But it also included a provision that lowered this onerous double standard, allowing States to establish their own occupational safety and health programs. Three years ago, the Department of Labor took another progressive step in this direction when it issued rules giving States the option of establishing OSHA plans for public employees only, where State plans did not exist.
Two-thirds of the one million public employees AFSCME represents are covered by such plans in 16 of the 21 States that have them. The importance of these progressive environmental rules to public employees can be gauged in several ways. First, State and local employees represented more than 14 percent of the total work force in 1975, a 33 percent increase since 1965. Second, the number of State and local employees increased more than 50 percent between 1965 and 1975, from 7.7 million to 12 million workers. Finally, AFSCME's growth has doubled from a half-million to 1.2 million since 1972.
With the growth of public employment, particularly at the State and local level, these workers are increasingly exposed to many of the same occupational and environmental hazards as private sector employees (and some others that the latter are not). Public employees are the victims of accidents three times as frequently as private employees, and their injuries are twice as severe.
Today, when productivity is on the lips of public employers across the country, an undertone of hostility is discernible: improving workplace conditions is seldom mentioned as a central factor in getting more for the public's money. A costly indulgence? Only if you make the victims of paltry innovation the culprits of industrial obsolescence. Such myopia is what threatens the environmental victories won by workers in the 1970s.
The provisions under the OSHA Act pertaining to public employees begin to address a problem shared by all workers: making employers--whether public or private--realize that a safe and healthy workplace is a human right.
John J. O'Leary, Jr.
Mayor, Portland, Maine
It was Portland's deep protected inner harbor and its closeness which in 1623 brought our first European settlers to the "Neck" or "Falmouth Neck" as it was then called. When Portland was incorporated as a city in 1832, most of its population of 13,000 was clustered along the 22.45 miles of tidal water frontage, the hub of the city's commerce and industry. As the city entered the mid-19th century, it gained preeminence as one of the country's leading seaports.
There is little wonder why I, as Mayor of the city of Portland, Maine, when asked what was the greatest achievement in the city in the last 10 years, would answer 'cleaner water, of course.'
In 1965 the city financed its first comprehensive wastewater planning study which recommended interception and treatment. Since passage of Public Law 92-500 in 1972, with financial assistance from EPA and the State of Maine, the Portland Water District, our regional treatment authority, has constructed most of the planned system with only Phase III, a project to service the Stroudwater Area, still awaiting funding.
The first two phases included the treatment plant, six pumping stations, and interceptors along Black Cove, the Fore River, and the Presumpscot Estuary with a total construction cost of about $55 million with 75 percent of the eligible cost assumed by EPA, 15 percent by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and 10 percent by the local community.
On June 14, 1980, only nine months after the dedication of the new treatment plant, our citizens realized their first real benefits of this treatment system which was not only expensive to build, but also expensive to operate and maintain through the required user charge system. This was the date on which we were able to reopen our East End Bathing Beach which had been closed for 16 years due to the deteriorated water quality.
Our deep protected and once again inner harbor is our most valuable natural resource, and our future is as dependent on it as our history has been.
David C. Treen
I believe the raising of the consciousness of both the public and elected officials to the need for protecting the environment and the renewable resource values of our ecology is the most significant environmental accomplishment of the past decade.
Howard D. Samuel
President, Industrial Union Department, AFL-CIO
From the point of view of the industrial worker, the most notable environmental achievement of this past decade is the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), passed in 1976 in large part through the efforts of a coalition of labor and environmental groups.
This law marked the first legislative attempt to attack environmental problems at their source. The strategy was to control chemicals before they enter the manufacturing process and contaminate the environment. Before TSCA environmental efforts were geared to treating symptoms--as was the case with air pollution, water pollution, and hazardous wastes.
By stimulating pre-market testing and notification of chemicals, TSCA slowly is forcing companies to manufacture chemicals that poser fewer risks to workers. In effect, this legislation has become a tool for dealing with the chemical revolution. The bill also has had the effect of directing foreign governments and companies to look at their own toxic chemicals.
There are already 55,000 chemicals in commercial production or use, with hundreds more added each year. The concern of the Industrial Union Department is to protect those workers who are exposed to them. While the struggle to achieve workplaces free from safety and health hazards is far from over, we're moving forward step by step, as evidenced by TSCA.
The environmental achievement of significance in the 1970s was the realization by both lawmakers and citizens that we have been squandering our limited air, water, land, and energy resources and that we have to do something about it. Environmental goals that the United States has today were built up on a solid foundation in the past decade. Without being self-righteous, Oregonians like to point out that much major national environmental legislation was patterned after laws crafted in Oregon during the middle 1960s. Oregon's early experience with environmental laws demonstrated that, with reason and common sense, environmental improvements can result without major economic problems.
The emphasis in our State has been on public support through understanding of need. When Oregonians are shown there is a serious problem to solve that affects the quality of their lives, they will constructively respond. As a result, Oregon has been able to put into effect statewide land use planning, return deposits on bottles and cans, public ownership of beaches, a mandatory vehicle inspection program, strict controls on hazardous wastes (including operation of chemical disposal sites) and on chemicals such as PCBs and certain spray propellants, and early investments by industry to clean up their discharges.
The Oregon approach has worked well to cause real environmental improvements in the past decade. The air is cleaner, a major river has been restored, roadsides are cleaner, and wastes are being treated as they should. The challenge of the future is to maintain support for these gains through sensible, sensitive administration and lawmaking.
Bobby L. Chain
Mayor, Hattiesburg, Mississippi
The city of Hattiesburg, Miss., has seen during the last 10 years significant environmental achievement while meeting the increasing needs of a growing urban area. The most important achievement, I believe, in our city is the fact that our people now realize the importance of protecting the environment around us. This spirit of protecting our environment exists even though the measures required are almost always costly and cause significant sacrifices on the part of our people for that protection. Cooperation such as we realize in Hattiesburg normally allows us as city officials to enforce violations, to achieve the best technological solutions to our problem areas, and to plan our future with our environment in the forefront.
I believe this spirit has grown from seeing the mass destruction of the environment in other urban areas and growing confidence that the environmental protection agencies, local, Federal, and State, are moving to a more common sense approach to resolve and to prevent these problems. It is my sincere wish, now that our people are cooperating, that we, as elected and appointed officials in this country, will continue to develop our technology in a manner to reduce the cost involved and to achieve as nearly as possible, complete environmental protection.
William S. Sneath
Chairman of the Board, Union Carbide Corporation
Perhaps the most significant environmental achievement of the last decade has been the commitment of American industry to the cleanup of our waterways. Ninety percent of industry met the 1972 Water Act's "best practicable technology" provision while less than half of our cities and smaller municipalities met this goal.
By 1979 the member companies of the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA) had invested $3.7 billion to control water pollution. And, while these costs have been significant, no one can argue that they were not worthwhile.
Technology proved responsive to the intent of the law which was designed to meet urgent and feasible goals. And, without arguing the fine points, one can hold similar expectations for the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
The legislation and regulatory framework which has evolved in the environmental area during the last decade is unprecedented. Never before have such sweeping changes occurred in such a short period of time with such visible results.