tackling pollution (chapter 2, Layzer)


Change the script in policymaking.

As political scientists Frank Baumgartner and Bryan Jones observe, “[If] disadvantaged policy entrepreneurs are successful in convincing others that their view of an issue is more accurate than the views of their opponents, they may achieve rapid success in altering public policy arrangements, even if these arrangements have been in place for decades.”
…if redefining a problem raises its salience-as manifested by widespread public activism, intense and favorable media coverage, and marked shifts in public opinion polls-politicians respond.

This one swings both ways, as we see with the Republicans at present:
Their observation is accurate because if redefining a problem raises its
salience-as manifested by widespread public activism, intense and favorable media coverage, and marked shifts in public opinion polls-politicians respond. In particular, a legislator who seeks a leadership role must take positions that appeal to a national constituency and demonstrate a capacity to build winning coalitions. The president-or anyone who aspires to be president-is the one most likely to embrace issues that promise broad public benefits; the president is also best equipped, in terms of political resources, to forge a winning coalition for a major policy change. It is therefore not surprising that competition among presidential candidates has been the impetus behind some of the nation’s most significant environmental policies. Rank-and-file legislators are so moved by highly salient issues: they jump on the bandwagon in hopes of gaining credit, or at least avoiding blame, for addressing a problem about which the public is intensely concerned.

Add to this a focusing event. April 1970.
Earth Day (a teach-in initiated by Senator Gaylord Nelson, D-Wisconsin) can help build broad appeal (depending on the zeitgeist)

While legislators are responsive to public enthusiasm about an issue, the implementing agencies must cater to “multiple principals”; that is, they must please the president and the congressional committees that oversee and fund them.
In addition, these agencies must grapple with the demands of organized interests: agencies depend on the cooperation of those they regulate because they have neither the resources nor the personnel to enforce every rule they issue; moreover, organized interests provide agencies with political support in Congress.

1950’s gov’t began incremental steps to reduce pollution, mostly at the state level, BUT:
Because state and local officials were deeply concerned about fostering economic development, and because environmental activists in most states had insufficient clout to challenge economic interests, this arrangement meant that few states undertook serious pollution-control programs.
Chicago and Cincinnati started in 1881 to enforce anti-pollution measures.

(Refineries in NYC, esp around Newtown Creek were a major source of airborn pollution and as far as I know, unregulated into the early 20th century. Smell brigades rose up (mostly women-led) to nose out offenders.

1912, 22 states joined. WWII, Los Angeles set in place a “modern pollution control plan on a wartime plant, backyard incinerators, and oil refineries.
But pollution outpaced the capacity to curb it. Early Acts around water pollution started in response to refuse, wastewater, and oil dumping, first on navigable waters and then on all waters in the 1960s.
The 1970s, under Nixon, brought federal reform. It was largely due to the influence of

environmental writers and the consequent emergence of environmental protection as a popular national cause. Public concern about pollution outran the incremental responses of the 1960s, finally reaching a tipping point and culminating
at the end of the decade in a massive Earth Day demonstration. That event, in turn, opened a window of opportunity for advocates of strict pollution control policies. Politicians, vying for a leadership role and recognizing the popularity of environmentalism, competed for voters’ recognition of their environmental qualifications.

Rachel Carson (1962, Silent Spring) wove science into the seductive language of a transcendentalist. Followed after being a bestseller by more anit-pollution tarcts, and Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb.

Then a series of highly publicized disasters hit. A Union Oil Company well blew out six miles off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, and for several weeks oil leaked into the Pacific Ocean at the rate of 2o,ooo gallons a day, polluting twenty miles of beaches. Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River, heavily polluted, with oil and industrial chemicals, burst into flames. Mercury scares frightened people away from seafood, and coastal communities closed beaches when raw sewage washed up on shore. Calls for environmental awareness in response to these episodes fell on receptive ears. The population was becoming younger and better educated: between 1950 and 1974, the percentage of adults with some college education rose from 13.4 percent to 25.2 percent

College education, a younger demographic, and a more affluent society

One indication of the public’s growing interest in environmental issues during this time was the explosion of citations under the heading” environment” in the New York Times index. In 1955 the word was not even indexed; in 1965 it appeared as a heading but was followed by only two citations; by 1970, however, there were eighty-six paragraphs under the heading.

Earth Day 1970 claimed to have 20 million participants. The initiative was well organized, even without the participation of well-established NGOs. Corporations stepped in line to boost their image, (or more positively spun, to respond to demand).

Evinced by public opinion polls (and pollsters, who even knew to put the question in front of a public):

between the summer of 1969 and the summer of 1970, the public’s concern reached a tipping point, and the issue jumped from tenth to fifth place in the Gallup polls. By 1970 the American public perceived pollution as more important than race, crime, and poverty

In 1968, no presidential candidate stumped on an environmental platform. but 2 years into Nixon’s presidency, the issue had so much salience that his 1970 State of the Union address he said

Restoring nature to its natural state is a cause beyond party and beyond factions. It has become a common cause of all the people of this country. It is the cause of particular concern to young Americans because they more than we will reap the grim consequences of our failure to act on the programs which are needed now if we are to prevent disaster later-clean air, clean water, open spaces. These should once again be the birthright of every American. If we act now they can.” (Nixon)

He went as far as to talk about real cost of goods; he said, “should be made to include the costs of producing and disposing of them without damage to the environment.”

In July 1970 the Federal Gov founded the EPA as “an independent agency with jurisdiction over pollution control.” The EPA was to be

an agency devoted to comprehensive environmental protection. The presidential message accompanying Reorganization Plan Number Three clearly reflected the extent to which ecological ideas about the interconnectedness of the natural environment had permeated the political debate about pollution:
Despite its complexity, for pollution control purposes, the environment must be perceived as a single, interrelated system. Present assignments of departmental responsibilities do not reflect this interrelatedness …. This consolidation of pollution control authorities would help assure that we do not create new environmental problems in the process of controlling existing ones.” (Council on Environmental Quality)


The Clean Air Act was the EPA’s first challenge.

Instead of helping the states design air pollution programs, the EPA was to assume primary responsibility for setting air quality standards and for ensuring that the states enforced those standards

The highly symbolic language, goals, and structure of the 1970 Clean Air Act clearly reflected the public’s attentiveness to the problem of air pollution and its demand for federal action.

Our Nation’s Air as a concept.

The Congress finds—

(1) that the predominant part of the Nation’s population is located in its rapidly expanding metropolitan and other urban areas, which generally cross the boundary lines of local jurisdictions and often extend into two or more States;

(2) that the growth in the amount and complexity of air pollution brought about by urbanization, industrial development, and the increasing use of motor vehicles, has resulted in mounting dangers to the public health and welfare, including injury to agricultural crops and livestock, damage to and the deterioration of property, and hazards to air and ground transportation;

(3) that air pollution prevention (that is, the reduction or elimination, through any measures, of the amount of pollutants produced or created at the source) and air pollution control at its source is the primary responsibility of States and local governments; and

(4) that Federal financial assistance and leadership is essential for the development of cooperative Federal, State, regional, and local programs to prevent and control air pollution

Huge Western Fires in 1910 Changed US Wildfire Policy. Will Today’s Conflagrations Do the Same?

As vast and fast wildfires continue to spread almost unprecedented destruction across America’s three Pacific states, fire scientists, meteorologists and journalists have begun comparing the conflagrations to one firestorm 110 years ago.