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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop DEVELOPMENT OF A LEADING ENVIRONMENTAL NGO: THIRTY YEARS OF EXPERIENCE T.J.Graff Environmental Defense ANTECEDENTS Conservation of natural resources and the protection of the environment have long been a part of the political and social fabric of the United States. The first national parks, Yosemite in California and Yellowstone in Wyoming, were created late in the nineteenth century. President Theodore Roosevelt and his Forest Service Chief Gifford Pinchot were enthusiastic promoters of the stewardship of public lands in the early twentieth century and popularized such ideas as the sustained yield of forests over long periods of time. Others, such as John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, promoted the concept of preserving wilderness for its own sake, and occasionally clashed with Roosevelt and Pinchot, as over the development of Hetch Hetchy Dam and Reservoir by the City of San Francisco within the boundaries of Yosemite National Park. Concerns over pollution of the air and water have even longer antecedents. Public health professionals over the millennia increasingly came to understand the dangers caused by inadequate sanitation, polluted drinking water, and toxic fumes engendered by increased industrialization in the Northern Hemisphere. By the 1960s these concerns expanded to encompass more subtle threats to public health and ecological values. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring popularized the scientific arguments against the use of then common pesticides, such as DDT, whose persistence and ecological magnification in the food chain were causing severe damage to such birds of prey as eagles, ospreys, and pelicans. By the 1960s the organization of professionally dominated citizens groups who were dedicated to promoting social and legal change had emerged as major factors in other branches of American society. To name two examples, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund had been at the forefront of the struggle for
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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop desegregation for several decades and the American Civil Liberties Union had pioneered legal approaches to the protection of various constitutional rights, including freedom of speech and association and the free exercise of religion. FOUNDING OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE FUND, 1967 These two social phenomena—increased scientific concern about environmental degradation and the development of a litigation-oriented approach to addressing social/political issues in the United States—were combined in 1967, when a group of scientists concerned about the effects of spraying DDT to control mosquitoes on the eastern end of Long Island in New York State formed a new organization. Calling it the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), they launched a series of lawsuits at the local, state and federal levels to compel government to stop the ecological damages caused by DDT spraying. Within six years, the U.S. government’s newly formed Environmental Protection Agency formally banned DDT spraying for most uses, largely in response to the scientific and legal case EDF had presented. During this formative period, EDF turned itself into a membership-based organization, with many thousands of contributors of small sums. In addition, a few wealthy individuals and several large private foundations, including most notably in the early days the Ford Foundation, supported EDF’s activities. EDF’s scientific credentials originally were based on the volunteer efforts of its founders, who included professors at several universities and researchers at U.S. government scientific laboratories. Soon, however, they were joined by a professional staff of scientists, lawyers, and economists with equally impressive credentials. EARLY AGENDAS, THE 1970s EDF’s efforts to control the wide distribution of pollutants into the environment did not stop with its DDT victory in 1973. Especially active with respect to PCB’s, other chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides, lead-in gasoline, and dioxin, EDF pressed for stricter regulation of various toxic substances with deleterious environmental effects. It also joined other like-minded organizations, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, in addressing even more ubiquitous pollutants including carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides emitted by motor vehicles. The early 1970s, with Republican President Richard Nixon at the helm, and with senior Democrats such as Senator Edmund Muskie taking leadership roles as well, saw a wide range of environmental legislation enacted by Congress.
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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop The National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Drinking Water Act, and major overhauls of the Clean Air Act and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act all took place in this era. EDF perceived early in its existence, however, that even comprehensive federal legislation was insufficient to address the broad-scale environmental effects caused by major sectors of the booming American economy. Of these sectors, two, water and electricity, became the centers of focus for much of EDF’s agenda in the 1970s. Water projects, mostly sponsored by federal water development agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, were causing widespread ecological devastation. Wetland conversions, stream channelizations, and water depletions and diversions caused major environmental losses, including species extinction, habitat degradation, and loss of ecological function. In many cases, the purported economic benefits of the projects did not outweigh the costs, environmental and economic, and the distributional effects were open to severe question as well. The direct beneficiaries of water projects were often few in number, albeit with considerable economic clout and political influence, while the adversely affected were many, although often relatively poor and difficult to organize. The electricity sector in many ways posed an even more significant set of environmental threats. The environmental, safety, and health risks associated with both of the major sources of increased electricity generation in the 1970s, nuclear and coal, were substantial. Large-scale nuclear and coal plants were being developed at an astonishing rate throughout the country, but especially in such high growth areas as the southwest and the Pacific Coast states. Even as grassroots protest groups increased their efforts to combat particular projects in these sectors, EDF developed systems-oriented analyses and prescriptions to tackle the sectors as a whole. Overall critiques of water project economics and of electricity rate-setting and investment policies, combined with citizen pressure, eventually led to significant changes in growth patterns in both sectors. By 1982 in a statewide referendum, California voters overwhelming rejected a legislatively-passed proposal to build a new generation of water projects in that state. Likewise, in the early 1980s electric utilities, first in California and then elsewhere in the country, substantially curtailed their investments in large central-station nuclear and coal facilities, substituting instead a portfolio of investments in a variety of renewable resource technologies such as wind, solar, and biomass, and in various efficiency and conservation-oriented technologies as well. LESSONS LEARNED IN THE 1970s AND 1980s The principal advocacy tools which were adopted by EDF and like-minded organizations in the 1970s involved litigation, both before the courts, federal and
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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop state, and before administrative agencies within the executive branches of government. Restricted by the tax laws in how much lobbying they could do, these NGOs used confrontational tactics as their chosen means of pursuing reform agendas. Litigation, however, rarely was successful on its own in changing government policies. Important issues often were debated in many forums, not only in political arenas such as Congress and the state legislatures, but also in scientific circles, including the National Academy of Sciences and a number of leading scientific journals such as Science and Nature. In many of the controversies of this era, as has already been stated, governments, both federal and state, were widely viewed as causing the problems involved. Environmentally damaging water projects were generally sponsored and built by government agencies. And some of the most ambitious and least economically sustainable electricity generation projects were also sponsored by government agencies, such as the notorious Washington Public Power Supply System in the Pacific Northwest. Government agencies, however, were also often at the forefront of addressing environmental problems. The Environmental Protection Agency and its state counterparts issued comprehensive regulations and conducted major enforcement programs under both the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts that have brought about substantial improvements in atmospheric and water quality conditions throughout the country. Similarly, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched major species and habitat preservation programs that have reduced the rate at which extinction and other environmental losses would otherwise have occurred. Just as it became evident that government could both be part of the problem and part of the solution in environmental controversies, the same could be said of private firms. Ironically, private firms such as the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and the Southern California Edison Co., two of the United States’ largest electricity generation firms, changed course and retreated from highly expensive and environmentally damaging investment plans well before many of their public agency counterparts, including the aforementioned Washington Public Power Supply System. Later, the California Business Roundtable, a consortium of that state’s largest business firms, was a leader in reforming federal water policy, preferring economic efficiency and environmental balance to the irrigation sector subsidies that previously had dominated federal water policy. Also in these crucial decades, conventional environmental regulation began to develop critics, as the easier targets fell and more complex problems and entrenched interests offered greater resistance to the heavy hand of government regulation. Particularly contentious battles over a regulatory regime could often drag on for a decade or more, as in the case of acid rain falling in the American Northeast. Other efforts to regulate pollutants were simply abandoned, as in the case of so-called non-point sources of water pollution flowing from the fields of America’s farmers. These problems helped lead to a new group of initiatives that
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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop have tended to characterize much of the environmental NGO activity of the 1990s. EVOLVING RESPONSES OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL NGOs Litigation, as was noted above, was EDF’s principal advocacy tool in its early years. Increasingly over the years, however, other methods of advocacy have come to much greater prominence. Among these, direct conversation and negotiation with decision-makers in both government and private firms have become increasingly common. So has participation in forums, official and informal, in which much larger groups of interests are represented and strong effort is expended to reach consensus-based negotiated outcomes. In these kinds of negotiations, and even in more heavily contested litigation and legislative settings, environmental NGOs have also set about building alliances with diverse stakeholders, including labor unions, business firms, social activists, native Americans, and many other interests who are affected in one way or another by environmental problems and solutions. In many of these controversies, the use of economic incentives, instead of, or in addition to, the more traditional so-called command-and-control style of regulation, came to be a much more prevalent approach to solving environmental problems. Thus, the use of markets and voluntary transfers among water users emerged as a more efficient and less environmentally damaging means to meet water needs than new dam and reservoir construction. Similarly, the trading of emission rights and the taxing of pollutants and of energy use came to be accepted as methods to meet environmental objectives such as reducing acid rain. Still another emerging tool of environmental advocacy was the use of public disclosure as a means of changing private firm and government behavior. An early manifestation of this approach was the qualification and passage of a statewide initiative in California in 1986. Proposition 65, as it is now commonly known, requires the public disclosure by the firms involved of any discharge to air and water involving any substance that is known to be harmful (based on scientific criteria established by state, federal, or international authorities) in quantities that are not below established safe threshold levels. The principal effect of this law and of a similar federal requirement known as the Toxic Release Inventory has been to cause changes in private firm behavior that diminish or avoid altogether the requirement to disclose pollution releases to the environment. For many firms, the public relations problems of such disclosure are a sufficient deterrent to prompt changes in product and manufacturing process design.
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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop DIRECT INVOLVEMENT IN CONGRESSIONAL, GOVERNMENT, AND PRIVATE FIRM DECISION-MAKING The 1990s saw an ever more diversified set of environmental NGO involvements in Congressional, Executive Branch, and private firm decision-making. One example which demonstrates these various involvements and which also encompasses a variety of NGO tactics, occurred in the reform of government water policy, particularly in the western United States, and more particularly in California. As was noted earlier, the historic conventional project construction approach to western water policy had taken a serious body blow in the 1982 defeat of the so-called Peripheral Canal referendum. It was not until 1992, however, that a comprehensive alternative approach, a key element of which was an endorsement of water marketing, passed the U.S. Congress and was signed into law by President George Bush. The basic concepts underlying the Central Valley Project Improvement Act of 1992—and especially voluntary water transfers—were contained in a letter and testimony delivered by representatives of the Environmental Defense Fund to Congress late in 1991. A tough Congressional battle ensued, in which the legislative champions of reform, Senator Bill Bradley and Congressman George Miller, were joined not only by environmentalists, but also by the California Business Roundtable and by representatives of several of California’s leading urban water agencies. The Congressional victory in 1992 occurred despite the opposition of Governor Pete Wilson of California. In 1993–94, however, the new President, Bill Clinton, and his administration sought an accommodation with Governor Wilson on water policy in California. After two long years of difficult negotiations involving myriad interest groups, including several environmental NGOs led by the Environmental Defense Fund’s John Krautkraemer, a comprehensive agreement was reached between the state and federal governments on December 15, 1994. Known as the San Francisco Bay/Delta Accord of 1994, the overall agreement included elements addressing water quality standard-setting, project operations, and water policy planning in the state. Subsequent agreements have been forged on state and federal environmental restoration funding in 1996 and on a general plan for the state’s water policy future in 2000. Throughout this period, environmental NGOs played a crucial role in defining agendas, negotiating outcomes, and explaining the results to the mass media and the public at large. A similar history on a larger scale can be told with respect to the control of acid rain. After over a decade of legislative gridlock, the incoming Bush Administration in 1989 informally commissioned the Environmental Defense Fund to assist in developing a proposal to control acid rain based on the setting of declining sulfur emissions caps over the eastern two-thirds of the United States and on the granting of tradeable allowances of sulfur emissions. The Environmental Defense Fund and its allies in Congress and in other sectors,
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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop including government, business, and academia, had proposed such a mechanism for some time. The Bush Administration’s invitation was a great opportunity to prepare a plan that would win legislative approval. Once Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, including the acid rain cap-and-trade mechanism, the Bush Administration, with EDF’s assistance, developed regulations that ensured the smooth operation of a sulfur emissions market. That market has led to faster than expected sulfur emissions reductions at a cost of about 10 percent of what critics had estimated in opposing acid rain control legislation in the 1980s. Not all of EDF’s activities at that time, however, involved government policy. A widely reported example of influencing private firm behavior took place in an intense negotiation and joint fact-finding exploration that occurred between EDF and the McDonald’s Corporation in the early 1990s. McDonald’s at the time was facing considerable public pressure to reduce the solid waste and litter that its restaurants generated. Especially notorious were the so-called “clamshell” plastic boxes, which were not biodegradable and which were clogging the nation’s landfills. McDonald’s and EDF, working together, produced a report and an implementation plan that phased out the clamshell box, that sharply reduced McDonald’s waste stream, and that greatly increased recycling at McDonald’s restaurants. The resulting wave of positive publicity both for McDonald’s and EDF even led to a People Magazine profile of EDF’s Executive Director, Fred Krupp. NEW FRONTIERS IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY None of the principal environmental NGO techniques of the late twentieth century seem likely to disappear or even to atrophy in the new millenium. But surely new approaches and opportunities are emerging, as new technologies capture the world’s attention and international problems and initiatives increasingly take center stage. One of the trends most likely to continue its expansion is the use of the internet as an environmental information and advocacy tool. EDF, renamed Environmental Defense on January 1, 2000, pioneered one such internet advocacy tool, a website it called Scorecard, www.scorecard.org. Scorecard allows any resident of the United States, with a few simple clicks of a computer, to identify all the sources of air pollution in his or her neighborhood and to obtain assessments, using established government-backed scientific benchmarks, of the risks posed by these pollution sources. Another internet-based application called Action Network allows prompt and inexpensive communication to take place between an environmental NGO, citizens who support its policy views, and decision-makers who might be influenced by hearing views expressed by significant numbers of citizens, especially those who reside in their election districts. Both Scorecard and Action
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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop Network are now principally housed in a private for-profit firm called Locus Pocus, an Environmental Defense spin-off. A second likely arena for expansion of NGO activity involves international issues. Residents of countries around the world sometimes have reason to concern themselves with potential environmental insults that may occur elsewhere than in their own country but that have international ramifications either in their impacts or in the identity of institutions who are involved directly or indirectly in actions leading to these environmental ramifications. Thus, environmental NGOs in many countries, including Environmental Defense in the United States, have paid particular attention to the activities of large international public lending institutions such as the World Bank and regional development banks. And these same NGOs and others are now beginning as well to pay attention to the environmental effects involved in other international arenas such as the major trade agreements and the decisions of large private banking and development corporations as well. Environmental NGOs have played major roles in international climate change discussions, including the November 2000 Council of the Parties in The Hague, Netherlands. They have also been well represented in other international institutional associations such as the World Commission on Dams, which is due to issue its findings to a diverse set of international constituencies via a press conference featuring the former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, on November 16, 2000, in London. As international communication and travel becomes easier, cheaper, and more accessible to a larger number of NGO representatives around the world, the likelihood of networks developing across countries’ borders and even across distant continents and oceans is substantial. Conservation of natural resources and protection of the environment are universal concerns. Increasingly, solutions to environmental problems will involve international communications and action.
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