How the Storm King sparked the modern environmental movement

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Forty-three years ago this month, a legal battle that had dragged on for more than 17 years in both state and federal courts came to an end. The combatants were two Goliaths, the Consolidated Edison Company and the Federal Power Commission, and a small grassroots organization in the Hudson Valley. And their struggles helped pass environmental laws, proving that citizens could triumph over literal political power, and arguably starting the modern environmental movement.

The full story begins about 61 years ago, in January 1963, when Con Edison built a power plant at the base of Storm King Mountain, a mile-wide reservoir behind the mountain and 15 miles of power lines. It begins when you apply for a permit to the FPC. It straddles Putnam and Westchester counties. This was in response to blackouts that occurred in New York City and throughout the Northeast in 1959 and 1962, and again in 1965. Utility companies like Con Edison wanted to expand their power grids to increase capacity and lower the city’s high electricity bills, he said. Visit Hudson River Valley Heritage.

The new power plant was initially hailed as a cost-effective alternative to steam power plants and a boon to industrial development in and around New York City. But like Con Edison’s nearby Indian Point nuclear power plant, it would draw water from the Hudson River, which poses the same risk of killing fish.

The announcement initially attracted little attention. But an outcry began when an artist’s rendering revealed how Storm King Mountain’s face would be cut off and scarred. On November 8, 1963, a group of six people were canonized as the “Gang of Six” and formed the Scenic Hudson Preservation Council, now known simply as Scenic Hudson, to stop the power plant. Soon others joined in and the battle began.

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The battle became national when Hudson River fisherman and Sports Illustrated writer Robert Boyle published a bombshell article in the magazine’s April 26, 1965 issue. . The piece, titled “The Stink of Dead Stripers,” told the story of the killing of striped bass at Indian He Point. Boyle reports that the state Department of Conservation, which manages fish and game in New York state, helped Con Edison employees dump hundreds of dead striped bass in a local landfill and cover up the evidence. It is said that he did. Boyle tracked down the photos and published them with the article.

In response, the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association (now known as Riverkeeper) organized to combat the effects of Indian Point and the potential effects of Storm King on local fish populations.

Con Edison's rendering of the proposed Storm King energy plant.

Con Edison’s rendering of the proposed Storm King energy plant.

Scenic Hudson Archives/ScenicHudson.org

knockout punch

On December 29, 1965, the Circuit Court issued its precedent-setting decision in Scenic Hudson Preservation Council v. Federal Power Commission, granting Scenic Hudson and those who represent it “legal status,” meaning environmental and aesthetic protection. It gave citizens the right to sue based on the law. factor.

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After several years of legal hearings and over 19,000 pages of testimony, the FPC still recommended that the project be licensed in 1968. In 1971, Scenic Hudson, the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association, the City of New York, the Palisades Park Commission, and others filed an appeal. However, the court upheld it. Both groups continued their fight and circulated petitions challenging the environmental study on which the FPC permit was based. That didn’t help. The Commission denied the petition.

So Scenic Hudson and the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in federal district court to prevent Con Edison from dumping rocks excavated from Storm King into the Hudson River. In 1976, the New York City Attorney General and even FPC officials petitioned the FPC to reopen hearings regarding Storm King’s license.

By 1980, they were ready to settle. On December 19 of that year, Con Edison canceled the Storm King project, returned the land to the state, reduced fish kills at some of its Hudson River power plants, and added $12 million in research funds to the Hudson River. Officially agreed to establish the company. That became the Hudson River Foundation. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the waiver a year later.

Oppenheimer Connection

The environmentalists’ legal team’s inspiring tenacity derives, at least in part, from an earlier historical moment that we may have recently seen dramatized on film. A lawyer named Albert Butzel worked with famous lawyer Lloyd Garrison to help litigate the Storm King case for 15 years. In a lecture he gave at Pace University in 2014, Butzel pointed to J. Robert Oppenheimer as the driving force behind Garrison.

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Garrison “has long been interested in civil rights,” Butzel said. He served as president of the National Urban League from 1947 to 1952 and represented Arthur Miller and Langston Hughes on the House Un-American Activities Committee. Shortly thereafter, Garrison served as Oppenheimer’s attorney when he sought to regain a security clearance from the Atomic Energy Commission.

“Perhaps it was his belief that Oppenheimer had failed that led Mr. Garrison to take on another seemingly hopeless case, an appeal of the FPC decision that granted Con Edison a license for the Storm King project. I guess it was a feeling,” Buzzell said. “Up to that point, no FPC license for a hydropower plant had been successfully challenged on the merits, and if the central issue was that the project would harm the landscape, there would be little reason for optimism. But for Lloyd, that expression was both professional and personal.”

As Buzzell points out, there was little concept of “environmentalism” at the time, but the serialization of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962 created an environmental consciousness among Americans. started. But the country has a long history of conservation, much of which originated in New York and the Hudson Valley.

“So it’s no surprise that Lloyd Garrison, the great-grandson of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and a native New Yorker himself, cared about the land and believed in conservation,” Buszel said. . “So when he was asked to appeal to the Second Circuit, there was no way he would say no.”

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Another interesting footnote to this story involves nomenclature. FPC and Con Edison originally called their plan the Cornwall Project. Garrison and his team realized that the name had no “sexual appeal” at all. So they renamed it the “Storm King Project.”

“It’s kind of ironic how central this little adjustment became as the case progressed,” Buzzell said. The first Dutch settlers called the mountain Boterberg, which became Butter Hill in English. “Does anyone doubt that the battle for Butterhill would have been much less heated than the battle for Storm King?” said Buzzell. “Fortunately, Romantic writer Nathaniel Willis, who lived in the Highlands, felt that Butter Hill was an insult to such magnificent geology and renamed it Storm King. Environmental law may owe its beginnings to Mr. Willis.

Regarding that last claim, he said: “There are plenty of commentators who suggest that modern environmental law arose from[the1965’legalstatus’decision]so that’s enough to make me believe that it might be true.” ” he concluded. You can believe it, given what quickly followed, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency, Earth Day, and other accomplishments.

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