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Power on the Hudson

Power on the Hudson: Storm King Mountain and the Emergence of Modern American Environmentalism

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    Power on the Hudson
    Book Description:

    The beauty of the Hudson River Valley was a legendary subject for artists during the nineteenth century. They portrayed its bucolic settings and humans in harmony with nature as the physical manifestation of God's work on earth. More than a hundred years later, those sentiments would be tested as never before. In the fall of 1962, Consolidated Edison of New York, the nation's largest utility company, announced plans for the construction of a pumped-storage hydroelectric power plant at Storm King Mountain on the Hudson River, forty miles north of New York City. Over the next eighteen years, their struggle against environmentalists would culminate in the abandonment of the project.Robert D. Lifset offers an original case history of this monumental event in environmental history, when a small group of concerned local residents initiated a landmark case of ecology versus energy production. He follows the progress of this struggle, as Con Ed won approvals and permits early on, but later lost ground to environmentalists who were able to raise questions about the potential damage to the habitat of Hudson River striped bass.Lifset uses the struggle over Storm King to examine how environmentalism changed during the 1960s and 1970s. He also views the financial challenges and increasingly frequent blackouts faced by Con Ed, along with the pressure to produce ever-larger quantities of energy.As Lifset demonstrates, the environmental cause was greatly empowered by the fact that through this struggle, for the first time, environmentalists were able to gain access to the federal courts. The environmental cause was also greatly advanced by adopting scientific evidence of ecological change, combined with mounting public awareness of the environmental consequences of energy production and consumption. These became major factors supporting the case against Con Ed, spawning a range of new local, regional, and national environmental organizations and bequeathing to the Hudson River Valley a vigilant and intense environmental awareness. A new balance of power emerged, and energy companies would now be held to higher standards that protected the environment.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7955-5
    Subjects: History, Environmental Science, Physics

Table of Contents

  1. INTRODUCTION: Environmentalism, Energy, and the Hudson River Valley
    (pp. 1-34)

    The story of the Storm King Mountain power project involves three things, each of which was undergoing tremendous change in the 1960s and 1970s: environmentalism, energy, and the Hudson River valley. Some historical background on these topics reveals how they influenced the struggle over the Storm King project.

    There has been considerable disagreement among historians as to how to define and describe environmentalism in the United States. The term itself did not come into common usage until the late 1960s, but a growing number of historians have argued that there existed forms of environmental activism in the late nineteenth and...

  2. PART I. The Growing Importance of Ecology within Environmentalism:: Storm King, 1962–1965

    • [PART I. Introduction]
      (pp. 35-36)

      While Consolidated Edison would eventually come to be depicted in the press as a bumbling and incompetent utility, the manner in which it pursued the construction of a pumped-storage hydroelectric plant at Storm King Mountain reveals a savvy and sophisticated company. In the early years of the struggle to build the plant, Con Ed quickly gained the support of the state’s political establishment, the residents of Cornwall, and the leadership of the region’s conservationist organizations.

      Two developments, which emerged around 1964, began to change the nature of this struggle. First, opponents of the plant began to benefit from the larger...

    • 1 The Co-optation of Establishment Environmentalism and the Emergence of Scenic Hudson
      (pp. 37-49)

      Consolidated Edison did not simply march into the Hudson River valley and expect to build a large pumped-storage hydroelectric power plant. The company was careful to cultivate the support of local political leaders, as well as the region’s leading environmentalists. Con Ed was successful in gaining the support of the valley’s most powerful and established environmental groups because these environmentalists lacked any framework or understanding of ecology; instead, they were motivated largely by aesthetics. Yet, aesthetics can be subjective.¹ Con Ed successfully exploited this weakness by dividing and co-opting the established environmental organizations in Hudson River valley. This strategy led...

    • 2 Scenic Hudson’s Losing Effort
      (pp. 50-65)

      Scenic Hudson had very little time to prepare for the upcoming series of hearings in Cornwall and Washington. Armed with an aesthetic argument and a locally popular project but lacking the time to organize a grass-roots campaign, the group found itself heard but steamrolled by arms of the government predisposed to license the plant.

      Consolidated Edison planned to use the village’s Upper Reservoir as the storage basin for the water it would pump from the river. Before the village could release its primary reservoir, however, it needed to receive permission to do so from the state’s Water Resources Commission (WRC).¹...

    • 3 Scenic Hudson Finds Ecology and the Zeitgeist
      (pp. 66-79)

      With Scenic Hudson having been steamrolled in the hearings over Con Ed’s plan to build the power plant at Storm King Mountain, the company finally had an FPC license to build it. The group had been ill prepared, it was arguing its case in a venue predisposed to license the plant, and it was reliant on the subjective argument of aesthetics. In the months and years after the hearings, all three of these factors would change.

      Having faced defeat in the hearings, Scenic Hudson worked to become more effective. It found and cultivated more receptive venues in which to air...

    • 4 The Politics of Storm King
      (pp. 80-92)

      The politics of the struggle over Consolidated Edison’s proposed plant at Storm King Mountain provide some insight into both the changing fortunes of environmentalism and this particular struggle’s potential. Finding ecology was central to Scenic Hudson’s ability to maintain its opposition before governmental forums in which an aesthetic appreciation of the landscape was unlikely to be persuasive. But while the science Scenic Hudson gathered was necessary, it would never be sufficient. The public perception of this struggle and of Con Ed would affect the judiciary and the regulatory apparatus the company needed to bless the plant. Perceptions are measurable by...

    • 5 The Scenic Hudson Case
      (pp. 93-104)

      In 1965, Scenic Hudson appealed the Federal Power Commission’s decision to issue a license to Con Ed in the hope that the licensing would be overturned by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Scenic Hudson’s lawyers made a critically important strategic decision when they chose to focus on what the FPC had failed to consider and not on those topics that the commission did take into account. As a result, Scenic Hudson’s legal arguments began to focus on the impact of the plant on the ecology of the river (and the immediate environment). Aesthetic considerations, though still important, began to...

  3. PART II. The Struggle between Energy and Environmentalism:: Storm King, 1966–1972

    • 6 The Federal Power Commission versus Environmentalists
      (pp. 107-119)

      After two rounds of additional hearings, a Federal Power Commission examiner once again wrote a report recommending that the Con Ed pumped-storage plant be licensed. The existence of numerous inconsistencies in that report suggests that the examiner, and by extension the commission, viewed the environmental objections of the opponents of the plant as obstacles to be overcome. These developments would add another four years to this struggle as the FPC issued a second license for the plant, in August 1970.

      Despite the commission’s bias in favor of energy development, the opposition to this plant essentially forced the FPC and Con...

    • 7 Scenic Hudson Attacks Con Ed’s Political Support
      (pp. 120-129)

      Scenic Hudson had long tried to influence public opinion, and it was only natural that it would seek to lobby those parts of the political establishment supportive of Con Ed. The organization began an effort to influence officials of the City of New York and a new Con Ed CEO while Rep. Richard Ottinger’s Hudson scenic riverways bill was debated. This narrative shows that, within the political realm, the struggle between energy production and environmental quality is affected by a wide and varied set of factors but that a rising tide of environmental concern in the late 1960s ultimately proved...

    • 8 The Expansion of Environmentalism in the Hudson River Valley
      (pp. 130-148)

      Among the legacies of the struggle over Storm King were the myriad ways in which this fight began influencing land-use decisions throughout the Hudson River valley. For example, the creation of the Hudson Highlands State Park was an attempt by Governor Rockefeller to deflect criticism of his environmental record. As this struggle persisted through the late 1960s, Scenic Hudson became only one of many new environmental organizations concerned with the region’s environment. These organizations included the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association, which would later change its name to Riverkeeper; Clearwater, a group most associated with the singer-songwriter Pete Seeger; the Hudson...

  4. PART III. A New Balance of Power:: Storm King, 1970–1980

    • 9 The Proliferation of Lawsuits in the Hudson River Valley
      (pp. 151-163)

      In the early 1970s, Consolidated Edison successfully thwarted efforts to persuade the federal courts to vacate its second FPC license to build a plant at Storm King. By the summer of 1972, it appeared that all the necessary permits had been obtained and the judicial appeals had been exhausted, and, indeed, Con Ed began construction in the spring of 1974. However, the Clean Water Act (1972) provided opponents of the plant the purchase from which to further challenge Con Ed’s efforts to begin construction. Shortly after construction got under way, a federal court issued an injunction for Con Ed’s failure...

    • 10 The Sex Life of Striped Bass and Con Ed’s Near-Death Experience
      (pp. 164-173)

      The fish issue was beginning to affect Consolidated Edison’s efforts to site and operate power plants on the Hudson River. As the company sought operating licenses for Storm King, an oil-fired plant at Bowline, and two new nuclear power plants at Indian Point, Scenic Hudson and the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association (represented by NRDC) were challenging the company’s long-standing assertion that their power plants did not individually or collectively degrade the ecological health of the Hudson River. Their success would change the balance between the need for energy production and the desire for environmental quality in the Hudson River valley....

    • 11 The Hudson River Peace Treaty of 1980
      (pp. 174-185)

      Bob Boyle, as well as his friends at the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association, always viewed the Storm King fight as one struggle within a larger and ultimately more important fight. It was a fight for the heart and soul of the Hudson River, a fight to prevent the drift that seemed to be carrying the river toward a future as an industrial canal; this fight required redefining the relationship between energy and the environment. The Hudson River could not forever absorb the environmental consequences of the region’s energy needs.

      The Hudson River Fishermen’s Association was created, in part, because Scenic...

  5. EPILOGUE: The Legacy of Storm King, 1981–2012
    (pp. 186-206)

    A lot has changed in the years since the Hudson River Peace Treaty of 1980. The legacy of the Storm King controversy can be seen in the ongoing story of environmentalism, energy provision, and life in the Hudson River valley.

    Storm King altered the relationship between energy and environment in the Hudson River valley because it effectively injected an ecologically based concern for the river into the public dialogue. The struggle over Con Ed’s proposed plant and the agreement that eventually scuttled the plan bequeathed to the Hudson River valley and New York City a number of individuals and institutions...