I would like to thank Dr. Tammy Nemeth, Editor and Book Review Editor of H-Energy, for organizing this review and asking me to contribute a response. I would also like to thank Michael Camp for reviewing my work and offering an interesting assessment.
Yes, the Scenic Hudson v. FPC (1965) was the first time that a court overturned an FPC decision, but the primary importance of that decision is that it changed the federal jurisprudence on standing. Environmental litigants would now have access to the federal courts. This was new. It was codified in all the major environmental legislation of the 1970s in the form of citizen suit provisions. Lawsuits were now a tactic available to the environmental community to an extent that simply did not exist prior to 1965. The book argues that this transformed environmentalism in three ways.
First, the tactic of the lawsuit became central to environmental conflict. It is so obviously a part of the toolbox available to environmentalism today that we take it for granted. However, before 1965, lawsuits were not a central means by which environmental advocates fought to advance their agenda. Environmentalists simply did not have standing to bring lawsuits in federal court.
Second, in part because ecological and scientific arguments could persuade courts far better than claims made about aesthetics, the arguments utilized by environmental advocates changes – becoming more scientific and ecological. This was a process already underway and one that much of the historiography accepts as differentiating ‘modern’ environmentalism from earlier forms of environmental activism. But that 1965 decision plays a powerful role in hastening and establishing this change.
Third, in part as a result of one and two, environmental organizations become more professionalized and staffed by lawyers and scientists. None of this would likely have happened if environmentalism was still focused on advancing its agenda using arguments centered on aesthetics and the value of wilderness.
Beyond thinking about how the nature of environmental conflict changes in the 1960s, the book argues that the massive expansion of energy consumption and production in the postwar decades goes far toward explaining why environmental activism increases in scope and pace in the 1960s and ‘70s. This is something that energy historians have been describing for the past four to five years but environmental historians have been slow to incorporate into the historiography of environmentalism.
One last comment, critiques that the narrative does not comment on this or that dam project or the energy policies of a particular president, fail to grapple with the central claims of the book. For example, New York’s bailout of Con Ed takes place in 1974, two years before Carter was elected. The utility industry was in dire financial straits long before Carter placed conservation at the center of US energy policy. In fact, conservation efforts were a means by which utilities improved their bottom line.
Robert D. Lifset
Donald Keith Jones Associate Professor of Honors and History
Oklahoma State University