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INDIGNATION OVER WESTWAY
Although its defenders don't always care to admit it, damage to the environment can sometimes be justified by economic necessity. This can be determined, however, only if both the environmental and economic stakes of a given project—oil exploration, plant expansion, harbor dredging—are fully spelled out. Thus, federal agencies are legally required to prepare environmental impact statements before undertaking actions that could significantly affect the environment. For its part, the Reagan Administration has pushed for wider use of so-called cost-benefit analyses for purposes of assessing the economic toll exacted by environmental protection regulations. For any such exercise to be of value, though, the responsible authorities have to make an honest and conscientious effort to weigh a project's environmental and economic effects.
That effort has been dismally lacking in the case of Westway, a highway cum real estate development along the Hudson River on Manhattan's West Side that could cost as much as $4 billion in public funds and is backed by President Reagan, New York Governor Hugh Carey, New York City Mayor Ed Koch and the local construction industry and trade unions. Last week, Westway's powerful backers were dealt a setback when U.S. District Court Judge Thomas P. Griesa, ruling on a suit brought by environmental, civic and neighborhood groups, blocked federal funds for the undertaking and scathingly accused state and federal agencies of deliberately covering up the potential impact on a valuable striped bass habitat of one critical part of the Westway development, a 234-acre landfill in the Hudson. Unless overturned on appeal, the ruling means that Westway, as originally planned, is dead.
Griesa said that the question of Westway's likely impact on the fishery was "hardly a peripheral matter." The striped bass, the most glamorous game fish on the northeastern coast, is the basis of a $100 million-a-year recreational industry, yet its population has declined so severely that Congress has enacted emergency legislation specifically to study the problem. In December 1980, the National Marine Fisheries Service noted that "a substantial portion" of the Hudson River's juvenile striped bass population spends the winter in the landfill area, which is a significant finding in view of the fact that the Hudson makes a major contribution to the total Atlantic stock of the species.
But as Griesa indignantly concluded, the Federal Highway Administration and the New York State Department of Transportation, the two government agencies chiefly responsible for Westway, seriously misrepresented the landfill area's importance as a striped bass habitat. The misrepresentation began with a 1977 environmental impact statement declaring that the area of the Hudson in question was "biologically impoverished" and continued with the willful manipulation of subsequent data showing that the landfill is, in fact, an important wintertime habitat for juvenile striped bass and other species. One report on the new data concluded simply that "for the striped bass population, the project area appears to represent one of many available habitats," a circumlocution that prompted Griesa, an avid tennis player, to protest during the trial, "That is just about like saying that McEnroe was one of many available tennis players at Forest Hills." At another point, annoyed at inconsistencies and evasions in the testimony of public officials over who among them bore responsibility for the documents in which some of the misrepresentations appeared, Griesa said, "I have sentenced people to prison for securities fraud where the conduct was less blatant than the drafting of those instruments."
It would have been one thing if the authorities involved had acknowledged that the landfill area is a valuable striped bass habitat but had argued that Westway is even more valuable; the political battle over Westway would then have intensified, and the issue would have been properly debated on its merits. Instead, Westway's governmental proponents chose to practice bald deception. That deception constituted a serious breach of public trust. The fact that those public officials resorted to it also suggests that the case for proceeding with Westway, when weighed against the possibly irreplaceable fishery the project would destroy, may not be that strong.
A SEVERE CASE OF SCRUPLES
A story ran in The Kansas City Times the other day about a football player named Mike Miller who appears to be a most unusual young man. It's not just that Miller was the star quarterback last season at Southwest Texas State and had a 3.9 grade point average on a scale of 4.0, although you'll have to agree that's quite a combination. What sets Miller apart all the more is what he did after attending the recent rookie minicamp of the Kansas City Chiefs, who had selected him on the 12th round of the college draft and thought enough of his chances to make the team, probably as a strong safety, that they offered him a four-figure bonus to sign a contract. All Miller had to do to get the money was sign; if he subsequently told the Chiefs he'd decided not to pursue an NFL career, he could probably have just kept the money—even if he never so much as suited up.
But Miller chose not to sign the proffered contract. Although he said he enjoyed the minicamp and felt he'd been fairly treated by the Chiefs, he told the Times that he had a "gut feeling" that he wouldn't enjoy playing in the NFL. He also said, "I don't think I could live with myself if I had taken the bonus and then not played. There are too many of that type of people in the world today. It wouldn't have been ethical because I knew I wasn't going to play." Instead of banging heads in the NFL, Miller plans to return to Southwest Texas in the fall to do graduate work in education administration, presumably with a very clear conscience.
TROUBLE IN SPAIN