All the Devil's Hole pupfish in the world, about 500, live in a single water-filled limestone cavern in Death Valley National Monument. The Monument is a unit of the National Park System, and the pupfish have been carefully protected as an endangered species. However, in 1968 ranchers whose property is adjacent to the Federal land drilled deep new wells and began to pump water from them for livestock. The wells turned out to be connected to the pupfish cavern. Because of the pumping, water levels dropped in Devil's Hole and the fish were jeopardized. In June of this year, after much litigation, the Supreme Court decreed that the Federal government could prohibit use of the wells in ways that harmed the pupfish pool. Because the decision found that the public right to protect a particular ecosystem regardless of surface boundaries or titles transcends private property rights, environmental lawyers believe it is of great significance.
On Sept. 8 General Electric agreed to pay the state's Department of Environmental Conservation $3 million to help defray the cost of removing PCBs, a toxic chemical compound, from the Hudson River. Two GE plants on the Hudson had been dumping the toxin into the river for 25 years. Between 1966 and 1972 the company discharged some 84,000 pounds of it. In addition to having an adverse effect on fish, PCBs are believed to cause dizziness, eye irritation and asthmatic bronchitis in humans, and cancer in laboratory animals. In hearings leading up to the negotiated payment, GE conceded that 65 employees at the two plants had suffered some degree of PCB poisoning. A few days before the New York settlement, a Georgia state agency banned all commercial fishing on the Coosa River (and advised sportsmen not to eat what they caught) because laboratory tests showed PCB levels in fish tissues to be higher than is thought to be safe. GE was again blamed: the company's Rome, Ga. plant had accidentally discharged PCBs 20 years earlier and since then the toxin has leached into the Coosa River.
In the spring of 1976 the principal members of a consortium of electric companies withdrew their plan to build a $3.5 billion, three-million-kilowatt power plant at Kaiparowits in a scenic area of southern Utah. Kaiparowits would have been the world's largest coal-burning power station, consuming 1,000 tons of coal an hour and releasing about 300 tons of contaminants a day into the air. Since 1963, when the project was first suggested, it has been opposed by the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Defense Fund, the Sierra Club and other groups.
The Wasatch National Forest area was used by a film crew to make a TV commercial for Phillips Petroleum. The theme of the commercial was that oil drilling and wildlife were compatible. To illustrate the point, the film makers rented two cougars, a deer and a golden eagle, shipped them to Utah and photographed them while they cavorted among the oil rigs. When complaints mentioning deception were lodged, the account executive in charge said it was a short commercial and there was not enough time to explain that the animals were tame. Later, ABC refused to accept the ad. NBC said it was studying the ethics of the matter. CBS approved the commercial.
A Federal court upheld the right of the Interior Department to restrict public access to national wildlife refuges if it was deemed to pose an ecological threat. Specifically, the case involved the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, near Virginia Beach, where Interior officials said vehicular traffic was threatening the food chain, killing crabs, turtles and waterfowl. In court, Interior was supported by 15 environmental organizations and opposed by local property owners and real estate developers. The ruling is one of the highest court decisions affirming the government's right to restrict public use in public refuges and parks for environmental reasons.
The National Wildlife Federation acquired for preservation a 150-acre farm near Madison that for centuries has been a roosting place for bald eagles. The acquisition was made possible by a $47,000 gift from Anheuser-Busch, which uses the eagle in its corporate seal. Previously a Dallas firm, which owns the 7-eleven food-store chain, had given the NWF $200,000 to buy and preserve another eagle roost in South Dakota. Also, Exxon gave $85,000 to establish an eagle data bank in which information about the 2,400 eagles still surviving in the lower 48 states would be collected and analyzed. Says Thomas Kimball, NWF executive vice-president, "The eagle is a symbol of freedom. It soars. It has sex appeal."
District of Columbia
So as to provide investors with better information about corporate practices and principles, the Securities and Exchange Commission proposed a new series of regulations that would require American firms to disclose how much they are spending to solve environmental problems and to what extent they are complying with antipollution laws.
A U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that EPA can order a reduction of the amount of lead in gasoline to forestall possible, though not fully proven, threats to the environment and public health.
There are now 126 species of native American animals on the Interior Department' endangered-species list. This is an increase of six from 1975. Additionally, some 24,000 varieties of plants are being considered as the first entries on a roll of endangered botanical species, including the entire orchid family of 17,000 species. Also in June the EPA announced that a major accident at a nuclear power plant might cause between 65,000 and 330,000 deaths, some of them as many as 30 years later as a result of cancer. This estimate was 10 times higher than one previously made by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which licenses atomic power plants.