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MY COUNTRY, 'TIS OF THEE
Bil Gilbert
December 20, 1976
The future of mankind depends largely upon how well we protect the environment—the air, land, water and all that lives in or upon them. In the United States we have often misused these precious resources. Concerned citizens—once few in number, but now multitudes—have made environmentalism the No. 1 American social enterprise. This special article relates the story of their considerable undertaking
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December 20, 1976

My Country, 'tis Of Thee

The future of mankind depends largely upon how well we protect the environment—the air, land, water and all that lives in or upon them. In the United States we have often misused these precious resources. Concerned citizens—once few in number, but now multitudes—have made environmentalism the No. 1 American social enterprise. This special article relates the story of their considerable undertaking

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For reasons that even these few random reports make obvious, both friends and foes of the movement find it ludicrous to dismiss environmentalism as some kind of passing American fancy. A good man to underscore the point, not only with words but by his presence, is Elvis J. Stahr. A Rhodes scholar and lawyer, former president of the universities of West Virginia and Indiana and Secretary of the Army in the Kennedy Administration, Stahr is the quintessential Establishment man invariably found at the conventional center and almost never on the fringes of lost or impossible causes. Since 1968 he has been the president of the National Audubon Society. With 346,000 members, a full-time staff of 219 and an annual budget of $8,784,000, it may be the most affluent and influential private organization in the environmental movement. Sitting in his executive suite in the society's midtown Manhattan offices, Stahr chats on the telephone with a Senate staffer who has called about a piece of pesticide legislation. The conversation finished, he turns to a visitor and discusses the state of the environmental movement.

"I think most of the talk about the decline of environmental interest and influence reflects a kind of wishful thinking on the part of a few people who have always hoped it would decline," he says. "The fact is that our public support has never been greater or more solid; and political and government, even business and industrial, leaders show an increasing willingness to consult with us, involve us in the decision-making process. Obviously our point of view is not always accepted, but I think even those in opposition recognize that environmentalists are here to stay, and they respect our position, even though they disagree with it. There are very few who still try to dismiss us as sentimental bird watchers in tennis shoes, and they are not really serious opponents because they are so out of touch with the times."

F. W. Chapman Jr. is the environmental and energy-conservation manager of Atlantic Richfield. He sits on the opposite side of the continent from Stahr, in an office high in the ARCO tower overlooking the Los Angeles sprawl. His corporation often takes a position that, if not opposite to, is at least different from that of the Audubon Society. "This department is a good example of the influence of the environmental movement," says Chapman. "Ten years ago it didn't exist. Now there are 29 of us, including three natural science Ph.Ds. working on environmental problems. The rate of environmental reform may have slowed because so much was done so fast a few years ago, maybe too much and too fast, but certainly in our area, energy development, environmentalism is a potent force which we have to reckon with constantly. When it turns out we are on opposite sides of an issue, we find environmentalists tough, tenacious, sophisticated opponents."

Russell Train of the EPA says, "I think we have developed more clout. As a specific example, we proposed toxic-substance legislation in 1971 and lost in Congress, but this spring a toxic-substance bill passed the Senate by a 60-13 vote." And this despite the fact that the mood of Congress has changed. "There is now a basic reluctance to undertake regulation of any kind. It reflects strong popular feeling against government interference. Fortunately, we have most of the legislation on the books now. I'd hate to be starting from scratch."

Charles Warren is a California state assemblyman, representing a Los Angeles district. "Last spring I sent out a questionnaire asking my constituents if they felt government's efforts on environmental issues were right, too strong or too lenient," he says. "An overwhelming majority answered—too lenient. People want environmental controls, and if the legislature thinks they will accept less, they are dead wrong."

As all the available evidence indicates, the briefest and most direct answer to the question—what has happened to the environmental movement—is that it has become much larger in every way than it was in 1970, supposedly the golden year of environmentalism.

"In the last five years there has been a deluge of new environmental laws and groups," says Mike McCloskey of the Sierra Club. "As a result there is a huge institutionalized apparatus operating in both the public and private sectors."

Many environmental leaders agree that the "institutionalization" of their movement is one of the most significant internal phenomena of the '70s. Environmentalists have changed from being free-lance critics of the system to being administrators of it, and have developed the habits and outlooks of institutionalized men, acquiring offices, desks, staffs, credit cards, wardrobes and salaries similar to those of their executive counterparts in, say, the chemical industry or the Defense Department. Environmentalists are often self-conscious about this trend, seeming to feel that if they have not been exactly spoiled by success they have been subdued by it and are now less fiery than they once were, more willing to compromise with opponents whom they once only confronted.

"There are a lot of trade-offs now," says Bill Butler, an Environmental Defense Fund lawyer. Grant Thompson of the Environmental Law Institute says that he and his colleagues now spend less time on litigation. "Increasingly we are becoming members of and consultants to policy-making and regulatory groups," says Thompson. "Our input tends to make decisions more acceptable to environmentalists and thus tends to avoid direct legal confrontations."

There is an inclination to regard all large institutions or interests as monolithic and their individual parts as homogeneous. This is usually not so; certainly this is not the case in the environmental movement. Beyond topical differences over ways, means and personalities, the nation's some 200 private environmental organizations can roughly be divided into two major groups: On one side are those who seem mainly interested in natural problems and phenomena; on the other (accepting for purposes of distinction the curious notion that man is unnatural) are those more interested in human affairs.

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