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Implicit in Reed's remark is an explanation of the real power of NEPA and its impact statements. More than fear of litigation, the fear of adverse public and political reaction has brought about the abandonment or alteration of projects which, as originally conceived, could not be justified environmentally. "They [environmentalists and their organizations] usually beat our brains out when an issue becomes public, and every issue becomes public if an EIS is required," says an industrial public-relations man who prefers anonymity, because his job involves sparing his employers such beatings. "We may have money, facts and conventional influence on our side, but they have the bodies, the letter writers, the academic heavies for hearings and media sympathy. Above everything else, environmentalists can get out the vote."
How environmental power is focused and used is described by Brock Evans, a Washington-based representative of the Sierra Club who is often nominated by both friendlies and hostiles as being one of the capital's most effective lobbyists. "In any controversy we make an attempt to get together first with a small group of local people," says Evans. "Initially, numbers aren't so important as dedication. I suppose what we are looking for are true believers. We may give them some modest financial aid and keep them supplied with information. Occasionally we can give some media help, and we have a program where we bring local people into Washington for political-action seminars and training. However, it is the local volunteers who do the real work, and they are our great advantage. Our opponents usually have to pay for everything they get. Nobody ever volunteered to get out press releases for a utility company. The Hell's Canyon fight is a good example of how we often work. [Hell's Canyon was a bitter, 20-year-long dispute involving a proposed dam on the Middle Snake River in Idaho. It ended in 1975 with an almost total environmentalist victory. The dam project was prohibited by law, and 662,000 acres were set aside as the Hell's Canyon National Recreational Area.] The nucleus of volunteers got together with other groups—sportsmen, recreationists, naturalists—and organized a larger regional association. Through it they began to make their weight felt in local and state political campaigns, and this activity sent a message to Washington that local opposition to the dam was serious and general.
When it became a national issue we helped here by supplying Senators and Congressmen with information and by identifying those who were undecided. Mail and wires from the local groups and our national constituency were directed toward those undecideds.
"Also we tried to stay flexible in the negotiations. There was an interesting example of that in Hell's Canyon. The boundary lines for the proposed wilderness preserve had been sketched on a map and arbitrarily they ran right through a small mining operation. If the original boundary had been kept, the mining company would have been shut down. A member of the Congressional committee asked me what our feeling was about altering the boundaries in favor of this mining operation. I said this seemed reasonable and it did not violate the integrity of the wilderness area. It was a small point, but I think it gained us some respect with the committee, and the mining company became a good friend of ours.
"That really is about all there is to our secrets," Evans concludes. "Nothing very glamorous or sophisticated. We do our homework and just hang in there."
As to whether the hard-work-and-persistence techniques of environmentalists are as effective now as they were a few years back, Evans says, "We are just as effective, but the opposition is much more effective. A few years back, developers and big industry didn't have the facts, didn't care about them, didn't pay any attention to environmental arguments. They lost time and again, not because we were so well prepared but because they were so badly prepared. Now they are paying attention. They understand the issues and public feelings better than they did. This makes them tougher opponents in a direct controversy but, on the other hand, the extent to which these controversies have made them regulate and improve their behavior constitutes an important environmental gain."
Of all the issues of the 1970s, the great Alaska pipeline controversy was one of the most significant, testing many of the new laws and procedures as well as the relative strength of the environmental movement and its opponents. In the late 1960s Atlantic Richfield announced the discovery of a major field at Prudhoe Bay on Alaska's northern coast. A consortium of oil companies was formed to construct an 800-mile-long pipeline to carry the oil from Prudhoe to Valdez, an ice-free port in southern Alaska. There were early environmental objections to the project but no immediate strategy for blocking it. In 1969 and 70 the Department of the Interior began issuing construction permits. Suddenly in the spring of 1970 this activity was brought to a screeching halt. It was pointed out that under the provisions of the newly passed NEPA legislation, no permits could be issued, no work begun until an environmental impact statement on the whole project was prepared. Several months later Interior issued a 195-page EIS, but it was scornfully rejected by environmentalists. They argued that it was superficial and in fact amounted to nothing more than a piece of pro-pipeline propaganda. Early in 1972 Interior tried again, this time making public a seven-volume statement on the environmental impact of the pipeline. This time environmentalists were dissatisfied because of what the report did show. They alleged that this EIS revealed that the building of the pipeline would violate laws protecting the land, water, wildlife and flora. These objections were taken to the courts and to Congress.
Faced with the prospect that the project might be scuttled or, even worse, delayed indefinitely (thus tying up massive amounts of capital), the oil consortium demanded that in its own, and supposedly the national, interest the matter be settled quickly and finally. By and large the oil companies were supported by Alaska residents and politicians who saw the pipeline as an economic bonanza for the state. The Nixon Administration agreed with this viewpoint. Legislation was introduced to exclude the pipeline from NEPA restrictions and give it immunity from further legal action brought by environmentalists. The bill was hotly debated in Congress. In 1973 the Senate divided evenly on the crucial vote. Vice-President Spiro Agnew cast the tie-breaking, pro-oil, anti-NEPA ballot.
This Congressional action shut off debate and cleared the way for construction of the pipeline (which is scheduled to be completed next July). However, most environmentalists do not now regard the pipeline battle as quixotic, nor do they feel they met outright defeat. The final legislative settlement included a package of stipulations spelling out in detail how and where the pipeline was to be constructed so as to provide maximum protection for land, water, wildlife, scenic and even archaeological resources. Also, the legislation provided for the establishment of a corps of Federal and state inspectors, some 125 of whom are monitoring the pipeline project to ensure that environmental laws and stipulations are being obeyed. Though some attempts by contractors to ignore or circumvent the restraints have been reported, the stipulation-inspector system has protected Alaskan resources better than most environmentalists had thought possible. At the same time, it has not proved nearly as onerous as many oilmen had predicted.
Perhaps of even more importance than the immediate benefit for the Alaskan environment, the pipeline fight, as much as any other single experience, seems to have convinced big industry that it is better to mend its environmental ways moderately than go to the legal mat on every new project. Addressing the National Wildlife Federation last March, Thornton Bradshaw, president of Atlantic Richfield, declared, "I would like to say to those environmentalists who slapped our face in Alaska and elsewhere: 'Thanks, we needed that.'... In our innocent state, we decided that the best way to transport the billions of barrels of oil underlying the permafrost of Prudhoe Bay was to build a large pipeline that would stretch 800 miles from the Arctic Ocean to Valdez, an ice-free port on the Gulf of Alaska—passing through some of the most picturesque and environmentally difficult country in the world. Permafrost? Caribou? Earthquakes? One hundred below zero? We didn't see them as particularly difficult problems. We were wrong, as environmentally minded litigants were quick to point out."