It is very easy to get down when thinking about all environmental issues we face throughout the world. However, as Thanksgiving approaches, as most people, at some point or another I start to think about those things that maybe I take for granted. This week while walking I started to think about a class I am taking in law school on the Clean Water Act. Although we still continue to face severe issues related to water pollution, prior to 1972, industries and public water works did not have to attain a permit in order to discharge into waters of the United States. In 1990 major improvements were made to the Clean Air Act, which again, has some major deficiencies, but has also resulted in massive improvements to air quality in America. Here is a list of regulations passed in the United States since 1970 (which was also the year of the first Earth Day….not a coincidence)
The Federal Clean Air Act (1970, 1977 & 1990) established national standards for regulating the emission of pollutants from stationary and mobile sources.; The Federal Water Pollution Control Act (1972) amended by the Clean Water Act (1977, 1987), established water quality standards; provides for the regulation of the discharge of pollutants into navigable waters and for the protection of wetlands.; The Federal Safe Drinking Water Act (1974, 1977 & 1986) set drinking water standards for levels of pollutants; authorizing the regulation of the discharge of pollutants into underground drinking water sources.; The Toxic Substances Control Act (1976) provided for the regulation of chemical substances by the EPA and the safety testing of new chemicals.; The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (1976) established cradle-to-grave regulations for the handling of hazardous wastes; The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (1980), also known as the Superfund program, provided for the cleanup of the worst toxic waste sites.; The Food Security Act (1985, 1990) later amended by the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act (1996), discouraged cultivation of environmentally sensitive lands, especially wetlands, and authorized incentives for farmers to withdraw highly erodible lands from production.
Further, many states have their own versions of these laws and so government agencies and citizen groups often have different options in determining how to pursue a polluter. These legal remedies were not available prior to 1970.
It is also important to be thankful for all of the organizations that are now raising awareness through education and advocacy in relations to local, national, and international environmental issues. Think about the sheer number of groups that you yourself are involved with and then research whether that group was around 30 years ago. A recent article states that “the environmental movement has expanded in the number of organizations, members and total revenue almost every year since 1960.” (http://www.treehugger.com/corporate-responsibility/number-of-environmental-ngos-growing-by-leaps-and-bounds.html). Not only is the number of groups consistently growing, but so are the issues that environmental groups address. Here is a list of just some of the issues that some groups focus on exclusively, and others incorporate as an aspect of their work:
Climate Change, ocean acidification, conservation, species extinction, coral bleaching, renewable energy, energy efficiency, invasive species, habitat destruction, environmental health issues such as lead poisoning and asthma, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, nuclear issues, overpopulation, ozone depletion, land use and urban sprawl, water pollution, acid rain, mercury issues, smog, indoor air quality, resource depletion, logging, mining, toxic waste, fishing, shark finning, whaling, deforestation, E-waste, recycling, medical waste, and landfill issues.
Although I am often the first to complain about the state of environmental policy both in the United States and around the globe, it is important to recognize how far the environmental movement has come since 1970, and to appreciate the hard work and sacrifice that so many individuals made in order to get us to where we are. I think sometimes, especially during times of exhaustion and despair, it is important to look at what others have accomplished in order for use to regain the necessary strength and confidence that we too can make great strides in our work.