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Modern Environmental Movement Traces its History to the Hudson Valley

Constitution MarshIn 1962, a 17-year legal battle began that launched the modern-day environmental movement in the United States. Consolidated Edison Company proposed building a giant hydro-electric plant on the Hudson River at Storm King Mountain near Cornwall. Despite pressure from local residents, Con Ed went forward with its plan, applying to the Federal Power Commission for a license to operate such a facility.

Three years later, after hearings and appeals and more hearings, the U. S. Court of Appeals set a major precedent when it sent the case back to the FPC to start the process over again. Its reasoning was based on the commission's refusal to hear much of the environmental impact testimony the first time around. For the first time in U.S. history, a court had decided that protection of natural resources was just as important as economic gain. It prompted Congress to pass the National Environmental Policy Act in 1969, which requires an environmental impact study on all major projects needing an OK from the federal government.

The battle on the Con Ed plant wasn't over, however. The FPC scheduled new hearings in November of '66, which lasted four years. The issue had now gained national prominence and many well-known people had rallied behind the cause to save Storm King. Singer Pete Seeger went to Scenic Hudson, the main group fighting the proposed plant, with the idea of building a sloop to sail up and down the river and promote cleaning up the water. But because the organization said the law suit had stretched its resources too thin, Seeger formed a new organization, Clearwater, which built the sloop while the FPC hearings were dragging on. Launched in 1969, Clearwater is still dedicated to the preservation of the Hudson River.

In 1970 the environmentalists faced a major blow when the FPC decided to grant Con Ed the license for the Storm King plant. The decision was appealed, but upheld, and the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

Not ones to give up, conservationists began to attack the project by challenging the water quality permits Con Ed was required to get. And in July of 1974, a new fishery study prompted the appeals court to order more hearings.

But during that time, Con Edison came under new leadership willing to re-examine the plan. And in 1980 the company agreed to give up the fight and donated the land purchased for plant construction to be used as a park.

Recent environmental concerns have centered around the high level of PCBs found in the river's waters, discharged by General Electric at its two plants in Fort Edward and Hudson Falls. After more legal battles waged by environmentalists, the Federal Environmental Protection Agency banned GE from further dumping and ordered the corporation to clean up the PCBs. After many delays, dredging finally began May 15, 2009.

Today, environmental groups continue to lobby on behalf of preservation of the river resource and keeping industrial wastes from reaching the Hudson. Riverkeeper monitors the water's condition, reporting industries that are dumping illegally into the Hudson's waters.

The Hudson River Estuary Program , part of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, leads a unique regional partnership to restore the Hudson in ways that support the quality of life so valued by Hudson Valley residents. The mission of the program is to conserve the natural resources for which the Hudson is legendary, promote full public use and enjoyment of the river and clean up the pollution that affects the public’s ability to use and enjoy it.

Here are more links to environmental resources in the Hudson Valley:

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