League of Women Voters

Finally, the environment. Have we made progress?


As noted in the first LWVMC column of October, the petroleum industry knew in 1959 that oil and coal were radically altering the environment. The effect on the climate came clear in the mid-sixties when experts told industry leaders that carbon would catastrophically warm the climate by 2050. By 1972, both the GOP and Democratic parties focused on the environment, the larger category into which climate fits.

At present, the national League of Women Voters’ stance reads: “The preservation of the physical, chemical, and biological integrity of the earth’s ecosystem is essential for the maximum protection of public health and the environment. The interrelationships of air, water, and land resources should be recognized in designing environmental safeguards. The federal government should have a major role in setting standards for environmental protection and pollution control.” Both parties in 1972 agreed though the approach varied.

The GOP hailed the Nixon Administration for  turning “toward new paths for social progress — from welfare rolls to payrolls; from wanton pollution to vigorous environmental protection.” The GOP pledged :

• To protect the international environment.

• To establish programs for small firms “to comply with consumer, environmental and other new government regulations without undue financial burden.”

• “Establish realistic environmental standards which safeguard wise resource use, while avoiding undue burdens on farmers.”

• To make our towns and cities places where Americans can once again live and work without physical or environmental hazard.

• To set aside 36 new wilderness areas, adding another 3.6 million acres to the National Wilderness Preservation System.

• To make tough new proposals to protect endangered species of wildlife.

• To develop additional water supplies by desalinization, the discovery of new groundwater stocks, recycling and wiser and more efficient use of the waters we have.

• To develop flood control.

• To research and develop clean energy and energy resources on Federal lands, to supply nuclear fuels, to use energy more efficiently, balance environmental and energy needs and better organize Federal efforts.

• To tap shale resources, which came into fruition in the early 2000s and has resulted in groundwater problems as well as minor earthquakes.

Claiming that “there is nothing inherently incompatible between an adequate energy supply and a healthy environment” the GOP saw a way to grow the energy industry and its huge profits through “the work necessary to clean up our air and streams” and “reducing unemployment and poverty and enhancing the American standard of living.”

Notably, they focused on energy, including to “accelerate research on harnessing thermo-nuclear energy” as well as “the production of energy from the sun” — industrial solar, in fact — and geothermal steam.

In keeping with the old GOP’s money/economic development first philosophy, all environmental protection would fit, hand-in-glove, with what it called “prudent social and economic development.” When it came to oceans and land, the conservation of marine mammals must be balanced with the fishing industry. Land could be protected with controlled mining. Danger to the climate, that interplay of meteorological elements, now sits at the forefront of environmental concerns. 

In the coming 25 years, the fiscally-minded might support plans for carbon reduction and sequestration as well as sustainable energy industries, which also create jobs that future-proof businesses and industries. Based upon ESG (environmental & social governance) policies employed in large companies, industry leaders already see the value in this. It would be nice if they had the support of congresspeople and candidates, lest, in dragging the Fed’s feet in this necessary pivot, our political leaders create a scenario where the U.S. follows rather than leads.

In what ways did the Democratic Party differ? They asserted that “every American has the right to live, work and play in a clean, safe and healthy environment. We have the obligation to ourselves and to our children. It is not enough simply to prevent further environmental deterioration and the despoilation of our natural endowment. Rather, we must improve the quality of the world in which we and they will live.”

The Dems wrote that “inadequate enforcement, uncertain requirements, reduced funding and a lack of manpower” had led to “poorer health, lessened recreational opportunities, higher maintenance costs, lower land productivity and diminished beauty in our surroundings.” Then they too asserted that they could reconcile “any conflicts among the goals of cleaner air and water, inexpensive power and industrial development and jobs in specific places.”

The Dems supported:

• Enforcing the strict emission requirements on all pollution sources set under the 1970 Clean Air Act.

• Supporting a policy of no harmful discharge into our waters by 1985.

• Staffing and funding of all regulatory and enforcement agencies and departments to implement laws, programs and regulations protecting the environment, vigorous prosecution of violators and a Justice Department committed to enforcement of environmental law.

• Establishing strict interstate environmental standards for pollution.

• Regulating drastic alterations to ecology for the sole purpose of profits, such as “clear cut” logging, strip mining, the indiscriminate destruction of whole species, creation of select ocean crops at the expense of other species and the unregulated use of persistent pesticides.

Fifty years later, the environment still needs significant international and federal intervention. In 2023, National Geographic reports that 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris fill our oceans, with 269,000 tons floating on the surface, while some four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea. The NY Times and Tippecanoe County news sources are reporting on water poaching due to a patchwork of laws that fail to protect aquifers.

“People are shopping around for where they can exploit groundwater,” the Times quoted Reba Epler, a lawyer who works on water rights cases in Wyoming and New Mexico.

Not to mention that the oceans and atmosphere have warmed so rapidly that the Arctic will have ice-free summers by 2030. Fires, unpredictable rainfalls, surprising droughts, increasingly unpredictable hurricanes and typhoons, as well as flooding will increasingly displace people. National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration is warning us, urging us to get on the boat, make and support large-scale changes, which requires our national party leadership.


The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan, multi-issue organization encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are invited to join the LWV where hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For information, visit the website www.lwvmontcoin.org or the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, IN Facebook page.