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Citizen Environmentalists

James Longhurst

Publication Year: 2010

Using a case study of environmental debates about air pollution in Pittsburgh during the late 1960s and early 1970s, James Longhurst examines larger trends in citizen activism outside party politics, linking those trends with the rights revolution of the late twentieth century. He draws upon journalistic accounts, archival documents, legal records, and interviews to explore the actions and arguments of GASP (Group Against Smog and Pollution). This group of environmental activists gained access to political power through claims to citizenship and scientific expertise, supported by the organizational skills, social capital, and maternal rhetoric of middle-class women. Once they gained entry to a newly confrontational policy process, the group engaged in furious public debates over implementation, enforcement, and employment, all amid the decline of Pittsburgh's industrial economy. The grassroots actions of GASP, and many other groups like it across the nation, show that new developments in policy-making, concepts of citizenship, and the long-standing tradition of middle-class women's civic activism did more to drive the creation of the modern environmental movement than did changes in environmental philosophy.

Published by: Tufts University Press

Series: Civil Society: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface: The Citizen Environmentalists

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pp. ix-xxi

A funny thing happened on the way to study the public forum: I didn’t find what I expected. As a historian interested in public debate, I’ve long been working under the loose thesis that when people speak in the public sphere on matters of policy, they...

Acronyms and Abbreviations

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pp. xxiii-xxiv

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1. Power to the Public Hearing: The Importance of Citizenship to the Environmental Movement

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pp. 1-29

It was supposed to be a quiet meeting, but it turned into the political equivalent of an ambush. The topic of the day wasn’t anything new, and there was no pressing deadline; after all, it was just another advisory board meeting to discuss a proposed plan...

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2. The Smoky City: Public Involvement in Controlling Air Pollution in Pittsburgh

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pp. 30-56

Pittsburgh’s air pollution problem makes an excellent case study of public involvement in political matters, and it does so for two reasons. The first is illustrated in the lyrics to folksinger Woody Guthrie’s “Pittsburgh Town”: the political matter at issue...

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3. "I Belong Here!": Citizen Environmentalism in Pittsburgh and the United States

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pp. 57-84

In 1975, gasp made a remarkable short film, summarizing the organization’s history to that date and urging national viewers to follow its example. In the opening of the film, Pittsburgh’s polluted past is quickly established with a montage of historical photographs...

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4. Mothers of Urban Skies: Environmental Education and the Rhetoric of Women's Activism

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pp. 85-111

In the early 1970s, the Group Against Smog and Pollution published this description of their mission: “gasp works within the system in a responsible manner— prodding or supporting as necessary. gasp does not ask the impossible—but does demand...

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5. "Where the Rubber Meets the Road”: Implementation and the Rhetoric of Scientific Expertise at the Variance Board, 1970-1975

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pp. 112-139

After the excitement and emotion of the first round of public hearings on proposed air pollution control policies in the fall of 1969, the more prosaic process of implementing and enforcing those regulations fell to the county’s Variance Board. Yet those...

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6. Citizens and the Courts: United States Steel, Jones & Laughlin, and the Limits of Local Control

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pp. 140-170

Federal intervention and a wave of environmental sentiment empowered local environmental activism across the nation in the 1970s, but the actual process of air pollution control was essentially transformed by the substantive inclusion of citizens in the creation...

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Conclusion: The Significance of the Citizen Environmentalists for the Modern Environmental Movement, in Pittsburgh's Experiment, and in GASP

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pp. 171-179

The citizen environmentalists were created by a confluence of forces, from the opportunities for public involvement in federal legislation, to the legal philosophy of citizen standing, to the late-1960s support for the idea of participatory democracy. In turn...


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pp. 181-214


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pp. 215-226


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pp. 227-238

E-ISBN-13: 9781584659112
E-ISBN-10: 1584659114
Print-ISBN-13: 9781584658498

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Civil Society: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives
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OCLC Number: 649914508
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Citizen Environmentalists

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Subject Headings

  • GASP (Pittsburgh, Pa.) -- History.
  • Environmentalism -- Pennsylvania -- Pittsburgh -- History -- 20th century.
  • Environmentalism -- United States -- Pittsburgh -- History -- 20th century.
  • Air -- Pollution -- Pennsylvania -- Pittsburgh -- History.
  • Air -- Pollution -- Pennsylvania -- Pittsburgh -- History.
  • Environmental policy -- Pennsylvania -- Pittsburgh -- Citizen participation -- History.
  • Environmental policy -- United States -- Citizen participation -- History.
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