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Power on the Hudson

Storm King Mountain and the Emergence of Modern American Environmentalism

By Robert D. Lifset

Publication Year: 2014

The beauty of the Hudson River Valley was a legendary subject for artists during the nineteenth century. They portrayed its bucolic settings and humans in harmony with nature as the physical manifestation of God’s work on earth. More than a hundred years later, those sentiments would be tested as never before. In the fall of 1962, Consolidated Edison of New York, the nation’s largest utility company, announced plans for the construction of a pumped-storage hydroelectric power plant at Storm King Mountain on the Hudson River, forty miles north of New York City. Over the next eighteen years, their struggle against environmentalists would culminate in the abandonment of the project. Robert D. Lifset offers an original case history of this monumental event in environmental history, when a small group of concerned local residents initiated a landmark case of ecology versus energy production. He follows the progress of this struggle, as Con Ed won approvals and permits early on, but later lost ground to environmentalists who were able to raise questions about the potential damage to the habitat of Hudson River striped bass. Lifset uses the struggle over Storm King to examine how environmentalism changed during the 1960s and '70s. He also views the financial challenges and increasingly frequent blackouts faced by Con Ed, along with the pressure to produce ever-larger quantities of energy. As Lifset demonstrates, the environmental cause was greatly empowered by the fact that through this struggle, for the first time, environmentalists were able to gain access to the federal courts. The environmental cause was also greatly advanced by adopting scientific evidence of ecological change, combined with mounting public awareness of the environmental consequences of energy production and consumption. These became major factors supporting the case against Con Ed, spawning a range of new local, regional and national environmental organizations and bequeathing to the Hudson River Valley a vigilant and intense environmental awareness. A new balance of power emerged, and energy companies would now be held to higher standards that protected the environment.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Series: History of the Urban Environment

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Map

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

By 1965, Robert Boyle, a thirty-five-year-old reporter at Sports Illustrated and Time, had come to care deeply about New York’s Hudson River. For five years he had lived near the river, and he had begun writing a book about the remarkable place he called home. In his research, he had unearthed an American Geographical Society (AGS) map detailing river systems of the eastern United States. On it, the Hudson River was painted black. His curiosity piqued, Boyle called the ...

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pp. xv-xviii

I am indebted to a number of people without whose help this book would never have been completed. Early on, this book received the unwavering support of Alan Brinkley and Elizabeth Blackmar. Alan’s questions, encouragement, and example have pushed me to be a better historian....

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Introduction: Environmentalism, Energy, and the Hudson River Valley

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pp. 1-34

The story of the Storm King Mountain power project involves three things, each of which was undergoing tremendous change in the 1960s and 1970s: environmentalism, energy, and the Hudson River valley. Some historical background on these topics reveals how they influenced the struggle over the Storm King project....

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Part 1. The Growing Importance of Ecology within Environmentalism: Storm King, 1962–1965

While Consolidated Edison would eventually come to be depicted in the press as a bumbling and incompetent utility, the manner in which it pursued the construction of a pumped-storage hydroelectric plant at Storm King Mountain reveals a savvy and sophisticated company. In the early years of the struggle to build the plant, Con Ed quickly gained the support of the state’s political establishment,...

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1. The Co-optation of Establishment Environmentalism and the Emergence of Scenic Hudson

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pp. 37-49

Consolidated Edison did not simply march into the Hudson River valley and expect to build a large pumped-storage hydroelectric power plant. The company was careful to cultivate the support of local political leaders, as well as the region’s leading environmentalists. Con Ed was successful in gaining the support of the valley’s most powerful and established environmental groups...

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2. Scenic Hudson’s Losing Effort

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pp. 50-65

Scenic Hudson had very little time to prepare for the upcoming series of hearings in Cornwall and Washington. Armed with an aesthetic argument and a locally popular project but lacking the time to organize a grass-roots campaign, the group found itself heard but steamrolled by arms of the government predisposed to license the plant....

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3. Scenic Hudson Finds Ecology and the Zeitgeist

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pp. 66-79

With Scenic Hudson having been steamrolled in the hearings over Con Ed’s plan to build the power plant at Storm King Mountain, the company finally had an FPC license to build it. The group had been ill prepared, it was arguing its case in a venue predisposed to license the plant, and it was reliant on the subjective argument of aesthetics. In the months and years after the hearings, all three of these factors would change....

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4. The Politics of Storm King

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pp. 80-92

The politics of the struggle over Consolidated Edison’s proposed plant at Storm King Mountain provide some insight into both the changing fortunes of environmentalism and this particular struggle’s potential. Finding ecology was central to Scenic Hudson’s ability to maintain its opposition before governmental forums in which an aesthetic appreciation of the landscape was unlikely to be persuasive. But while the science Scenic Hudson gathered was necessary, it...

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5. The Scenic Hudson Case

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pp. 93-104

In 1965, Scenic Hudson appealed the Federal Power Commission’s decision to issue a license to Con Ed in the hope that the licensing would be overturned by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Scenic Hudson’s lawyers made a critically important strategic decision when they chose to focus on what the FPC had failed to consider and not on those topics that the commission did take into account. As a result, Scenic Hudson’s legal arguments...

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Part II. The Struggle between Energy and Environmentalism: Storm King, 1966–1972

As the Storm King case makes clear, the growing focus on ecology opened up new tactics to environmental advocates. The growing usefulness of lawyers and scientists encouraged the creation of an increasingly professionalized community of environmental advocates in the Hudson River valley and beyond....

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6. The Federal Power Commission versus Environmentalists

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pp. 107-119

After two rounds of additional hearings, a Federal Power Commission examiner once again wrote a report recommending that the Con Ed pumped-storage plant be licensed. The existence of numerous inconsistencies in that report suggests that the examiner, and by extension the commission, viewed the environmental objections of the opponents of the plant as obstacles to be overcome. These...

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7. Scenic Hudson Attacks Con Ed’s Political Support

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pp. 120-129

Scenic Hudson had long tried to influence public opinion, and it was only natural that it would seek to lobby those parts of the political establishment supportive of Con Ed. The organization began an effort to influence officials of the City of New York and a new Con Ed CEO while Rep. Richard Ottinger’s Hudson scenic riverways bill was debated. This narrative shows that, within the political realm, the struggle between energy production and environmental quality is affected...

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8. The Expansion of Environmentalism in the Hudson River Valley

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pp. 130-148

Among the legacies of the struggle over Storm King were the myriad ways in which this fight began influencing land-use decisions throughout the Hudson River valley. For example, the creation of the Hudson Highlands State Park was an attempt by Governor Rockefeller to deflect criticism of his environmental record. As this struggle persisted through the late 1960s, Scenic Hudson became only one of many new environmental organizations concerned with the region’s...

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Part III. A New Balance of Power: Storm King, 1970–1980

Consolidated Edison leveraged its success before the Federal Power Commission into a series of victories in state and federal courts. But the opponents of the plant benefited from the forums created by new permits that would be required as a result of the Clean Water Act (1972) and by a judiciary that was occasionally willing to skeptically assess the company’s assertions regarding the ecological impact of the plant. Already, the rise of a new and energetic interest in the health...

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9. The Proliferation of Lawsuits in the Hudson River Valley

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pp. 151-163

In the early 1970s, Consolidated Edison successfully thwarted efforts to persuade the federal courts to vacate its second FPC license to build a plant at Storm King. By the summer of 1972, it appeared that all the necessary permits had been obtained and the judicial appeals had been exhausted, and, indeed, Con Ed began construction in the spring of 1974. However, the Clean Water Act (1972) provided opponents of the plant the purchase from which to further challenge Con Ed’s...

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10. The Sex Life of Striped Bass and Con Ed’s Near-Death Experience

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pp. 164-173

The fish issue was beginning to affect Consolidated Edison’s efforts to site and operate power plants on the Hudson River. As the company sought operating licenses for Storm King, an oil-fired plant at Bowline, and two new nuclear power plants at Indian Point, Scenic Hudson and the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association (represented by NRDC) were challenging the company’s long-standing assertion that their power plants did not individually or collectively degrade the...

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11. The Hudson River Peace Treaty of 1980

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pp. 174-185

Bob Boyle, as well as his friends at the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association, always viewed the Storm King fight as one struggle within a larger and ultimately more important fight. It was a fight for the heart and soul of the Hudson River, a fight to prevent the drift that seemed to be carrying the river toward a future as an industrial canal; this fight required redefining the relationship between energy and the environment. The Hudson River could not forever absorb the...

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Epilogue: The Legacy of Storm King, 1981–2012

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pp. 186-206

A lot has changed in the years since the Hudson River Peace Treaty of 1980. The legacy of the Storm King controversy can be seen in the ongoing story of environmentalism, energy provision, and life in the Hudson River valley....


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pp. 207-268


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pp. 269-290


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pp. 291-310

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780822979555
E-ISBN-10: 0822979551
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822963059
Print-ISBN-10: 0822963051

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 15 b&w
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: History of the Urban Environment