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Environmental Postcards From the Edge: The Year That Was and the Year That Might Be

April 1996

Citation: ELR 10182

Author: Hon. Patricia M. Wald

This past year has been one of upheaval and trauma for environmentalists. The issues have been big, fought out at the highest levels of government and in headlines and TV sound bites. The stakes are high, higher than at any time in the quarter century since the movement's birth. While politicians have loudly lamented the legacy of devastating debt that continued high spending will inflict on future generations, environmentalists have reminded us that radical retrenchment in our protection of the environment will despoil our children's heritage just as much, leaving them heirs to an overheated, species-depleted, soil-eroded, and water-contaminated planet.

This year, the revolutionary 104th Congress put many proposals before Congress to rollback environmental protections—schemes to convert the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge into the Alaska Oil Reserve, to log the Tongass Rain Forest, to extend a moratorium on the designation of endangered species and their habitats, to kill energy-efficiency programs, to postpone new corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards, to do away with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) veto over the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' permits for wetlands development, to sell off public lands for private use, and to compensate private landowners for the ways in which public regulation restrains use of their property. A few of them actually got signed into law, including a "timber salvage" law suspending all environmental laws and judicial review with regard to cutting of "dying" or "dead" trees in national forests lands. Federal money for enforcement of environmental laws was cut by 25 percent and funds for building sewage treatment plants reduced severely; the Superfund law also suffered severe refunding problems.1

The author is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She served as Chief Judge from 1986 through 1991. This Dialogue is based on a speech the author delivered at the 26th Annual American Law Institute-American Bar Association Environmental Law Course of Study (cosponsored by the Environmental Law Institute and the Smithsonian Institution) on February 17, 1996.

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