"There is little doubt that very small trace amounts of natural and synthetic drugs are showing up in waterways in some parts of the country. For instance, a stream study by the U.S. Geological Survey states: “Results show that a broad range of chemicals found in residential, industrial, and agricultural wastewaters commonly occurs in mixtures at low concentrations in streams in the United...
Fables of the Cuyahoga: Reconstructing a History of Environmental Protection
"This paper revisits the fable – or rather fables – of the Cuyahoga and their implications for environmental law. The actual history of the Cuyahoga River fire raises many questions about institutional choice for pollution control. Whether the history of the Cuyahoga River supports the conventional thesis that federal command-and-control regulation was the optimal means of addressing water pollution problems in 1969 should be an open question. Told in greater detail, the story of the Cuyahoga casts doubt on the conventional justifications for the federal environmental controls enacted in the fire’s wake. The river did catch fire in 1969 – or, more properly, oil and debris floating on the river’s surface caught fire – but this was not clearly due to state and local malfeasance or a failure of common law protections. And, while federal intervention likely did accelerate river cleanup in many parts of the country, there are still reasons to question the federal government’s record with regard to the Cuyahoga, and river quality generally.
This article is not intended as a comprehensive treatment of the federalization of environmental protection, or even a complete history of the pressures that led to the enactment of the Clean Water Act. Nor does it provide an extensive comparison of federal regulation and other policy alternatives. Rather this article is an exploration of the nature of the choices our nation has made in environmental law guided by events on and around a single river. The aim is to provide additional perspective to the questions of institutional choice which underlie environmental policy, and to suggest that the decision to reallocate primary authority over water quality to the federal government was neither inevitable nor an unmitigated blessing."
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