Since the 1960s, the League has been at the forefront of efforts to protect air, land and water resources. Since the enactment of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the League has worked for effective regulatory programs.
The League’s pioneering focus on the interrelationships among air and water management issues forms the basis of efforts to ensure that government decision-making recognizes that environmental protection must be a seamless web. The evolution continues as the League’s efforts go beyond fighting for pollution control and waste management strategies to demanding pollution prevention and waste reduction.
During the 1980s, the League fought hard to thwart attempts to weaken environmental protections through legislative and regulatory channels and severe federal budget cuts. League members pushed for strong environmental safeguards in the reauthorization of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. A League-endorsed reauthorization of the Superfund program proved a major step toward continuing the clean-up of the nation’s hazardous waste sites. The 1990s and 2000s brought continued pressure to weaken environmental legislation and underfund programs. The League has continued to push for strong laws and full program funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as well as for the defeat of across-the-board “regulatory reform” proposals that would weaken environmental protections.
After beginning its study of air pollution in 1970, the League reached its 1971 position in support of federal air pollution controls on industrial production, government installations, fuels and vehicles. The position opened the way for League action at the federal, state, regional and local levels.
Ever since, the League has pressed for full implementation of the Clean Air Act of 1970 and for strengthening amendments, while fighting against attempts to weaken it. Early on, the League opposed the continued extension of deadlines for meeting ambient air quality standards and auto-emission standards and supported visibility protection for national parks and the prevention of significant deterioration program to protect air in relatively clean-air areas.
In the 1980s, the Clean Air Act came under strong attack, and the League helped lead the effort to protect and strengthen it. Finally in 1990, League environmentalists were rewarded with passage of the 1990 Clean Air Act, which included major improvements to combat acid rain and smog and to cut emissions of toxics. The legislation mandated major reductions in sulfur and nitrogen oxide emissions through the use of best available technology and energy efficiency. It attacked both stationary and mobile sources of pollutants. The Act set national standards and helped cities and states deal with local problems. The League at all levels worked to ensure full implementation of the revised Act.
The League has also worked for tighter fuel efficiency standards (Corporate Average Fuel Economy or “CAFE” standards) for automobiles to improve energy efficiency and reduce pollution.
In the 1990s, antiregulatory legislation gave Congress unprecedented authority to reject new regulations issued by federal agencies by passing a “resolution of disapproval.” League members strenuously urged their members of Congress to oppose efforts to reject strengthened standards and the LWVUS strongly supported the EPA’s issuance of new National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter to protect public health. The League worked successfully to defeat amendments to the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) that would have allowed designated air quality funds to be spent on highway programs.
Following December 1997 treaty negotiations in Kyoto, Japan, on the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the League applauded the President’s initiative to make the United States a world leader in combating global warming and to seek negotiated, fair reductions and meaningful participation from developing countries in reducing greenhouse gases. League members lobbied against Senate passage of a resolution to oppose the “Kyoto Protocol” which called for nations to reduce their greenhouse gases and they lobbied their senators to reject any actions that undermine international negotiations to stop climate change.
EPA instituted major new initiatives to clean up the air during 1998-2000, and the League worked to see them promulgated. The League commented on EPA’s proposed new emissions standards for SUVs (sport utility vehicles) and heavy vehicles, arguing for the importance of controlling the mobile sources of air pollution that had largely gone unregulated.
In 1999-2000, while Congress fought to a standstill over clean air issues, the League produced a Q&A on Global Warming, a valuable resource for citizens on this key issue. The LWVUS believes that global warming is a serious problem that requires immediate international action. The League believes the U.S. government should move ahead immediately, without waiting for other nations, on initiatives to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases; such actions will reduce the threat of global warming, combat air pollution, increase energy security and create new jobs.
In the 2000s, energy legislation became the primary vehicle for attempts to weaken the Clean Air Act. The League worked throughout the 2000s to block these efforts. In the later 2000s, the LWVUS significantly increased its advocacy concerning global climate change legislation. In 2006, the League and other concerned organizations submitted a statement to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency urging strengthened air quality standards consistent with the Clean Air Act. Later that year, the League joined other groups in issuing a statement of principles on the importance of reducing global warming. The League also created a Climate Change Task force.
In 2008, the League called on Congress to enact legislation to significantly cut the greenhouse gas emissions which cause global warming and supported increased energy efficiency and a shift to a clean, renewable energy. The League called for a moratorium on the building of new coal-fired electric power plants and supported requirements for utilities to produce a significant percentage of electricity from renewable resources.
The League supported the Climate Security Act of 2008, as well as amendments to strengthen the bill. This legislation provided for a cap and trade system, which would have cut greenhouse gas emission from electric power, transportation and manufacturing sources. The emissions cap would be reduced over time to meet pollution reduction goals based on the best-available scientific information. These emissions reductions could be traded on a market, set up by the legislation, allowing polluters to buy, sell, borrow and trade emission allowances to ensure economic efficiency in the program. The League also urged elected officials to extend clean energy tax incentives. Though it passed the House, the legislation was side-tracked in the Senate by special interests.
In December 2009, the League was thrilled to participate on the international stage, sending an official non-governmental organization delegation to Copenhagen, Denmark, for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. In March 2010, 19 League leaders from as many states were brought to Washington to lobby congressional leaders on strong climate change legislation. In addition, the Climate Change Task Force developed and promoted a “Toolkit for Climate Action” to assist Leagues and League members throughout the country in the fight to combat global climate change.
In 2012, when EPA proposed the first-ever standards to control industrial carbon pollution from power plants, which causes global climate change and increases health problems, the League joined with its environmental and social justice allies in collecting the largest number of comments ever submitted in review of an EPA regulation. More than three million comments were submitted in support of the proposed rules for new power plants and urging EPA to take the next step and set carbon standards for existing plants.
With Congress unable or unwilling to act on climate change, in 2012, the League launched an initiative to urge the President to use his executive authority under the Clean Air Act to control carbon pollution from both new and existing power plants, which are the largest source of industrial carbon pollution in the U.S. The League strongly urged the President to lead the world in the right direction in the face of the greatest environmental challenge of our generation: climate change. With the proposed rules on new power plants in limbo and standards for new plants not yet proposed, the League used paid advertising, action alerts and new media tools to urge the President to get the job done.
Passage of an expanded Safe Drinking Water Act in 1986 and the Clean Water Act of 1987 marked important milestones in the League’s effort to ensure safe drinking water for all Americans and safeguards against nonpoint pollution.
Groundwater, virtually unprotected by national legislation, became the focus of state and local League efforts in 1990, when the LWVEF undertook a project to increase citizen awareness of the importance of protecting groundwater supplies, the source of 50 percent of the nation’s drinking water. Leagues in 17 states sponsored public forums, conferences, action guides and educational videos, “water-watcher” teams and media outreach. The local efforts were documented in a citizen handbook: Protect Your Groundwater: Educating for Action. In 1994, the LWVEF sponsored a national videoconference on groundwater protection with more than 140 downlink sites nationwide. The education efforts were complemented with LWVUS lobbying to address groundwater concerns in the renewal of the Clean Water Act of 1994.
Leagues across the country conducted surveys of local drinking water officials and held educational forums under the LWVEF Safe Drinking Water Project.
The project’s publications, Safety on Tap and Crosscurrents, were used widely by Leagues and other citizen groups. In 1994 and 1995, the League opposed amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act that would require EPA to conduct formal cost-benefit analyses with comparative risk analyses for every regulatory action and urged Congress to restore funding and adopt improvements to the act.
In 1997, the LWVEF sponsored a second, award-winning videoconference, “Tools for Drinking Water Protection,” featuring protection strategies and mechanisms at work in diverse communities around the United States. It was downlinked to more than 750 sites in the United States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Canada and Brazil, and allowed citizens, officials, business leaders and nongovernmental organizations to share information, winning the 1997 award for “Most Outstanding Broadcast for the Public Good” from the teleconferencing industry. In 1998, the LWVEF published Strategies for Effective Public Involvement in Drinking Water Source Assessment and Protection, a handbook to facilitate the public involvement required by the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996.
The League also focused education efforts on wetlands protection. In 1996, the LWVEF held a Wetlands Protection Workshop, bringing together members from 23 states, national environmental specialists and local leaders to explore the value of coastal and freshwater wetlands, highlight measures and programs geared toward wetlands protection and examine methods for effective communication of wetlands information in local communities. In 1997-98, the LWVEF provided pass-through grants to 11 Leagues to educate their communities on wetlands.
In 1998, the LWVUS supported the President’s proposed action plan to crack down on polluted runoff and to restore and protect wetlands. In related action, the League submitted comments to the Army Corps of Engineers urging revocation of Nationwide Permit 26 (NWP 26), which sanctions the loss of thousands of acres of wetlands every year.
In May 2000, the LWVEF sponsored “The Ech2O Workshop: An Introduction to the Watershed Approach,” where League activists learned how to take leadership in protecting their local watersheds and educating the public about watershed protection.
In February 2003, the LWVUS submitted comments to the EPA on attempts to redefine and limit the jurisdictional focus of the Clean Water Act, noting that the Clean Water Act covers all waters. “Whether large or small, they function as an interconnected system; excision of parts of the system [from regulation] will impair health and optimal functioning of the whole.” The threat to streams and rivers from mountaintop removal, a coal-mining technique that can bury those water bodies was fought by the League.
In 2005, the League urged Senators to protect women and children from toxic mercury by supporting a bipartisan resolution to reject the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rule to delay reductions in mercury emissions from power plants.
Delegates at the 2010 Convention shared information about hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as “fracking,” a process by which high pressure water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to fracture geologic formations in order to release natural gas. This process, as well as other fossil fuel extraction, poses a threat to water and other natural resources. State Leagues, using LWVUS positions on natural resources, particularly clean water and drinking water, worked to reduce the environmental impact of mining processes that contaminate and pollute.
In 2012, the LWVUS made its voice heard to several regulatory authorities of the federal government in relation to “fracking.” Comments went to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). In 2015, the League supported a set of five bills referred to as the “Frack Pack.” The legislation would help protect the environment and public health from the risks of hydraulic fracturing by ending exemptions for oil and gas production from major environmental laws such as the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Work on solid waste began in 1971, when Leagues studied solid waste disposal in their home communities and then turned their attention to national policies on reuse, reclamation and recycling. By April 1973, members had reached agreement that solid waste should be regarded as a resource and that although the major responsibility should be at the state and local levels, the federal government should play a greater role in managing solid waste. Diminishing landfill capacity and a growing awareness of the pollution hazards of incineration brought concerns about interstate commerce in waste and renewed enthusiasm for recycling in the late 1980s. Leagues continue to support national and state recycling efforts, waste reduction measures and household hazardous waste collection programs.
By the late 1970s, League attention to hazardous waste resulted in two major victories at the federal level. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA) provided for hazardous waste management programs, grants to states and localities for solid waste planning and implementation programs, and the Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) regulated products that pose an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment. During the 1980s the League continued to support reauthorization of these laws.
The League closely monitored RCRA implementation, commenting on proposed regulations and working for effective state programs. The League was a leader in efforts to pass legislation prohibiting the injection of toxic wastes into and above underground sources of drinking water, set location standards for siting waste-treatment, storage and disposal facilities, and permit land disposal of untreated hazardous waste only as a last resort for selected substances.
In the 1991-94 battle over reauthorization of RCRA, the League strongly supported the “reduce, reuse, recycle” hierarchy. The League pushed for mandatory recycling measures including minimum recycled-content standards, a national bottle bill and a pause in the construction of municipal incinerators. The League urged the Administration to issue executive orders to promote recycling.
In 1992 the LWVEF published Recycling Is More Than Collections, a grassroots investigation of recycling conducted by League volunteers across the country. The LWVEF continued its educational work with publication of The Garbage Primer and The Plastic Waste Primer in 1993 and with citizen training programs.
The League also supported pollution prevention and community access to information on emissions, as well as measures to enable state and EPA regulators to compel federal facilities to comply with RCRA standards.
In 1980 the League helped pass the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), known as Superfund. The act authorized $1.6 billion over five years for the clean-up of the nation’s toxic waste sites. Over the years, the League repeatedly has gone to Congress to ensure that a reauthorized Superfund contains adequate funding and safeguards to continue the job.
The League pushed for congressional passage of the Low-Level Waste Policy Act in 1980 and the Nuclear Waste Policy Act in 1982 to ensure a national policy that incorporates adequate environmental safeguards with a strong role for public participation in nuclear-waste repository siting decisions. Leagues across the country have used League positions to support their involvement in the siting of low-level nuclear waste sites, high-level waste sites and nuclear power plants. The LWVEF has published a wide range of materials, including the acclaimed Nuclear Waste Primer. Following passage of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1985, the LWVEF sponsored a public policy training program and published The Nuclear Waste Digest.
In 1992, the LWVEF signed a five-year cooperative agreement with the Department of Energy (DOE) to publish a third edition of The Nuclear Waste Primer (1993) and to conduct citizen education programs on nuclear waste. In 1995, the LWVEF launched a second five-year cooperative agreement with DOE to focus educational and citizen involvement efforts on defense waste management issues. In June 1998, the LWVEF held two regional intersite discussions on nuclear material and waste and issued a report to DOE.
In 1995, the LWVUS opposed congressional efforts to designate Yucca Mountain, NV, as a permanent or temporary repository for nuclear waste prior to studies verifying suitability. The League urged Congress to oppose the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1997, which mandated an interim storage site at Yucca Mountain. In 2002, the LWVUS lobbied in opposition making Yucca Mountain a permanent repository site for nuclear waste.
The League supports the preservation of the physical, chemical and biological integrity of the ecosystem and maximum protection of public health and the environment. The League’s approach to environmental protection and pollution control is one of problem solving. The interrelationships of air, water and land resources should be recognized in designing environmental safeguards. The League’s environmental protection and anti-pollution goals aim to prevent ecological degradation and to reduce and control pollutants before they go down the sewer, up the chimney or into the landfill.
The League believes that although environmental protection and pollution control are responsibilities shared by all levels of government, it is essential that the federal government provide leadership and technical and financial assistance.
The federal government should have the major role in setting standards for environmental protection and pollution control. Other levels of government should have the right to set more stringent standards. Enforcement should be carried out at the lower levels of government, but the federal government should enforce standards if other levels of government do not meet this responsibility. Standards must be enforced in a timely, consistent and equitable manner for all violators in all parts of society, including governmental units, industry, business and individuals.
Environmental protection and pollution control, including waste management, should be considered a cost of providing a product or service. Consumers, taxpayers and ratepayers must expect to pay some of the costs. The League supports policies that accelerate pollution control, including federal financial assistance for state and local programs.
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Proposed Interbasin Water Transfers
Interstate and interbasin transfers are not new or unusual. Water transfers have served municipal supplies, industry, energy development and agriculture.
Construction costs of large-scale water transfers are high, and economic losses in the basin of origin also may be high. Environmental costs of water transfers may include quantitative and qualitative changes in wetlands and related fisheries and wildlife, diminished aquifer recharge and reduced stream flows. Lowered water tables also may affect groundwater quality and cause land subsidence.
As we look to the future, water transfer decisions will need to incorporate the high costs of moving water, the limited availability of unallocated water and our still limited knowledge of impacts on the affected ecosystems.
In order to develop member understanding and agreement on proposals for large-scale water transfer projects, state and local Leagues need to work together. The following guidelines are designed to help Leagues jointly evaluate new proposals for large-scale water transfers.
The process for evaluating the suitability of new proposed interbasin water transfers should include:
The League supports:
The following criteria are derived from the League’s Natural Resources positions. They were developed to assist state and local Leagues in reviewing specific waste disposal sites and to help state and local Leagues evaluate both the process employed in site selection and the suitability of a proposed site or hazardous and radioactive waste treatment, storage and disposal facilities. This decision-making process should provide for:
Hazardous and radioactive waste treatment, storage or disposal facilities should be sited in areas that pose the least amount of risk to the public and to sensitive environmental areas. They should be located away from areas of critical concern such as:
The League’s approach to nuclear issues is one of problem solving. The League’s aim is to work constructively for the maximum protection of public health and safety and the environment and for citizen participation in the decision-making process at all levels of government.
The League opposes “increased reliance on nuclear fission” but recognizes its place in the nation’s energy mix. To achieve this objective:
State and local Leagues may oppose licensing for construction of nuclear power plants on the basis of the national position.
State and local Leagues may oppose licensing for operation of these plants now under construction on a case-by-case basis, after careful consideration of the need for power and of available alternatives and after notifying the national Board.
State and local Leagues may support licensing for construction and operation of nuclear power plants only in special cases and only with prior permission from the national Board.
State and local Leagues may call for the closing of operating nuclear power plants because of specific non-generic health and safety problems, but only with prior permission from the LWVUS.
The disposal of HLWs is a national concern, and national policy should govern selection of any facilities constructed, whether an Away-From-Reactor (AFR) interim storage facility, a Monitored Retrievable System (MRS) facility or a permanent geological repository. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 sets forth a program for selection, authorization and licensing of permanent repository sites and outlines programs for possible MRS and AFR facilities. In taking any action on this issue, the LWVUS will work to ensure that HLWs are disposed of in a manner that protects public health and safety and the environment.
During the 1981-82 congressional debate over disposal of nuclear wastes, the LWVUS made several statements regarding storage and disposal. The League testified that the storage of HLWs from commercial reactors should be maximized at reactor sites; the League would support a utility-financed AFR facility if one were needed to prevent nuclear power plants from being forced to cease operations because of spent-fuel buildup. In addition, the League supports an active state role in the HLWs decision making process. These concerns, in addition to LWVUS positions on the process and criteria for siting and storage of HLWs, provide the foundation for LWVUS action.
While only a limited number of facilities will probably be built, the LWVUS recognizes that Leagues located in states or communities under consideration as potential sites for such facilities may wish to take action based on national positions. In that event, the state League, or a local League working in concert with the state League, must consult with the LWVUS before taking any action. In making any action determinations on HLWs, the LWVUS will consider three questions:
Leagues requesting LWVUS clearance for action should address these questions, particularly the assessment of the suitability of a specific site.
State Leagues also should be alert to action opportunities relating to the process of state consultation and concurrence in the proposed sites.
The Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act of 1980 makes states responsible for the disposal of LLWs generated at commercial facilities within their borders. The act authorizes states to form regional compacts to establish disposal sites, and it allows states to refuse wastes from other states outside their compact region after January 1, 1986. State legislatures must approve a state’s membership in a regional compact, but a compact does not become operational and legally binding until Congress consents to the agreement.
Some state Leagues are participating in state-level or regional-level discussions/negotiations over regional compacts and are seeking agreement on the compacts. The LWVUS believes it is important for all state Leagues within a proposed compact region to work together to resolve any differences and establish agreement. Clearly, that agreement must be in accord with national positions. Because this is a national concern, the LWVUS must review and approve any agreement reached among state Leagues in a compact region before state Leagues can take any action.
A state League in the proposed compact region that does not support the League agreement cannot act in opposition to that agreement. For example, if a state League disagrees with the approved League agreement, that state League can only lobby its state legislature either to withdraw from the proposed regional compact, i.e., “go it alone,” or to join another compact region. A state League also may request LWVUS permission to contact its U.S. senators and representatives at the time Congress considers ratification of the regional compact to lobby them to withdraw the state from the proposed compact. Some individual state Leagues have undertaken studies of proposed compacts for their regions and have reached consensus on a proposed regional compact. Again, that consensus must be in accord with national positions. In addition, before taking any action, the state League must obtain clearance from other state League Boards in the proposed compact region because any action would involve government jurisdictions beyond that League. The state League also should consult the LWVUS before taking action.
A state League or a local League working with the state League can take action on a proposed LLW disposal site based on the public participation process if it concludes the process was inadequate or based on a study of the environmental safety/suitability of the proposed disposal site (see siting criteria). If potential environmental impacts of a proposed site affect more than one League, clearance must be obtained from the relevant League Boards before any action can be taken. If any unresolved differences develop among Leagues, the LWVUS will decide the appropriate course of action.
The League recognizes that transporting nuclear wastes increases the likelihood of accidents that could endanger public health. The League also recognizes that transportation is less risky than allowing these wastes to accumulate at an environmentally unsafe facility.
State and local Leagues can work to improve the regulation of transportation of nuclear wastes, but they cannot support “blanket bans” on transporting nuclear wastes through a region or city. There may be instances, however, in which a carefully thought-out ban, based on extensive League study, would be appropriate for a specific area. Such a study should include the overall subject of transporting and managing nuclear wastes, including regulation of types of wastes, packaging, escort, notification of routes to local and state authorities, effective emergency response, and the designating of routes that minimize health, safety and environmental risks. The study should not be confined to one aspect of the transportation issue, such as routes.
If after a study of the wide-ranging issues involved, a League concludes that wastes should not be transported through an area, that League must discuss the results of the study and obtain clearance for any contemplated action from all appropriate levels of the League.
In managing high-level nuclear wastes, the League supports equivalent treatment of civilian and military wastes. The League supports the state consultation and concurrence process, consideration of environmental impacts of proposed sites and NRC licensing for defense waste facilities, as well as for civilian waste facilities. The League’s position on equivalent treatment of all wastes includes transportation of defense wastes. Low-level defense wastes include wastes from military medical programs, naval ship-yards that maintain nuclear-powered naval vessels and research facilities. The treatment of low-level defense wastes, however, is not spelled out in the Low-level Waste Policy Act of 1980. Most low-level defense wastes are disposed of in special federal facilities; however, some are disposed of in existing commercial sites.
Leagues may take the same action on transporting, siting and storing defense wastes as on civilian wastes. Action on defense wastes should be in accordance with any relevant future National Security position(s) developed by the League.
Leagues contemplating action on nuclear waste issues should keep in mind that any action almost invariably will affect areas beyond their jurisdiction. Thus, in all cases, local Leagues should clear action with the state League and the League Boards at the appropriate jurisdictional levels.
One example of necessary inter-League action on a regional level is the low-level radioactive waste compacting process. The League believes this is an important national, state and local concern aimed at responsible management and disposal of low-level wastes. Many state Leagues are actively participating in their regional processes, and some are taking consensus on the issue.