International Relations

Promote peace in an interdependent world by working cooperatively with other nations and strengthening international organizations.

A commitment to international cooperation as an essential path to world peace is deeply rooted in League history. Founded just after World War I, the League rejected a policy of isolationism as “neither wise nor possible for this nation.” The League’s commitment has taken many forms. Action to support free trade began during the Depression and support for aid to developing countries in the 1950s. As World War II ended, the League launched a nationwide campaign to build public understanding of the agreements setting up the United Nations and was proud to be one of the nongovernmental organizations first affiliated with the UN, a relationship that continues to this day.

In the 1960s, the League played an important role in educating citizens and creating the climate for normalization of U.S. relations with the People’s Republic of China. Also in the 1960s, after a reappraisal of trade policy, the League took action to reduce trade barriers while supporting assistance for economic adjustment in the United States. Throughout the 1970s, the League was active on trade issues, working for the history-making multilateral process that built a new structure for international trade.

In the 1980s, positions on Arms Control and on Military Policy and Defense Spending added new dimensions to the League’s international relations efforts. With these positions, the League supported international negotiations and agreements to reduce the risk of war and prevent the development and deployment of nuclear weapons, and worked against the costly, technologically suspect and destabilizing national missile defense program.

Adoption of a U.S. Relations with Developing Countries position in 1986 provided further definition to the League’s efforts to promote peace, with special emphasis on human rights, sound management of natural resources and economic development.

In the 1990s, the League launched training and education projects to build political participation in emerging democracies. Beginning in nations from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and extending to Africa and the Americas, the League experience has proved invaluable in developing the potential for citizen participation and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in democratic systems, especially for women leaders.

In the 2000s, the League expanded its “global democracy” program and updated its positions on the United Nations and International Trade. The League continued its strong support for the United Nations, added its support for the International Criminal Court and endorsed enhanced peace operations. The League reiterated its support for measures to expand international trade, while recognizing the importance of protecting environmental, labor and political values.    

United Nations

The League’s History

At the first League Convention in 1920, delegates called for “adhesion of the United States to the League of Nations with least possible delay,” in recognition of the need for a mechanism to facilitate settlement of international disputes. When the issue of U.S. participation in the League of Nations turned into a bitter partisan battle, active League support did not materialize until 1932.

During World War II, the League, conscious of its earlier hesitancy, began to study “U.S. participation in the making and execution of plans for worldwide reconstruction and for a postwar organization for peace to eventually include all peoples, regardless of race, religion or political persuasion.” In 1944, the League supported “U.S. membership in an international organization for the peaceful settlement of disputes, with the machinery to handle economic, social and political problems.”

Even before the United Nations was formally established, the League launched an unprecedented nationwide campaign to help build public understanding of the Dumbarton Oaks and Bretton Woods agreements to establish the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The League trained more than 5,000 speakers and distributed more than a million brochures during a six-month period. At the UN Charter Conference in 1945, the League was one of 42 nongovernmental organizations invited by President Truman to serve as consultants to the U.S. delegation. Since then, the League has maintained a presence at the United Nations through its UN Observers, working with UN agencies, member states and other NGOs to advance LWVUS positions, and by periodically hosting “League Day at the UN” for League members.

The UN position evolved through continued study. By 1948, the League called for strengthening the United Nations and its specialized agencies through increased use, adequate financial contributions and improved procedures. It also supported the UN’s peacekeeping functions. In 1962, the League evaluated “means of strengthening the UN under present conditions,” most notably heightened antagonisms between the United States and the Soviet Union.

In 1976, the League reexamined the UN system “with emphasis on relations between developed and developing countries and their implications for U.S. policy.” Members studied how world issues had changed alignments at the United Nations from a primarily East-West to an increasingly rich-nation/poor-nation focus and its effect on U.S. participation in the UN system. The result was a resounding reaffirmation of support for a strengthened UN system and agreement that the United States should work constructively within the UN to further our foreign policy goals.

The League consistently monitors U.S. actions at the UN, engaging in programs at the U.S. Mission and providing support for mutually held policies. The League continues to urge adequate funding for the UN, both by regular assessments and voluntary contributions, full payment of U.S. financial obligations to the UN and full U.S. participation in the UN system.

In addition to supporting increased use and strength of the UN peacekeeping machinery, under the UN position in support of “continuing efforts to reduce the risk of war,” the League has lobbied for Senate ratification of certain disarmament measures, notably the UN-negotiated nuclear nonproliferation treaty. Leagues’ efforts in their communities to develop public understanding and awareness of UN accomplishments, limitations and potential took on special significance in 1995 when the League celebrated its 75th anniversary and the United Nations its 50th.

In 1995, the League participated in the UN 4thWorld Conference on Women and the NGO Forum on Women in Beijing, China, sponsoring workshops on “Organizing Candidate Debates” and “Making Democracy Work: Strategies for Grassroots Organization, Education and Advocacy.” This was followed in 1999 with a League co-sponsored regional conference of the President’s Interagency Council on Women, “Women 2000: Beijing Plus Five,” to prepare for the Special Session of the General Assembly, “Women 2000, Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-First Century,” which our UN Observers were accredited to attend in 2000.

In 1997, the League was granted Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, which provides the opportunity to make interventions on issues the League supports. We joined other NGOs in submitting an official statement on behalf of the Girl Child that was presented at the UN Commission on the Status of Women meeting in March 2000. As a result of interventions, the League has successfully launched and supported the Working Group on Girls, a coalition of 80+ NGOs dedicated to focusing governments on the plight of girls throughout the world.  The International Day of the Girl is also celebrated around the world as a result of League and WGG efforts.  Women in Saudi Arabia enjoy the right to vote after the League provided an intervention that linked women’s enfranchisement with GDP.

League activity on women and girl-related issues continued in the 2000s. In 2002, the LWVUS submitted testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in support of Senate ratification of CEDAW (UN Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women). The League joined other NGOs in official statements to the UN Commission on the Status of Women:  advocating protection of girls’ rights in a life cycle approach to gender issues in 2004; emphasizing that financing for girls’ equality and for the empowerment of girls is a basic and sound strategy for the implementation of all human rights in 2008. The League also joined the United Nation’s Campaign UNITE to End Violence against Women, 2008-2015, whose overall objective is raising public awareness and increasing political will and resources for preventing and responding to all forms of violence against women and girls worldwide. In 2011, as the move to ratify CEDAW continued, the LWVUS submitted testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Civil and Constitutional Rights.

Since then, the League, in coordination with WGG, developed a comprehensive strategy to prevent sexual human trafficking at major events.  This strategy was adopted by the Special Representative to the UN Secretary General to Prevent Violence Against Children in her work with member states on preventing violence.  Additionally, it was adopted by Brazil and implemented at its 2014 World Cup and Mardi Gras, as well as by the NJ Attorney General for the 2014 Super Bowl. The United States has included components of the strategy in its 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report. 

In June 2014 the League formally adopted a position opposing human trafficking.  As a result of that position, The LWVUS UN Observers are focusing efforts in the areas of demand and labor trafficking.     

In 2002, the League urged President George W. Bush to work with the UN to develop clear policy goals and actions with regard to the U.S.’s possible intervention in Iraq. On initiation of combat operations, the League’s Board issued a statement saying that continued diplomatic efforts through the UN would have better served international unity, and military force should have been used as a tool of last resort.

Leagues nationwide work to realize the United Nations' Millennium Goals outlined by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at the September 2000 Millennium Summit and adopted by 191 states. In 2005, the League urged the Administration to support the goals of the UN’s 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, an historic effort to end global poverty, promote peace and strengthen the UN, and urged Congress to reject the United Nations Reform Act.

In 2015, League members had the opportunity to directly voice their opinions and witness UN conferences through the use of technology.  By voting on the “Goals We Want”, LWV members had an opportunity to encourage the adoption of post-2015 goals seeking to eliminate severe world poverty, encourage mandatory education for girls and boys at the primary and secondary levels and improve women’s economic and political empowerment.  

The League’s Position

Statement of Position on the United Nations, as Announced by National Board, June 1977 and Updated, June 2002:

The League of Women Voters of the United States supports a strong, effective United Nations and endorses the full and active participation of the United States in the UN system. The League supports UN efforts to:

  • promote international peace and security;
  • advance the social and economic well-being of the world’s people;
  • ensure respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms;
  • foster trust and cooperation among nations by encouraging adherence to conventions, treaties, and  other international agreements;
  • protect the integrity of the world environment;
  • achieve the full and equal participation of women in all aspects of civil and political life.

The United Nations should be an important component of U.S. foreign policy. The League supports U.S. policies that strengthen the UN’s capacity to solve global problems and promote prosperity throughout the world. The United States should work actively and constructively within the UN system, exercising diplomatic leadership in advance of decision-making. The United States should not place conditions on its participation in the United Nations, except in the most extreme cases, such as flagrant violations of the Charter.

The League supports UN leadership in a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach to promoting world peace and security that includes ongoing efforts to eliminate the underlying causes of conflict. UN peace operations should include such strategies as

  • an increased emphasis on preventive diplomacy and the use of such techniques as an early warning system to identify possible threats to peace and mediation to help resolve disputes;
  • preventive deployment of UN peacekeepers to forestall the outbreak of hostilities;
  • enhanced capacity to respond rapidly and effectively to contain conflict and establish a just and stable peace;
  • UN peacekeeping operations that have strong political and financial support from the world community and the consent of the local parties;
  • military intervention, as a last resort, to halt genocide and other crimes against humanity and to prevent the spread of conflict;
  • protection of civilian populations, including protection of displaced persons;
  • long-term commitment, both pre- and post-conflict, to establishing the institutions and conditions needed for real economic and social development;
  • enhanced capacity at UN headquarters to plan, manage and support UN peace operations.

The United States should support all aspects of UN peace operations. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have an important role to play in peace operations, including participating in behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts and providing humanitarian aid.

The League strongly supports the central role of the United Nations in addressing the social, economic and humanitarian needs of all people. The advancement and empowerment of women is fundamental to achieving peace and prosperity and should be a high priority for UN programs. Other areas for emphasis include

  • eradicating poverty and hunger;
  • improving basic living standards worldwide;
  • promoting the well-being and potential of children, with special attention to the girl child;
  • promoting human and political rights;
  • ensuring access to a basic education for all;
  • ensuring a basic level of health care for all;
  • protecting the environment and the world’s natural resources.

The League supports efforts to strengthen the development and humanitarian work of the United Nations through greater coordination among agencies, more efficient use of resources, additional funding as required, and more partnerships with NGOs and other non-state actors. UN-sponsored world conferences are valuable forums for building international consensus and developing practical plans of action to solve global problems.

The United States should provide strong leadership and financial support to the UN specialized agencies, participate constructively in international conferences, and fulfill all agreed-upon commitments.

The League believes that world peace and progress rest in part on a body of international law developed through conventions, covenants, and treaties and on the judgments of international courts. Disputes between nations should be considered and settled in the International Court of Justice, and its judicial decisions should be honored.

The League supports the creation of a permanent international tribunal, such as the International Criminal Court, to try individuals charged with crimes of genocide, war crimes, and other systematic crimes against humanity.

All court procedures must meet the highest judicial standards, including guarantees of due process protections and the integrity and impartiality of the courts’ officials.

The League supports full U.S. participation in the international judicial system and U.S. ratification and observance of international treaties and conventions consistent with LWVUS principles and positions.

The League supports the basic principles of the UN Charter. The League supports one-nation, one-vote in the General Assembly, the veto power in the Security Council, and a strong, effective office of the Secretary-General. The League supports measures to make the Security Council a more representative body that better reflects the diverse interests of UN member nations and the world's people. The United States should work to encourage member nations to consider the needs of the world as a whole and avoid divisive politicization of issues.

Member nations have the collective responsibility to provide the resources necessary for the UN to carry out its mandates, with each providing financial contributions commensurate with its ability to pay. The United States should meet its financial obligations to the UN on time, in full, and without conditions.


The League’s History

The League’s long-standing interest in world trade has its origins in a 1920 study of high postwar prices. This study and another on the economic causes of war convinced the League that high tariffs and restrictive trade practices add to consumer prices, reduce competition in the marketplace and cause friction among nations. The Depression accentuated the impact of high tariffs and moved the League to take action for the first time on trade matters. Since then, the League has been involved with every major piece of trade legislation, always strongly supporting measures that expand rather than restrict trade.

After an extensive reappraisal in the early 1960s, the League urged that the United States systematically reduce trade barriers, delegate long-term, flexible negotiating authority to the executive and use trade adjustment assistance as a positive alternative to import restrictions. In 1965, the League added another dimension – support for measures to relax restrictions on trade with Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The 1972 Convention, during a time of dollar devaluation and balance-of-trade deficits, asked Leagues to reexamine trade policies to find new ways to help the economy adjust to changing trade patterns, especially measures to counter rising protectionist sentiment. The revised 1973 position in support of liberal trade policies placed a new emphasis on expanding and improving adjustment assistance programs.

The League vigorously supported the Trade Act of 1974, which led to U.S. participation in the Tokyo Round of tariff negotiations under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). In 1979, the League mounted a major lobbying effort to assure implementation of the Tokyo Round of multilateral trade negotiations (MTN) agreements designed to establish a fair, open and disciplined trading structure for the next decade. Throughout the five years of negotiations, the League worked to deflect protectionist efforts in Congress to block the negotiations. Through its efforts, the League helped assure overwhelming passage of the Trade Agreements Act of 1979, the largest single trade bill in U.S. history. Attempts to undermine the trade agreements have been vigorously opposed by the League.

The League also has been instrumental in promoting measures to improve trade opportunities for developing countries and in defeating protectionist amendments to foreign assistance appropriation bills. The League strongly supported the Trade and International Economic Policy Reform Act of 1987 and worked to defeat restrictive amendments.

In 2002, the League voiced its opposition to providing the President with new negotiating authority for trade agreements because the proposed authority did not adequately provide for protecting environmental, labor and political values as part of trade agreements.

The League’s Positions

Statement of Position on Liberal Trade Policies, as Announced by National Board, June 1973 and Updated, April 2002:

The League of Women Voters of the United States supports a liberal U.S. trade policy aimed at reducing trade barriers and expanding international trade. Such a policy helps foster international cooperation, democratic values, and economic prosperity at home and abroad as well as benefiting consumers through lowered prices, expanded choice and improved products and services. The League believes that U.S. trade policy should be based on the long-term public interest, not on special interests, and should advance the achievement of other important policy goals, including

  • improvement of basic living standards worldwide; reduction of inequalities within and among nations;
  • protection of the environment and global natural resources;
  • respect for human, labor, religious and political rights;
  • improvement of labor conditions around the world.

The League endorses the worldwide systematic reduction of tariffs, subsidies and quotas. The League also supports the reduction of non-tariff barriers to trade consistent with the goals and strategies set forth in this position statement. Administrative and customs procedures should be efficient and flexible.

The League supports U.S. participation in an international trade organization aimed at promoting worldwide economic growth via an open trading system. This organization should have the power to hold nations accountable for commitments made in multilateral trade treaties and should recognize the legitimacy of international agreements in the areas of the environment, labor, and human rights. Its proceedings should be open to scrutiny by the public, the press, and non-governmental organizations. The public should have timely access to a wide range of its documents, and its dispute settlement process should allow friend-of-the-court briefs.

The organization should recognize the legitimacy of a country’s measures in the areas of the environment, health, labor and human rights that are more stringent than international standards or than those of its trading partners. These measures should not discriminate between domestic products and imports and should not be used as a pretext for restricting the flow of trade. The League believes that trade agreements should be negotiated multilaterally in the broadest possible international forum. Regional and bilateral trade agreements can be useful steppingstones to broader trade liberalization but should not be allowed to block progress in multilateral negotiations nor to marginalize poor countries.

The League believes that the U.S. trade policy-making process should be open, transparent, and efficient and should advance League trade policy goals. The President should be given the authority to negotiate trade agreements within prior guidelines and conditions set by Congress. Congress should have an adequate but limited time period to debate and accept or reject the resulting proposed agreements, without amendment. Congress should take an active part in the policy-making process, establishing trade priorities and negotiating objectives and observing and monitoring trade negotiations. Congress should have the resources and staff expertise necessary to fulfill its trade responsibilities. The trade policy-making processes of both Congress and the executive branch should include meaningful opportunities for input from a broad range of public interest perspectives, as well as from business interests, and should include timely assessment of the impact of proposed trade agreements.

The League supports a variety of trade-related strategies to protect the environment and promote labor, political, religious and human rights, including

  • trade negotiations and trade agreements that lead to progress on environmental and social objectives;
  • monitoring and reporting of countries’ practices and performance in these areas;
  • recognition of the legitimacy of multilateral environmental agreements;
  • strengthening the International Labor Organization and promoting ratification of ILO core labor rights;
  • promoting ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and similar international agreements;
  • international sanctions aimed at ending egregious violations of human rights;
  • legitimate labeling and certification programs (e.g., eco-labeling);
  • protection of endangered species;
  • elimination of environmentally and economically harmful subsidies and incentives (e.g., for fishing, timber, agriculture);
  • codes of conduct to encourage responsible business practices in these areas (e.g., guarding against abusive child labor);
  • domestic regulations and practices that advance environmental and social goals and that are not a pretext for restricting trade; and
  • aid to developing countries to improve their ability to create and enforce national laws protecting the environment and human and labor rights.

The League supports trade and related policies that address the special needs of developing countries, with emphasis on economic growth and improving income distribution. The League supports such measures as:

  • priority elimination of tariffs and quotas on exports of developing countries;
  • longer adjustment periods and financial and technical assistance for implementation of trade commitments;
  • special measures to ensure access to essential medicines;
  • financial and technical assistance to enable developing countries to participate effectively in the world trading system;
  • financial aid for infrastructure improvements; and
  • policies that recognize the special circumstances of developing countries in the areas of food security and transition to the world trading system.

The League supports strong U.S. leadership in, and financial support of, international institutions and programs that reduce poverty and address the special needs of developing countries in the areas of the environment and human and labor rights.

The League supports measures to address the adverse impact of international trade on domestic workers, firms and industries. Training, education and safety net programs, such as cash assistance, relocation assistance, and health care, should be enhanced and made easily available to dislocated workers, whether or not a trade connection can be made. Portability of health care coverage, pension rights and other fringe benefits should also be assured. The League supports temporary trade barriers consistent with international trade rules to permit firms seriously injured by surging import competition to adjust to changed conditions.

U.S. Relations with
Developing Countries

The League’s History

The League’s work on development issues began in the 1920s, when members studied the economic and social work of various international organizations. In 1940, the League studied proposals for closer economic and cultural relations between the United States and other American republics, including possible financial and technical cooperation. After World War II, the League supported the implementation of the Marshall Plan and President Truman’s Point Four technical assistance program as part of its commitment to international efforts to support the poor and emerging nations of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

The League’s position on Development Assistance evolved through two restudies in 1964 and 1970. The latter reiterated the need for separating development from military aid. The League supported the “basic needs” approach mandated by Congress in 1973 and adopted by the Agency for International Development (AID).

In the 1980s, the League’s Development Assistance position was revised to reflect the results of the study of U.S. Relations with Developing Countries. Members reviewed current trends in trade, development assistance and the United Nations. They also examined U.S. commitments to developing countries, criteria for evaluating development and military assistance and the role of U.S.-Soviet relations in determining U.S. policies toward developing countries.

The resulting 1986 position emphasizes development assistance over military assistance as the most effective means of meeting the long-term social and economic needs of developing countries and downplays the role of international competition in determining U.S. policies toward developing countries. In 1986, the League urged Congress to reject aid that included military assistance to Nicaraguan counter-revolutionaries (“contras”) and address the region’s long-term social and economic needs. In 1987, the League pressured Congress to increase development and humanitarian aid in the foreign aid budget.

In the 1990s, the LWVEF began a series of global outreach projects which led to the current Global Democracy Program. “Thinking Globally” was designed to educate Americans about the links between their communities and the developing world.

Outreach in Europe in the 1990s led to the “Global Community Dialogue” program in 1992 with the “Building Political Participation in Poland” initiative and subsequent citizen exchange projects to share grassroots skills with citizens in Hungary, Russia, Ukraine, the American Republics and Africa.

In 1996, the LWVEF opened a U.S. coordination office for absentee voting in the post-war elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In an unprecedented effort to enfranchise Bosnian refugees and displaced persons residing in 55 countries for elections in 1996, 1997 and 1998, the League worked with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on the “Bosnian Citizen Get-Out-the-Vote Campaign.” The LWVEF formed a partnership with the League of Women Voters in Bosnia and Herzegovina to help women take an effective role in the post-war reconstruction process.

Since 2005, the League has participated in The Open World Leadership Center’s Civic Hosting Program, first introducing Russian leaders to U.S. democracy and subsequently hosting visitors from Ukraine and Central Asia.

Outreach in Africa started in the late 1990s when the LWVEF joined Civitas Africa to share methodologies, tools and experiences with civic education groups. A citizen exchange program in Sub-Saharan Africa with grassroots organizations and activists, “Woman Power in Politics: Building Grassroots Democracy in Africa,” was initiated with League members traveling to Africa as co-trainers in democracy-building skills until 2002. The League also worked with four nongovernmental organizations in Malawi to train thousands of poll monitors as civil society observers on Election Day 2004. It joined with the National Council of Women of Kenya to sponsor “Kenyans Working Together for Good Governance: Civil Society, Government and Members of Parliament” in 2006, including an exchange program between Kenyan citizens and League staff

Outreach in the Americas began with “Making Democracy Work in the Americas,” at the Vital Voices of the Americas conference in 1998, followed by the League hosting women civic leaders and officials from Latin America in 1999.

In the 2000s, the League completed a successful program in Brazil called “Women in Political Leadership,” was invited by the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) to join a team of International Election Observers for Paraguayan elections, sponsored “Women in the Americas: Paths to Political Power,” and participated in a State Department sponsored exchange “Connecting Civil Society and Future Legislators from Colombia and Brazil.”

The League continued its efforts to work with women around the world in 2010-2012.  During this period the League attended an international conference in La Havana, Cuba, organized by the Gender Department of the University of La Havana titled "Women in the XXI Century." The League also accepted invitations to work with women in democratic transitions in Tunisia and Egypt in North Africa; in Antananarivo, Madagascar, in Africa; in Dhaka, Bangladesh in South Asia; and in Belgrade, Serbia in Southeast Europe.

In early 2012 citing the League’s outstanding record of nonpartisanship in advocating and promoting informed political participation in government, the U.S. Government selected the League to serve as its nongovernmental partner in the 2012 G8 Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative (BMENA). 

The year-long initiative had as its ultimate goal to achieve agreement—among the G8 and region foreign ministers—on the language of the final declaration of the 9th Forum for the Future, the culminating meeting of the initiative.  The second goal was to achieve civil society and private sector agreement on the recommendations forwarded to the governments. Both goals were achieved due to a steady building of trust among the participants as a result of the hard work of the League, the U.S. Government, the Republic of Tunisia, and the three nongovernmental organizations. 

The League’s Positions

Statement of Position on U.S. Relations with Developing Countries, as Announced by National Board, April 1986:

The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that U.S. interests in developing countries should reflect the reality of global interdependence. Paramount among these interests are reducing the risk of military conflict, promoting the sound management of global resources, protecting human rights, stimulating economic growth and improving the quality of life in developing countries. U.S. policies toward developing countries should not be based on maintaining U.S. preeminence.

The LWVUS strongly believes that development assistance, which is designed to meet the long-term social and economic needs of developing countries, is the most effective means of promoting legitimate U.S. interests. Military assistance and the direct military involvement of U.S. forces are not appropriate means to further the League’s stated paramount interests in developing countries.

Developing countries should not be the pawns or the playing fields for geopolitical competition. The relationship between the superpowers should not be an important factor in determining U.S. policies toward developing countries. The LWVUS supports efforts to reduce international competition in developing countries, including:

  • enhancing the role of the United Nations and other multilateral organizations;
  • supporting regional approaches to conflict resolution;
  • encouraging cooperative efforts to promote the sound management of global resources and improve the quality of life;
  • promoting measures to reduce tensions and increase communication, including scientific and cultural exchanges and other cooperative programs.

Statement of Position on International Development Assistance, as Announced by National Board, April 1970 and Revised, April 1986:

The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that long-term requirements for world peace, humanitarian obligations and long-range national interests demand U.S. policies that help developing countries reach self-sustaining economic growth.

League members understand that the development process encompasses more than economic growth and urge that the focus be on the human concerns of development and on an improved quality of life for the people of developing countries. U.S. development assistance policies should enhance human dignity and fulfill basic human needs. The policies should be coordinated with other development efforts, and they should respect cultural differences. The League favors greater participation by the recipient nations in the planning and execution of development programs. The development effort should be one of a partnership between developed and developing countries. Development programs should be long-range, adequately financed, effectively coordinated and administered.

League members recognize that population pressures affect all other aspects of the development process. The League supports U.S. efforts to assist other nations in their population planning programs, in accordance with the culture and mores of each country. The League also emphasizes strongly the importance of programs for nutrition, health, employment and education.

The League advocates that the proportion of U.S. assistance given through multilateral channels should be substantially increased, with concurrent efforts being made to strengthen the multilateral agencies where necessary.

The League deems it essential that the trend of reduced aid be reversed and that U.S. contributions for development assistance be increased.

League members believe that aid alone is not enough to meet the needs of developing countries. Measures other than direct grants and loans must be utilized. The League advocates such measures as reduced tied aid, prevention and relief of debt burdens, and changed patterns of trade. The U.S. government must ensure that its trade, monetary, political and military policies do not subvert the goals of its development policies. The League also urges active participation in the development process by the private sector.

The League recognizes the gross disparity in trading positions between developed and developing countries. The exports of developing countries must be expanded if they are to broaden their economic base and improve their people’s standard of living. Because of their need for greater access to U.S. and other industrialized countries’ markets, the League favors generalized, temporary preferential tariff treatment and certain commodity arrangements for developing countries. The principle of reciprocity in trade agreements, which the League supports, should be waived in order to make special trade concessions to developing countries.

Statement of Position on Private Investment and Commodity Arrangements, as Announced by National Board, April 1964 and Revised, April 1970:

The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that private investment of U.S. capital in developing countries can be an important supplemental means of helping these countries reach self-sustaining economic growth. In order to facilitate the flow of private capital to those developing countries that most need it and that can use it most advantageously, appropriate safeguards are necessary against risks for both the investor and the developing countries. In order to protect outside investors against risks, the League favors continuation of governmental assistance, such as preinvestment surveys, investment guarantees and investment loans.

The League believes that tax credits on funds invested in developing countries could provide additional encouragement. In order to guard against risks for the developing country, the League believes that investors should be encouraged to engage in joint-venture type investments with local businesses, to seek matching investment funds within the country, to employ and train as high a proportion of local personnel as possible for responsible positions, and to send to these countries carefully chosen and well-briefed U.S. representatives. The League welcomes continued efforts by developing countries to encourage their citizens to invest more in their own countries’ development efforts and to create a more favorable climate for public and private investment through appropriate internal reforms.

International commodity arrangements serve as a short-term supplement to long-run efforts to promote self-sustaining growth in developing countries.

Insofar as commodity arrangements can help moderate sharp fluctuations in the price of primary products and help stabilize the export income of developing countries, they can serve a useful, though necessarily short-term, purpose.

Each commodity arrangement should be evaluated on its own merit. Such arrangements should be flexible and open to renegotiation within a reasonable period of time.

Each arrangement needs careful supervision and regular review in order not to inhibit diversification within these countries of land, labor and capital or to distort international patterns of trade. These arrangements might include such compensatory financing efforts as those initiated under the International Monetary Fund.

If any commodity arrangement is to bear fruit, primary-product countries should be encouraged through technical and financial assistance to diversify both their primary-product and industrial position. If diversification efforts are not to be frustrated, the developed countries, including the United States, need to open their export doors wider to a broader range of imports, whether raw materials, semiprocessed or finished goods. In order to help the United States meet new competition, greater use might be made of trade adjustment assistance to affected U.S. industries and workers.

The League recognizes that continuation of freer trade policies and reduction of various trade barriers are essential to improve the terms of trade of developing countries.

Arms Control

The League’s History

The League’s 1982-84 national security study was intended to add focus and direction to existing support for “efforts to reduce the risk of war, including negotiations on disarmament and arms control” under the UN position. Once the 1983 position was reached, League action in support of arms control measures was immediate and effective, particularly on the issues of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI)—a missile defense plan that undermines the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty—and anti-satellite weapons. The League has continued to play a key role in legislative efforts to limit funding for unworkable and destabilizing missile defense systems and to uphold the traditional interpretation of the ABM Treaty.

Other arms-control measures supported by the League included negotiation of a bilateral, mutually verifiable freeze on the testing, production and deployment of nuclear weapons to be followed by reductions; a comprehensive test ban treaty; and the Chemical Weapons Convention.

In 1988, the League was successful in lobbying for Senate ratification of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), an unprecedented agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union to eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons. In October 1991, the League urged the Senate to ratify the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.

The League lobbied for ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) from 1997 until October 1999 when Senate arms control opponents brought the treaty up without full hearings and the Senate rejected the resolution of ratification.

In 2000, the League again worked in support of the ABM Treaty and in opposition to deployment of a planned national missile defense (NMD) system.

After extensive review by a Board-appointed task force, the League’s position was updated at Convention 2010 by concurrence of League delegates. In 2010, the LWVUS successfully lobbied for the new START Treaty between the United States and Russia. In 2011, the Treaty, which includes new verification requirements for deployed strategic warheads as well as delivery vehicles, was ratified and signed.   

The League’s Position

Statement of Position on Arms Control, as Announced by National Board, December 1983 and Updated by the 2010 Convention:

The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that arms control measures are essential to reduce the risk of war and increase global stability.

Toward that end, the U.S. government should give the highest level of importance to arms control efforts that:

Limit or reduce the quantity of weapons;

Limit proliferation and prohibit first use of nuclear weapons;

Prohibit first use and possession of chemical, biological and radiological weapons;

Prohibit explosive testing of nuclear weapons;

Reduce tensions in order to prevent situations in which weapons might be used.

While these objectives should receive the highest level of attention, the U.S. government also should negotiate measures that inhibit the development and improvement of weapons, particularly nuclear weapons that increase incentives to attack first in a period of crisis.

As a goal of international negotiations, the League supports the worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons.

The League of Women Voters recognizes that peace in an interdependent world is a product of cooperation among nations and therefore strongly favors multilateral negotiations. Leadership by the United States in advancing arms control measures through negotiations and periodic review is encouraged.

Given the potential for worldwide proliferation of nuclear technology, efforts involving all countries are essential to limit the spread of nuclear weapons and to protect commonly held nuclear weapons-free regions such as the seabed and outer space. Multilateral efforts are appropriate as well to achieve bans on the possession of chemical, biological and radiological weapons; and to achieve limitations on the transfer or trade of all weapons.

The League of Women Voters also supports bilateral arms control efforts which may be especially appropriate in negotiations to limit, safeguard and reduce quantities of weapons. The League believes that unilateral initiatives are not the most appropriate means to achieve arms control.

The League does not support tying progress in arms control to other issues. The League believes that arms
control is too important in and of itself and too crucial to all nations to be linked to other foreign and military policy goals. 

The League of Women Voters believes that arms control measures should be evaluated in terms of the
following factors:

 EQUITY. The terms should be mutually beneficial, and each nation’s security and interests should be adequately protected, as should the security of all nations. Equity does not necessarily require equality in numbers of weapons but may be achieved through a
relative balance in capabilities.

VERIFIABILITY. Each party should be able to ensure that other parties comply with the terms of the agreement, whether using national technical means (such as satellites, seismic sensors and electronic monitors) or on-site inspection. The League recognizes the role that multilateral and international institutions can play in assisting verification efforts and believes it is extremely important to ensure compliance, acknowledging that absolute certainty is unattainable.

Equity and verifiability are critical in efforts to limit and reduce quantities of weapons and to prohibit the possession and spread of nuclear weapons.

CONFIDENCE-BUILDING. Each party should be assured of the political or military intentions of other parties. Fostering confidence is vital in efforts to stem the development and proliferation of weapons and prohibit their first use; and to reduce tensions.

WIDESPREAD AGREEMENT. All appropriate parties should participate in and approve the results of the negotiating process. However, the League recognizes that, in specific cases, progress can be achieved even though some key parties do not participate.

 ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION. The quality of the earth’s environment should be protected from the effects of weapons testing or use. Environmental protection has special significance in negotiations regarding all weapons of mass destruction as well as conventional weapons that have residual effects.

CONTINUITY. Negotiations should build on past agreements and should be directed toward future negotiations whenever feasible. Innovative thinking and new approaches should, however, be encouraged when appropriate.


League support of arms control measures includes actions on proposals, negotiations and agreements.

The League supports efforts to achieve quantitative limits or reductions that focus on nuclear warheads, non-nuclear weapons of mass destruction, missiles and other delivery systems, antiballistic missiles, conventional weapons or troop levels.

The League advocates limits on the spread or proliferation of weapons, nuclear technology, and fissile materials. The League opposes the proliferation of weapons, nuclear technology and fissile materials to non-state actors or to commonly held areas such as the seabed or outer space. The League supports establishing effective international monitoring, accounting and control of such transfers.

The League’s pursuit of bans on the possession or use of weapons may apply to existing weapons or those not yet developed.

The League seeks to reduce tensions through better means of communication, exchange of information or prior notification of military tests and maneuvers in order to avoid the risks of miscalculation or accident. Other League-supported measures to reduce tensions and create a climate of trust among nations include scientific and cultural exchanges, conflict resolution training, and strengthening the United Nations and its supporting agencies. Efforts are encouraged to mediate regional issues and arrive at negotiated settlements to minimize arms build-ups and avoid conflicts. The United States should keep lines of communication open.

The League supports efforts to inhibit the development and improvement of weapons through qualitative limits, including limits on testing of weapons. These constraints may be selective or comprehensive in their application.

Efforts to improve the arms control regime of international laws, oversight bodies and verification modalities are also supported, and U.S. engagement and leadership in this regard is encouraged. The League supports diligence by the United States in meeting the terms of ratified arms control agreements and in reviewing their effectiveness over time.

Military Policy and
Defense Spending

The League’s History

The second part of the League’s 1982-84 national security study focused on military policy objectives and defense spending, including spending priorities and links between defense and domestic spending in the federal budget. League members first evaluated U.S. military missions, then scrutinized military forces and defense budget priorities. This comprehensive approach stemmed from the principle that weapons systems should reflect a nation’s military policy, which in turn should be developed from basic military purposes or missions. The resulting April 1984 statement related military policy and defense spending.

League action focused on congressional efforts to limit deployment of the MX missile and to oppose funding for a rail-garrison basing system. The League also has strongly opposed funding for the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) since 1985 and has been part of successful efforts to limit spending increases for the SDI program. Since the mid-1980s the League has called on Congress and the President to focus on defense spending when making budget cuts for deficit reduction.

As a result of the 1984-86 study of U.S. Relations with Developing Countries, the Military Policy and Defense Spending position was revised to emphasize that “Military assistance and the direct military involvement of U.S. forces are not appropriate means to further the League’s stated paramount interests in developing countries.”

The League’s Position

Statement of Position on Military Policy and Defense Spending, as Announced by National Board, April 1984 and Revised, April 1986:

The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that the U.S. government should seek to protect its interests at home and abroad through the use of nonmilitary measures, including diplomacy, mediation and multilateral cooperation. These measures reflect the importance that the League attaches to U.S. efforts to strengthen international organizations, reduce tensions among nations and minimize the risk of conflict worldwide.

The League believes that military force should be viewed as a tool of last resort. Unquestionably, defense of the homeland is an appropriate military objective. In this context, conventional weapons are clearly preferable to nuclear weapons. Any decision to defend another nation militarily should be in support of clear foreign policy goals and tailored to specific circumstances. Military assistance and the direct military involvement of U.S. forces are not appropriate means to further the League’s stated paramount interests in developing countries.

The League believes that nuclear weapons should serve only a limited and specific function—that of deterring nuclear attack on the United States—until such time as these weapons are eliminated through arms-control and disarmament agreements. The goal of U.S. military policy, however, should be to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used.

Nuclear Deterrence

The League believes that the United States should vigorously pursue arms-control negotiations in order to ensure that all nations reduce and eventually eliminate their stockpiles of strategic nuclear weapons. The League does not support unilateral elimination of any leg of the strategic nuclear triad of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and long-range bombers. However, the League does not support any modernization of the land leg that would result in weapons systems that are vulnerable or increase incentives to attack first.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

The League believes that the defense of NATO allies should continue to be a shared responsibility. The League supports the United States’ commitment to defend NATO allies with conventional forces. The League urges continued efforts to negotiate mutual and balanced reductions in conventional forces in Europe.

The League believes there is no appropriate role for U.S. nuclear weapons in the defense of NATO allies. The League strongly opposes the policy of threatening to introduce nuclear weapons into a conventional conflict in Europe, a policy commonly referred to as “first use.” Consistent with these views, the League opposes the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons on European soil.

Other Commitments

The League supports the U.S. commitment to defend Japan with conventional forces. Conventional forces also are appropriate for defending other allies. The League rejects any nuclear role in defending Japan and other allies, in protecting access to vital resources or in responding to military conflicts around the world.

Defense Spending

The League believes that defense spending should be examined in the same way as spending for other national needs. Within any given level of defense funding, the United States should move toward emphasizing readiness over investment. Preference should be given to operations and maintenance expenditures and military pay as opposed to research and development, procurement of new weapons and construction of military facilities. The League believes that savings in the defense budget can be achieved through increased efficiency and improved accountability.

In summary, the League believes that national security has many dimensions and cannot be limited to military policy alone. It can be defined as ensuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense and promoting the general welfare. Key elements include the country’s ability to implement social and environmental programs and to maintain cooperative relationships with other nations. Other important components are effective political leadership and a strong economy. Therefore, in decisions about the federal budget, political leaders should assess the impact of U.S. military spending on the nation’s economy and on the government’s ability to meet social and environmental needs.


Natural Resources

Promote an environment beneficial to life through the protection and wise management of natural resources in the public interest.


League members became concerned about depletion and conservation of natural resources as far back as the 1920s and 1930s when the League undertook a study of flood control, erosion and the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Water resources were the focus of activities in the 1950s, and with the nascent environmental movement in the 1970s, the League built a broad national program focused on protecting and managing the interrelated aspects of air, water, land use, energy and waste management. Since then, the League has been in the forefront of the environmental protection movement, helping to frame landmark legislation and seeking to preserve and protect life-supporting ecosystems and public health. Fighting to improve opportunities for public participation on natural resource issues has always been a League theme, in addition to the substantive concerns that the League has pushed.

The League’s citizen activists helped pass the landmark Clean Water Act in the early 1970s and worked to protect, expand and strengthen it through the 1990s. Water issues, from groundwater protection to agricultural runoff to the Safe Drinking Water Act, have energized League leaders, especially at the local level, for decades. Solid and hazardous waste issues and recycling also have been the focus of strong state and local action, and the federal legislative fights for the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and Superfund focused on those issues as well.

The League has been a leader in fighting back efforts to gut the Clean Air Act from the early 1980s to the present. It pushed for acid rain and toxics controls as the act was reauthorized in 1990, building on the successful work of the previous decade in controlling the worst air pollution from automobiles and industrial sources.  In the 2000s, the League not only fought to protect the Clean Air Act, but also turned attention to combatting global climate change.

With its work on energy policy beginning in the late 1970s, the League began a decades-long push for energy conservation and the use of renewable resources. As global climate change emerged as a key environmental and international issue in the late 1990s, energy conservation, renewable resources and air pollution controls took on new significance and the League’s interrelated approach to natural resource issues proved farsighted. Understanding the need for global solutions to many environmental problems, the LWVUS has urged full U.S. participation in international efforts.

In the late 2000s, the League lobbied vigorously for comprehensive legislation to control global climate change by setting a cap on greenhouse gas pollution and by encouraging conservation and renewable energy.  As part of an education and advocacy project on climate change, six state Leagues held forums with trips by the League President to speak at public events and meet with key Senators and staff. In early 2010, the LWVUS president was honored with a “Sisters on the Planet Climate Leader Award” by Oxfam America for the League’s grassroots work on climate change.

In 2011 the League launched the “Clean Air Promise Campaign.” The campaign was developed to raise awareness of the dangers of harmful pollutants like industrial carbon, mercury and other air toxics that created a growing threat to the health of our children and seniors. Seven state Leagues engaged in the project and raised awareness in their local communities, at the state and local levels of their governments while generating media attention around the growing problem of climate change caused by industrial carbon pollution. The LWVUS released television ads in Massachusetts and Missouri that called out votes taken by Senators Brown and McCaskill that would have blocked new air pollution standards for carbon.

The League continues its strong advocacy on climate issues by supporting the Presidents Climate Action Plan. The cornerstone of the plan, controls carbon pollution from new and existing power plants, which are the largest source of industrial carbon pollution in the U.S.  In addition, the League voiced support for “putting a price on carbon” to compliment the regulatory effort. 

In 1988, the LWVUS adopted a position on the role of the federal government in U.S. agriculture policy, which local and state Leagues also have applied to key action in their jurisdictions. A second position on Federal Agriculture Policies was adopted in 2014.

The League’s Position

Statement of Position on Natural Resources, as Affirmed by the 1986 Convention, Based on Positions Reached from 1958 Through 1986:

The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that natural resources should be managed as interrelated parts of life-supporting ecosystems. Resources should be conserved and protected to assure their future availability. Pollution of these resources should be controlled in order to preserve the physical, chemical and biological integrity of ecosystems and to protect public health.

Resource Management

The League’s History

The League’s 1956-1958 water resources study was the basis for action on a broad range of resource management issues. By 1958, the League had taken a position that, as rephrased and expanded in 1960, has formed one of two foundations for League action on water ever since. The key concept is a strong federal role in formulating national policies and procedures.

The issue of water management led the League toward later interrelated positions on air pollution, solid waste disposal and land use, all focused on management policies to protect natural resources.

In 1970 the League recognized the need for federal control of air pollution and adopted a position for control of air emissions. The 1970 Convention also authorized a study of solid waste disposal, which focused League attention on reuse and recycling.

In 1972, Convention delegates voted to “evaluate land-use policies and procedures and their relationship to human needs, population trends and ecological and socioeconomic factors.” The three-year land-use study focused on achieving optimum balance between human needs and environmental quality. Members agreed in 1975 that land ownership implies responsibilities of stewardship and consideration of public and private rights. They concluded that every level of government should share responsibility for land planning and management, and that federal policies should enhance the capabilities of other levels.

Although efforts in 1975 to pass comprehensive land-use legislation failed, the League has successfully supported more specialized land-use laws—notably, coastal-zone planning and strip-mining controls.

Since 1982 most action on land use issues has been at the state and local levels. Many Leagues work on such issues as floodplain management, coastal-zone management, wetlands protection, open-space preservation, facility siting, transportation, wilderness designations and offshore energy development.

In the 1980s, the LWVUS lobbied for reauthorization and strengthening of the Coastal Zone Management (CZM) program, which provides federal funds for planning at the state level. The League also supports the Coastal Barrier Resources System, legislation that would eliminate federal flood insurance subsidies to barrier is-lands and other coastal areas subject to frequent storm action.

In 1990, the League provided testimony on Federal Reclamation Policy in support of legislation to eliminate abuses and close loopholes in the Reclamation Reform Act of 1982. Specifically, the League supported action to ensure compliance with the acreage limitations of the act and to reduce water subsidies that are uneconomical and environmentally destructive. In 1992, the League supported broad reform of the National Flood Insurance Program to increase enrollment and encourage risk management practices to reduce future losses.

League work on energy began in the early 1970s; in 1975 the LWVUS adopted a position supporting energy conservation as national policy. In 1976, the LWVUS Board approved guidelines to implement the position. Since then, the League has made conservation the crux of its energy agenda, recognizing that the conservation of energy guarantees major long-term benefits—environmental, economic and strategic—to individuals, the country and the world.

The 1976 Convention authorized a study to “evaluate sources of energy and the government’s role in meeting future needs,” which resulted in a broad 1978 position on energy policies and sources (including conservation) that is the basis for action on a wide variety of energy issues at all government levels. The 1979 Council recommended that the LWVUS Board review application of the Energy position to nuclear energy; it subsequently determined that the League would work to minimize reliance on nuclear fission.

The League advocates a national energy policy emphasizing increased fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles, opposition to oil drilling in environmentally sensitive areas including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and support for government action in the development and use of energy conservation and renewable energy sources.

Worldwide recognition of the global nature of environmental problems and the need for sustainable development came to the fore with the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992. Leagues across the country hosted meetings to funnel citizen input into the UNCED agenda, and the LWVUS urged support for the Earth Summit’s recommendations on global cooperation.

The League opposed efforts in the 104th Congress to pass “takings” legislation that would seriously undermine environmental protections in the name of “private property rights.” While an extreme takings bill passed the House early in 1995, there was no Senate action. The League supported stewardship of critical resources, opposing congressional measures to transfer coastal lands from public to private hands.

In 2005, the League urged Congress to oppose energy legislation that would have wrongfully used the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and other disasters as a pretext for undermining important environmental protections.

Throughout the 2000s, the League continued its opposition to repeated efforts to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).In 2006, the League submitted comments to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) task force, urging its members to uphold the integrity of the original landmark legislation.

Early in 2012, the League declared its opposition to the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline because of the need to put the U.S. on a path of emissions reductions, to protect against climate change and to ensure safe drinking water for all Americans. Later that year, the League commended the President’s decision to delay the approval of the pipeline until appropriate study and consideration could be taken.  The League also worked to encourage the President to veto legislation from Congress in 2015 that would have forced the approval of the KXL pipeline. The League continues to encourage a full rejection of the pipeline by the Executive Branch.

The League continues to lobby against legislation that would undermine clean air standards, make global climate change worse and fail to provide for needed energy conservation measures.

The League’s Position

Resource management decisions must be based on a thorough assessment of population growth and of current and future needs. The inherent characteristics and carrying capacities of each area’s natural resources must be considered in the planning process. Policy makers must take into account the ramifications of their decisions on the nation as a whole as well as on other nations.

To assure the future availability of essential resources, government policies must promote stewardship of natural resources. Policies that promote resource conservation are a fundamental part of such stewardship. Resources such as water and soil should be protected. Consumption of nonrenewable resources should be minimized. Beneficiaries should pay the costs for water, land and energy development projects. Reclamation and reuse of natural resources should be encouraged.

The League believes that protection and management of natural resources are responsibilities shared by all levels of government. The federal government should provide leadership, guidance and financial assistance to encourage regional planning and decision making to enhance local and state capabilities for resource management.

The League supports comprehensive long-range planning and believes that wise decision-making requires:

  • adequate data and a framework within which alternatives may be weighed and intelligent decisions made;
  • consideration of environmental, public-health, social and economic impacts of proposed plans and actions;
  • protection of private property rights commensurate with overall consideration of public health and environmental protection;
  • coordination of the federal government's responsibilities and activities;
  • resolution of inconsistencies and conflicts in basic policy among governmental agencies at all levels;
  • regional, interregional and/or international cooperation when appropriate;
  • mechanisms appropriate to each region that will provide coordinated planning and administration among units of government,
    governmental agencies and the private sector;
  • procedures for resolving disputes; 
  • procedures  for mitigation of adverse impacts;
  • special responsibility by each level of government for those lands and resources entrusted to them;
  • special consideration for the protection of areas of critical environmental concern, natural hazards, historical importance and aesthetic value;
  • special attention to maintaining and improving the environmental quality of urban communities.

Environmental Protection and Pollution Control

The League’s History

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.

Air Quality

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 climate change 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 climate change 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 climate change, 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 climate change. 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 climate change 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.

Water Resources

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.

Solid Waste

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.

Nuclear Waste

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’s Position

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.

The League supports:

  • regulation of pollution sources by control and penalties;
  • inspection and monitoring;
  • full disclosure of pollution data;
  • incentives to accelerate pollution control;
  • vigorous enforcement mechanisms, including sanctions for states and localities that do not comply with federal standards and substantial fines for noncompliance.
Further Guidelines and Criteria
Air Quality

The League supports:

  • measures to reduce vehicular pollution, including inspection and maintenance of emission controls, changes in engine design and fuel types and development of more energy- efficient transportation systems;
  • regulation and reduction of pollution from stationary sources;
  • regulation and reduction of ambient toxic-air pollutants;
  • measures to reduce transboundary air pollutants, such as ozone and those that cause acid deposition.

The League supports:

  • energy goals and policies that acknowledge the United States as a responsible member of the world community;
  • reduction of energy growth rates;
  • use of a variety of energy sources, with emphasis on conserving energy and using energy-efficient technologies;
  • the environmentally sound use of energy resources, with consideration of the entire cycle of energy production;
  • predominant reliance on renewable resources;
  • policies that limit reliance on nuclear fission;
  • action by appropriate levels of government to encourage the use of renewable resources and energy conservation through funding for research and development, financial incentives,  rate-setting policies and mandatory standards;
  • mandatory energy-conservation measures, including thermal standards for building efficiency, new appliance standards and standards for new automobiles with no relaxation of auto-emission control requirements;
  • policies to reduce energy demand and minimize the need for new generating capacity through techniques such as marginal cost or peak-load pricing or demand-management programs;
  • maintaining deregulation of oil and natural gas prices;
  • assistance for low-income individuals when energy policies bear unduly on the poor.
Land Use

The League supports:

  • management of land as a finite resource not as a commodity, since land ownership, whether public or private, carries responsibility for stewardship;
  • land-use planning that reflects conservation and wise management of resources;
  • identification and regulation of areas of critical concern:
    • o   fragile or historical lands, where development could result in irreversible damage (such as shore-lands of rivers, lakes and streams, estuaries and bays; rare or valuable ecosystems and geological formations; significant wildlife habitats; unique scenic or historic areas; wetlands; deserts);
    • o   renewable resource lands, where development could result in the loss of productivity (such as watersheds, aquifers and aquifer-recharge areas, significant agricultural and grazing lands, forest lands);
    • o   natural hazard lands, where development could  endanger life and property (such as floodplains, areas with high seismic or volcanic activity, areas of unstable geologic, ice or snow formations);
    • reclamation of lands damaged by surface mining, waste disposal, overgrazing, timber harvesting, farming and other activities;
    • acquisition of land for public use;
    • identification and regulation of areas impacted by public or private investment where siting results in secondary environmental and socioeconomic impacts;
    • review of environmental, social and economic impacts of major public and private developments;
    • review of federally funded projects by all government levels;
    • o   conformance of federal land resource activities with approved state programs, particularly where state standards are more stringent than federal standards.
Water Resources

The League supports:

  • water resource programs and policies that reflect the interrelationships of water quality, water quantity, ground-water and surface water and that address the potential depletion or pollution of water supplies;
  • measures to reduce water pollution from direct point-source discharges and from indirect nonpoint sources;
  • policies to achieve water quality essential for maintaining species populations and diversity, including measures to protect lakes, estuaries, wetlands and in-stream flows;
  • stringent controls to protect the quality of current and potential drinking-water supplies, including protection of watersheds for surface supplies and of recharge areas for groundwater.

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:

  • ample and effective opportunities for informed public participation in the formulation and analysis of proposed projects;
  • evaluation of economic, social and environmental impacts in the basin of origin, the receiving area and any area through which the diversion must pass, so that decision makers and the public have adequate information on which to base a decision;
  • examination of all short- and long-term economic costs including, but not limited to, construction, delivery, operation, maintenance and market interest rate; 
  • examination of alternative supply options, such as water conservation, water pricing and reclamation;
  • participation and review by all affected governments;
  • procedures for resolution of inter-governmental conflicts; 
  • accord with international treaties;
  • provisions to ensure that responsibility for funding is borne primarily by the user with no federal subsidy, loan guarantees or use of the borrowing authority of the federal government, unless the proposal is determined by all affected levels of the League to be in the national interest.
Waste Management

The League supports:

  • policies to reduce the generation and promote the reuse and recycling of solid and hazardous wastes;
  • policies to ensure safe treatment, transportation, storage and disposal of solid and hazardous wastes in order to protect public health and air, water and land resources;
  • planning and decision making processes that recognize suitable solid and hazardous wastes as potential resources;
  • policies for the management of civilian and military high- and low-level radioactive wastes to protect public health, and air, water and land resources;
  • the establishment of processes for effective involvement of state and local governments and citizens in siting proposals for treatment, storage, disposal and transportation of radioactive wastes;
  • full environmental review of treatment, storage and disposal facilities for radioactive wastes;
  • safe transport, storage and disposal of radioactive wastes.
Criteria for Siting Waste Disposal Facilities

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:

  • ample and effective opportunities for public participation, including funding to conduct such participation;
  • evaluation of economic, social and environmental impacts so that decision makers and the public have adequate information on which to base a decision. In addition to the actual site, secondary land use impacts—such as buffer areas, adequacy of roads, sewers, water, etc.—should be considered;
  • an examination of alternative sites and methods of treatment and disposal. Comparison of costs must include short- and long-term costs, such as liability insurance, postclosure maintenance, monitoring of ground and surface waters and air before and after closure, and potential loss of land or water resources due to contamination;
  • participation and review by all government levels to assure conformance with all adopted comprehensive plans at each level of government;
  • procedures for resolution of inter-governmental conflicts.

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:

  • natural hazard areas subject to flooding, earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes or subsidence;
  • drinking water supply sources, such as reservoirs, lakes and rivers and their watersheds, and aquifers and their recharge areas;
  • fragile land areas, such as shorelines of rivers, lakes, streams, oceans and estuaries, bays or wetlands;
  • rare or valuable ecosystems or geologic formations, significant wildlife habitat or unique scenic or historic areas;
  • areas with significant renewable resource value, such as prime agricultural lands or grazing and forest lands that would be destroyed as a result of the siting of hazardous waste facilities;
  • residential areas, parks and schools.
Nuclear Issues

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 nongeneric health and safety problems, but only with prior permission from the LWVUS.
Siting/Storage of High-Level Wastes (HLWs)

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: 1) Is the proposed facility needed at this time? 2) Is the site suitable? and 3) Did the selection process provide ample and effective opportunities for public participation? 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.

Siting/Storage of Low-Level Wastes (LLWs)

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.

Appropriate State League Action

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.

Transportation of Nuclear Wastes

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.

Defense Wastes

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.

Inter-League Cooperation

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.

Public Participation

The League’s History

While fighting for a broad range of environmental legislation, the League has stressed citizen participation as a necessary component of decision-making at all levels of government.

In pressing for full implementation of the Clean Air Act of 1970, the League fought for greater citizen access to state plans for achieving national ambient air-quality standards. League efforts to educate and involve the public in waste management issues at the state and local levels have included support for mandatory beverage container deposit legislation, known as “bottle bills,” to promote recycling and reuse. In supporting the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, Leagues pushed for adequate state consultation and concurrence in nuclear-waste repository siting decisions. In statements to the nuclear regulatory community, state LWVs emphasized the need for citizen participation in nuclear power decisions.

League efforts to promote household-hazardous-waste collection across the country, to ensure safe drinking water for all and to protect groundwater also are part of a continuing focus on heightening citizen awareness and participation in decision making.

Passage of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (SARA Title III) gave Leagues a new tool to combat pollution. This act gives communities access to information from chemical facilities on releases and spills, allows “regulation by information” and encourages the development of emergency response plans and strong pollution prevention measures by industry. During the 1990s, the League continued the fight, advocating expansion of community right-to-know provisions in the renewal of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). It was also successful in defeating congressional efforts to pass “regulatory reform” legislation aimed at crippling the adoption and enforcement of environmental protection regulations.

In 1996, the League joined 24 public interest organizations in supporting the President’s move to phase out the use of methyl bromide, an extremely toxic pesticide. Also, the LWVUS and 84 national, international and local organizations jointly urged Congress to cosponsor the Children’s Environmental Protection Act of 1997 (CEPA), which sought to ensure a citizen’s right to know if there are harmful toxins in the environment.

In 1996, the Department of Energy asked the LWVEF to help develop a National Dialogue on Nuclear Materials and Waste Management. Pilot field workshops were held in 1997, but the Dialogue was opposed by some environmentalists and state officials. The LWVEF held two intersite discussions in San Diego and Chicago on nuclear material and waste in 1998 and issued a report.

The League’s Position

The League believes that public understanding and cooperation are essential to the responsible and responsive management of our nation’s natural resources. The public has a right to know about pollution levels, dangers to health and the environment, and proposed resource management policies and options. The public has a right to participate in decision-making at each phase in the process and at each level of government involvement. Officials should make a special effort to develop readily understandable procedures for public involvement and to ensure that the public has adequate information to participate effectively. Public records should be readily accessible at all governmental levels. Adequate funding is needed to ensure opportunities for public education and effective public participation in all aspects of the decision-making process.

The appropriate level of government should publicize, in an extensive and timely manner and in readily available sources, information about pollution levels, pollution-abatement programs, and resource management policies and options. Hearings should be held in easily accessible locations, at convenient times and, when possible, in the area concerned. The hearing procedures and other opportunities for public comment should actively encourage citizen participation in decision-making.

The League supports public education that provides a basic understanding of the environment and the social, economic and environmental costs and benefits of environmental protection, pollution control and conservation.

Mechanisms for citizen appeal must be guaranteed, including access to the courts. Due process rights for the affected public and private parties must be assured.

Agriculture Policies

The League’s History

In 1986, the League undertook a two-year study and member agreement process on the role of the federal government in U.S. agriculture policy, examining elements of federal farm policy, its contemporary setting and policy alternatives. The resulting 1988 position on agriculture policy supports policies for sustainable agriculture and action to reduce the use of toxic chemicals on the farm. The League also supports targeting research programs and technological assistance to mid-sized farms and to sustainable agriculture. While many of the programs the League supports—farm credit at reasonable terms and conditions and programs to enable farmers to use sustainable agriculture—may benefit family or mid-sized farms, the League supports these programs for all farms, regardless of size.

The position supports “decoupling” (moving away from direct payments based on production) as consistent with the strong League consensus in favor of greater reliance on the free market to determine prices. Reliance on the free market for price determination also can support a gradual reduction in loan rates. The League does not envision total reliance on the free market to determine agriculture prices. In assessing programs that move agriculture toward greater reliance on the free market, consideration would include problems peculiar to agriculture, such as severe climate or natural disasters.

The League supports federally-provided farm credit, but believes the federal government should be the lender of last resort. The League position does not address supply controls, capping payments to farmers, protecting farm income or any particular commodity program. It supports the conservation reserve program and opposes the removal of lands prematurely from the conservation reserve.

In 1989, the League opposed legislation that would have preempted stricter state laws on the regulation of pesticides. In 1990, it urged the House to pass a farm bill that would protect land and water resources, reduce the use of toxic chemicals, and target research and technical assistance to developing environmentally sound agriculture practices. The League called for measures to strengthen conservation provisions, continue the conservation reserve, and permit retention of base payments and deficiency payments when farmers file and implement an approved plan for farming with environmentally beneficial practices. The League also called for national standards of organic production and opposed the export of pesticides that are illegal in the United States. In 1988-1991, the LWVEF worked with Public Voice for Food and Health Policy and state and local Leagues on a citizen education project on agricultural issues, including pesticide residues in food and water, sustainable agriculture, and research and technology.

At Convention 2012, delegates voted to review and update the LWV Agriculture position.  A study committee was appointed and in 2014, Leagues reached member agreement on a new position which was announced in May 2014.

The League’s Positions

Statement of Position on Federal Agriculture Policy, as Announced by National Board, October 1988:

The LWVUS believes that federal agriculture policies should promote adequate supplies of food and fiber at reasonable prices to consumers, farms that are economically viable, farm practices that are environmentally sound and increased reliance on the free market to determine prices.

SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE. Federal policy should encourage a system of sustainable, regenerative agricultural production that moves toward an environmentally sound agricultural sector. This includes promoting stewardship to preserve and protect the country’s human and natural agricultural resources.

RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT.  Agricultural research, development and technical assistance should continue to be a major federal function. Resources should be targeted to developing sustainable agricultural practices and addressing the needs of mid-size farms.

AGRICULTURAL PRICES. The LWVUS supports an increasing reliance on the free market to determine the price of agricultural commodities and the production decisions of farmers, in preference to traditional price support mechanisms.                                

AGRICULTURE AND TRADE. U.S. efforts should be directed toward expanding export markets for our agricultural products while minimizing negative effects on developing nations’ economies. Consistent with the League’s trade position, multilateral trade negotiations should be used to reduce other countries’ barriers and/or subsidies protecting their agricultural products.

FARM CREDIT. Farmers should have access to credit with reasonable terms and conditions. Federally provided farm credit is essential to maintaining the viability of farm operations when the private sector is unable or unwilling to provide the credit farmers need.

Of these policies, the League believes the most essential for the future of agriculture are: encouraging sustainable agriculture; providing research, information and technical assistance to agricultural producers; and increasing reliance on the free market to determine prices.

Statement of Position on Federal Agriculture Policies as Announced by the National Board, May 2014:

The League believes that government should provide financial support for agriculture that includes disaster assistance, crop insurance, need-based loans and incentives to adopt best management practices. Support should be extended to specialty crops, such as fruits, vegetables and nuts, to new production methods, such as organic, hydroponic, and urban practices, and to farms that supply local and regional markets.

Subsidized crop yield insurance should be linked to implementation of best management practices with the subsidy denied for marginal or environmentally sensitive land. The premium subsidy for crop insurance should be available for a wide range of crops, such as fruits, vegetables and specialty crops. Government should limit the amount of the premium subsidy received by larger farms.

The League supports policies that increase competition in agricultural markets.  Antitrust laws should be enforced to ensure competitive agricultural markets. Alternative marketing systems such as regional hub markets, farmers’ markets and farmer cooperatives should be promoted.

Clean air and water regulations should apply to all animal and aquaculture production and processing facilities, and not just to the very large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).  Such regulations should be designed in a manner that takes into account environmentally sound technologies and the scale of the operation being regulated. Small size operations should not be granted automatic exemption from regulation.

The League believes that government regulatory agencies dealing with animal and aquaculture production should have adequate authority and funding to 1) enforce regulations and 2) gather information that supports monitoring the impacts of all animal feeding and aquaculture operations on human and animal health and the environment.

Government should fund basic research related to agriculture. Government funded research should also address the impact of new technologies on human health and the environment prior to widespread adoption of products developed with such technologies. Assessment of products developed with new technologies should be conducted as transparently as possible, while respecting intellectual property rights. Research should be funded to support the continuation of diversified and sustainable agricultural systems, such as seed banking and promoting and preserving genetic diversity.

To provide adequate safety of our food supply, government should:

•    Clarify and enforce pre-market testing requirements for foods and food additives developed using any new chemical technology, such as genetic engineering or nanotechnology;

•    Require developers to monitor all such new food products developed after releasing to the market;

•    Require developers of such new food products to provide data and other materials to independent third parties for pre- and post-marketing safety assessment;

•    Fund independent third party risk assessment examining how long term and multiple exposures to such new foods affect human health and the environment;

•    Withdraw marketing approval and require recall if such products are shown to be unsafe;

•    Require post-market monitoring of human health and environmental impacts for pharmaceutical applications used in animal and aquaculture production;

•    Limit use of antibiotics in animal production to the treatment of disease;

•    Promote crop management practices that decrease dependency on added chemicals; and

•    Fund, employ and train sufficient personnel for assessment and compliance functions of regulatory agencies.

The League supports government developing and requiring more informative and standardized definitions on product labeling. Food labeling and advertising should display only approved health and safety claims and an accurate representation of the required ingredient and nutrition lists. The League supports consumer education about labeling of foods developed using any new technology.