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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 warming.
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 warming 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.
Today, the League is continuing its strong advocacy on climate issues by urging the President to take executive action under the Clean Air Act to control carbon pollution from new and existing power plants, which are the largest source of industrial carbon pollution in the U.S. 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.
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.