Tag Archives: US

The 1970s US Environmental Movement, Lessons for Today’s Indian River Lagoon

Stiller property and fish camp in 1964. This area was developed later as Mariner Cay and is located on St Lucie Boulvard on the Manatee Pocket. (Photo archives of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)
Years ago, a  common sight, “dredge and fill. “Canals cut into the land prior to the United States’ “environmental movement” that affected Florida State law. Photo: Stiller property and fish camp in 1964. This area was developed later in 1973 as Mariner Cay and is located on St Lucie Boulvard on the Manatee Pocket, Stuart. (Photo archives of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)

When it becomes discouraging and we feel as though we will “never” be able to fix the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, it  is helpful to review environmental accomplishments of the past.

I was born in 1964 and a common thing to see in Martin County when I was growing up was development of coastal lands in a way that is rarely seen today-the cutting of canals right into the land abutting the river. Some of our most popular communities are based around the dredging and filling or the lands, or lands that had been cut earlier and then “improved.”  To name a few, North River Shores; Mariner Cay; Stuart Yacht and County Club; Archipelago, Sewall’s Point; Francis Langford’s Marina; Snug Harbor Marina; Sailfish Point and Marina; Indian River Plantation; Circle Bay Yacht Club. There are many more. The city of Ft Lauderdale was almost entirely developed and marketed this way, “Venice!”

Although the outcome is often “pretty,” in the long term, there are huge environmental consequences to dredge and fill and this type of work is not “encouraged” for riverfront residential development today. Why? How did this common practice, so destructive,   become more restrictive? This is the question I asked my attorney brother, Todd Thurlow, and this was his answer”

“Increased state regulation is probably in accordance with Federal Law. This is a whole area is study in federalism, environmental law and the federal government’s ability to influence the states to regulate themselves.”

Hmmm. To “regulate ourselves,” what a concept….

I started researching, and even though I was familiar, it helped to review the environmental movement of the United States. Historically, there had been conservationist like president Teddy Roosevelt and others but it was not until the late 1960s and1970s after an oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, that the US environmental movement really gained momentum. Remember it was the people who moved mountains not the government…

With pressure from the public, in 1969, what is considered the “magna carta” of US environmental law was passed, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA  “established a U.S. national policy promoting the enhancement of the environment and also established the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). It is one of the most emulated statutes in the world.”

NEPA’s most significant effect was to set up procedural requirements for all federal government agencies to prepare environmental assessments (EAs) and environmental impact statements (EISs). (We see the these requirements hold today even with All Aboard Florida.)

NEPA led to the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, along with the very important Clean Air and Water Acts of the 1970s. In response to this federal pressure, the state of Florida merged agencies creating the Department of Environmental Regulation in the mid 1970s. Today this agency has adapted to be the Department of Environmental Protection.

The apex of the movement was a book published  in 1962 by a former Fish and Wildlife employee and marine biologist, Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, that shined a light on pesticide use post World War II in the US and led to near banning of the common chemical DDT. Even though the powerful chemical companies fought the publication of the book, threatening to sue for libel, they lost and the pressure of the public’s “want to know” overcame….

The thread here? The people caused the change. Do not rely on the  government for change, create it yourself by exerting pressure on your government.  Whether this happens on the level of the United States environmental movement or the River Movement of 2013 here at home, the key to change is the people. Hope you learned or remembered something and that you feel inspired. Keep up the good work!


History Department  of Environmental Regulation/Protection, Florida: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_Department_of_Environmental_Protection)

History of NEPA, US Environmental law 1969 :(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Environmental_Policy_Act)

History, Environmental Policy of the US: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_policy_of_the_United_States#Origins_of_the_environmental_movement)