Fighting Westway: Environmental Law, Citizen Activism, and the Regulatory War That Transformed New York CityJournal of American History

About

Authors
D. Soll
Year
2015
DOI
10.1093/jahist/jav147
Subject
History / History and Philosophy of Science

Text

1341Book Reviews movement, the emergent counterculture, romanticized Eastern and Native American mysticism, and how these currents circulated in particular places (Vancouver, chiefl y) and people (specifi cally, the earliest Greenpeace activists). Th ough well versed in the literature on social movements, Zelko chose a more fi negrained approach, arguing that movement studies frequently overlook the face-to-face interaction that occurs among the activists at the core of a movement, thereby neglecting not just an important locus of the decisionmaking process but also the myriad arguments, debates, and personality disputes that help determine the shape and direction that a movement will take. (p. 78)

Zelko’s attention to just these factors is the book’s strength—subsequent chapters on

Greenpeace initiatives (well organized around specifi c boat voyages) are satisfying in their attention to detail and anecdote. Th e range of

Zelko’s sources provides useful correctives to the inevitable revisions that occur when interviewees are asked to remember and explain the past; Zelko brings a carefully critical eye to these stories without interrupting his narrative fl ow.

To Zelko’s credit, Make It a Green Peace! left me wanting more. I hope this fi ne book will encourage subsequent studies that shed additional light upon the European and Australasian iterations of Greenpeace. Th e story of

Greenpeace is richly transnational, and no one volume can capture the full range of this history. Similarly, the interactions between Greenpeace and other environmental organizations in the 1970s and 1980s, and the interplay between local grassroots activists and transnational actors, can bear further analysis. Th is is not to detract from Zelko’s achievement, however: this book is the rare scholarly text that is informative, a pleasure to read, and even occasionally funny. Th is is a great story, and it is well told.

Michael Lamar Lewis

Salisbury University

Salisbury, Maryland doi: 10.1093/jahist/jav087

Fighting Westway: Environmental Law, Citizen

Activism, and the Regulatory War Th at Transformed New York City. By William W. Buzbee. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014. xx, 292 pp. Cloth, $79.95. Paper, $24.95.)

Th e successful eff ort by Jane Jacobs and other activists to thwart the construction of the

Lower Manhattan Expressway in the early 1960s has secured a prominent place in the annals of urban history. But Westway—an extraordinarily ambitious reconstruction project consisting of a new highway, parkland, and commercial development along the Hudson

River that was also defeated—has received comparatively little attention from historians. Th e law professor William W. Buzbee’s detailed analysis of the regulatory battles over

Westway in the 1970s and 1980s fi lls a critical gap in the literature on New York City and makes a signifi cant contribution to the scholarship on environmental regulation.

Buzbee tells the history of Westway in chronological fashion, detailing each twist in the regulatory road leading to the project’s cancellation in 1985. Th e drama lies not in the outcome but in how a small group of activists managed to defeat much of the New York

City and Washington, D.C., political establishment.

New York City mayor Ed Koch, New York governor Mario Cuomo, and state offi cials sought to milk the cash cow of federal highway funds to replace the dilapidated West Side

Highway with a 4.2-mile road that would have created approximately one-hundred acres of newly developable land for recreational and commercial use. Plans called for the project to extend from 600 to 970 feet into the Hudson, requiring extensive fi lling of river habitat.

Opponents, who included many local offi cials in New York City, decried the projec t, arguing that it was unnecessarily expensive and that federal funds should be redeployed to improve the city’s decaying subway system.

Th e battle over Westway turned on recently passed landmark environmental laws, especially the 1970 National Environmental Policy

Act and the 1972 Clean Water Act. Th ese laws required extensive disclosure of the potential environmental impact of the project and established a presumption against the fi lling of 1342 Th e Journal of American History March 2015 navigable waters. Westway opponents initially challenged the project on the grounds that it would substantially increase air pollution.

When the government overcame these objections, they shifted their focus to the river’s fi sheries—specifi cally the likely impact on striped bass.

Westway’s success ultimately hinged on the fate of this species, whose numbers plummeted along the East Coast in the 1970s. Research revealing that striped bass fl ourished in the interpier areas of the Hudson where Westway would be constructed presented challenges for the Army Corps of Engineers, the agency responsible for granting a permit to the project under the Clean Water Act. Under tremendous political pressure to approve the project, the Army Corps of Engineers relied on dubious science to argue that interpier areas were not critical to the health of the striped bass population. When “the government’s hopedfor clean, defi nitive scientifi c expert was an unmitigated disaster” during district court testimony, the case for Westway disintegrated (p. 187).

Th is brief overview does not do justice to

Buzbee’s intricate regulatory tale. Readers who have only a passing interest in environmental regulation may tire of the recounting of some of these details. But Buzbee makes a persuasive case that the outcomes of Westway and similar environmental confl icts refl ect the complex intermingling of law, politics, and regulatory procedures.

David Soll

University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire

Eau Claire, Wisconsin doi: 10.1093/jahist/jav147

Death Valley National Park: A History. By Hal

K. Rothman and Char Miller. (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2013. xvi, 185 pp. Paper, $24.95.)

Th is history of Death Valley National Park, the country’s most extensive desert landscape, was fi rst researched by Hal K. Rothman, an experienced western and environmental historian. When he was diagnosed with and died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, he left a large body of well-researched manuscripts already on the path to publication. Th is history of Death