On the US Environmental Movement’s overall timeline, The Scenic Hudson Decision set a major precedent for private citizens and conservation groups to legally enjoin controversial federal projects. The case also spawned the emergence of environmental law as a legal specialty—an idea that Congress incorporated in the country’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it passed in 1973.
Storm King Mountain lies along the west bank of the Hudson River just south of Cornwall, New York. The name “Storm King” was coined by 19th century writer Nathaniel Parker Willis when he noted that the mountain served as an accurate predictor of stormy weather when early morning clouds covered its peak. In the final analysis, this name certainly proved to be apropos when Storm King Mountain evolved into the most contentious environmental legal case our Nation had ever seen.
Storm King Mountain lies along the west bank of the Hudson River just south of Cornwall, New York.
This proposed action started in 1962, when the Consolidated Edison Company (Con Ed) —one of the US’s largest public utilities—announced its plan to build the world’s largest pumped storage project into the face of the mountain. Project plans called for a facility that would have a generating capacity of 2,000,000 kilowatts (kW), with an upper reservoir behind the mountain that would be a mile across, and an 800-foot long powerhouse at the mountain’s base. The initial application to construct the plant was filed with the Federal Power Commission (FPC, now the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) in Washington, DC on January 1963.
On November 8, 1963, a small group of concerned citizens met at the home of local resident and noted author Carl Carmer. During this meeting, they formed the Scenic Hudson Preservation Conference (Scenic Hudson) to fight the massive project on grounds that it posed a threat to the Cornwall water supply, the Hudson River fisheries, and the scenic beauty and historic significance of Storm King Mountain.
The resulting unprecedented 17-year legal dispute—lasting from 1963 to 1981— eventually culminated with the defeat of Con Ed’s proposal. The decision’s environmental landmark status is based on the fact that it was the first time a conservation group had been permitted to sue to protect the public interest.
Although Scenic Hudson had no economic interest in Storm King—the usual basis for standing—the court ruled that it nonetheless could be construed to be an “injured party” and was entitled to judicial review of an agency ruling. This project proved critical in establishing the legitimacy of environmental issues and opening the way for lawyers and the courts to play a highly significant role in the future review of all manner of land-use vs. the environment battles.
Text excerpted from book: “PROTECTING THE PLANET: Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change” written by Budd Titlow and Mariah Tinger and published by Prometheus Books.
Author’s bio: For the past 50 years, professional ecologist and conservationist Budd Titlow has used his pen and camera to capture the awe and wonders of our natural world. His goal has always been to inspire others to both appreciate and enjoy what he sees. Now he has one main question: Can we save humankind’s place — within nature’s beauty — before it’s too late? Budd’s two latest books are dedicated to answering this perplexing dilemma. “PROTECTING THE PLANET: Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change”, a non-fiction book, examines whether we still have the environmental heroes among us — harking back to such past heroes as Audubon, Hemenway, Muir, Douglas, Leopold, Brower, Carson, and Meadows — needed to accomplish this goal. Next, using fact-filled and entertaining story-telling, his latest book — “COMING FULL CIRCLE: A Sweeping Saga of Conservation Stewardship Across America” — provides the answers we all seek and need. Having published five books, more than 500 photo-essays, and 5,000 photographs, Budd Titlow lives with his music educator wife, Debby, in San Diego, California.