People above scenery: The struggle over the Grand Canyon dams, 1963-1968
AuthorPearson, Byron Eugene, 1960-
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractBetween 1963-1968, western water interests sought to construct two dams in Grand Canyon as part of the Central Arizona Project. The Sierra Club led a national opposition campaign that environmental historians argue defeated the dams. Environmentalists claimed a great victory, and scholars and popular writers lauded the Sierra Club as the savior of Grand Canyon. Despite the laurels heaped upon the Sierra Club, its ability to mobilize public opinion did not enable it to appreciably influence Congress where the issue was actually decided. California politicians thwarted Arizona's attempts to build the project for decades, and when Stewart Udall, a former Arizona congressman became Interior Secretary in 1960, he promoted a regional plan predicated upon water importation from the Columbia River to gain California's support. Washington Senator Henry Jackson, the powerful Interior Committee Chairman, opposed the scheme, and California water strategists used Jackson's opposition and the environmentalists' campaign as pretexts to withdraw their backing in autumn of 1966. Knowing that Arizona's disproportionate political influence would end with his and Senator Carl Hayden's impending retirements, the pragmatic Udall obtained congressional passage of a bare-bones CAP without dams just months before he and Senator Hayden left office in 1968. However, the anti-dam effort was an important event in American environmental history because it propelled the Sierra Club to the undisputed leadership of the environmental movement. Although most conservation organizations curtailed their lobbying efforts after the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Federal Lobbying Act in 1954, the club continued its legislative agenda into the next decade. When the IRS revoked the club's tax deductible status after David Brower placed ads in national newspapers in June of 1966, hundreds of thousands of people wrote Congress, accusing the government of violating the club's constitutional rights. The anti-dam campaign drew strong support from free speech, anti-war, and civil liberties advocates, and the Sierra Club used this public sympathy to solidify its position of environmental leadership after Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act in 1970, giving environmental advocates access to the policy-making process for the first time.
Degree ProgramGraduate College