October 22, 1965
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW V (Exerpt)
INTERVIEWEE: STEWART UDALL
INTERVIEWER: JOE B. FRANTZ
DATE: December 16, 1969
Place: Washing, D.C. office of former Secretary Stewart Udall
Stu, let's talk first of all about these problems of pesticides which became an educational matter, and one of real concern during the '60's. Until then I think they were more or less accepted as good.
U: I think, the crystallization of thinking that took place in the '60's was to a substantial degree encouraged and pushed by Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring, which of course came out in 1962. This had quite an impact on the country. She is a person who has both the writing skill and understanding of science to make points very strongly. I talked with my scientists about the time the book came out. They felt that in the main she was on target and that we ought to come down on that side of the argument. If you may remember the agricultural interests generally pooh poohed the book, reacted rather negatively about it, and I found myself increasingly, as the months and years went by--because that's where the scientific evidence pointed--taking the position that this was a perilous activity and that there had to be restraint.
I think, looking back now over the last seven years let's say, we sort of slowly wore down the opposition. We find now the Nixon Administration in the last few months has begun to take steps. I think this was probably inevitable because with DDT in particular--after all the person that discovered this won a Nobel Prize--had an influence on health and other things in the world generally--as an example though of where you take something that was a good thing in the beginning, overuse it, push it too far, and then you find that you're doing damage and its side effects are very destructive.
F: Were you thinking of it as a sense as upsetting the balance of nature or to a greater extent of it as a pollutant through the things we eat and drink?
U: I think we thought of it in the beginning, Joe--and Rachel Carson did too--as a threat to wildlife and to the food chain. We began to see in the last few years increasingly, as scientific evidence pointed in that direction, that man himself was going to be ultimately endangered and imperiled and that this, because it was so powerful, could have a disruptive effect on the whole web of life, the whole food chain, if we didn't stop the use of it. This is, I think, where we came out in the end. But it's interesting that RachelCarson's book was primarily on bird life and in the last few months the focus has been on what effect this has on man himself. In this way it's sort of indicative of the whole sweep of the conservation movement and the fact that it's taken on new dimensions in the last few years.
F: What was your particular procedure in this, just an educational campaign in effect through speeches and articles?
U: That's right.
F: Because there wasn't much you could do in a legal or political way.
U: I couldn't do anything because--well, the one thing we could do and we did do as we went along, was limit its use on our land areas, on national parks, areas of that kind, and move to the pesticides that would break down readily. We also fought with the Forest Service on some cases, you know. They were doing spraying of this kind in national forests. Then the national forests, the water runs out into often times prime outdoor recreation areas, fishing streams, and gets into the estuaries, into the fish life. It was essentially kind of a little cold war between Interior and Agriculture. We, by pointing to scientific evidence, by pointing to increasing public concern, we just had to sort of slowly back them off. Then as more scientific evidence piled up, you reached the point where you could have the demands that were made this year for action by the federal government at the highest level.
F: When you do get pollutants into your water, how do you remove them except through the regular process of run-off and rain and so on. Is there some viable scientific method of decreasing the amount of pollution?
U: Of course, what we should want to do, particularly with these poisons and pesticides, is to use those types that will--they're not as efficient--but that will have a limited killing effect, where they degrade quickly and don't effect other organisms and don't effect the life system generally. This is what we began to move to. The scientists would say, too, and tell us, that DDT wasn't indispensable, that there were other pesticides that would work. Of course, what we should seek to do generally and what we haven't done--that's the reason our whole natural system is endangered by the various forms of pollution, air pollution, water pollution, contamination--is that in the long run we could disrupt the very system on which life on this planet depends. This is what is increasingly becoming a concern of biologists and ecologists. Frankly, I think you can look back and see the whole thrust was of gathering additional scientific evidence so that we really knew what the effect was of increasing public awareness. Essentially the campaign that we waged was to help make the fight that the scientists and conservationists were making, to aid that causeof increasing the awareness and the concern so that there could be decisive action taken at
the government level.
F: To shift a little bit, let's talk about the problem--and the opportunities, I suppose--of minerals on government lands. This brings in anything from safety factors, to stockpiling factors, to lease factors and so on.
U: The attitude that we started in the 1960's with was basically the old attitude that existed for a hundred years based upon the fact that your public lands were wide open to mining to exploration, that this was a vital and very necessary activity, and therefore let her rip, the more the better. There was no concern and in fact the old 1872 Mining Act is anti-conservation. It's a giveaway of the resources. It also gives people the right to move in and to bulldoze the earth and pollute and mess things up. One of the things that we developed in the last years of President Johnson's Administration was a surface mine legislation to require anybody who's going to mine to restore the earth, to restore the soil conditions, and to carry out their activities in such a way that there was no adverse effect on the rest of nature. But, again, this was something that developed as we went along. I think we were essentially evolving new attitudes and a new approach. The old attitude of unlimited mining and the mining people doing it in the cheapest way, no matter what effect it might have on streams, on the air, that this became increasingly under question and that we tried to evolve new laws, new attitudes, new approaches to do something about it.
F: I rather presume that in the eastern part of the United States where you've got this problem of strip mining that the country in cattle terms will hair over once you let it lie for awhile. The pine trees will come back and so on, but in the West with it's extreme aridity and frequently its very thin top soil that you're giving almost eternal scars that don't heal.
U: Well, that's true in the arid lands, and the semi-arid country of the West much more.
F: So this gives you a little different problem than you would have in the vast lands of the East.
U: But even, Joe, in the East--although almost all this land is in private ownership and we'd always taken the attitude that this was a state problem, state control of strip mining and so on. The coal strip mining is, I think, one of the worst forms of man's activity by using big machines and everything to really strip and gut an area. They go so deep you see, and they tear the top soil off, that even these areas--many of them--will remain scarred permanently, because they've just stripped right down to rock. Even where you have the favorable natural conditions you have it's hard to restore. Plus the fact that the worst form of water pollution there is acid mine drainage from your coal mines. It's ruined miles and miles of stream. Again, our attitude until very recently was, "Well, you know this was too bad, but it's a necessary incident of coal mining," and if the states didn't want to do anything about, why, nothing would be done. Yet as we began to move in our water pollution control programs we could see and identify this as a major cause of damage to interstate streams and something that had to concern the national government.
F: So consequently scarring the land, say, in eastern Ohio with strip mining becomes a national concern to me down in Texas because it is ruining part of my total land area.
U: That's right. It has a severe overall effect.
F: And, in your opinion, you brought a national focus to this during the '60's.
U: I think we did, and I think the mining legislation that we tried to push at least pointed out the remedy. Also, one of the pieces of legislation that I sent to Congress as we went out the door was for a complete rewriting of the old 1872 Mining Act so that it would become a leasing act instead of people getting a mining claim and that the activity would be carried out consonant with sound conservation practices. This still hasn't been done. It's a major question we face right today and I'm disturbed that the new Administration seems to be casting its lot with a few little changes in the old mining act rather than the kind of thorough-going change that I think is vital.
F: What do you need, a whole eight years, such as you had, to prepare the Congress to accept things like this?
U: The Congress is certainly the obstacle. I think as far as the public and the conservation movement, generally, they would go with these changes. I'm talking about in surface mining and changing the rights laws.
F: You think they've moved out ahead in this.
U: Unfortunately, and this is where the committee system of Congress betrays us, the members of Congress who are dominant on those committees are from districts where there is mining and where there's this old tradition. They won't move over. Congressman Aspinall is a good example on this. He's strong for the mining industry. You're not going to get change unless you can move people like that over.
F: You've been in Congress and know the system quite intimately. Why do our Interior committee chairmen in Congress tend almost invariably to come from the West? Do they
seek the assignment or does the assignment seek them? We can go back through the whole history of chairman and subcommittees chairmen and so forth, and they almost invariably--I can think of a few exceptions--they are men who come from the western mining states.
U: Historically I think without doubt one of the biggest breaks on conservation action has been the fact that the committees [that] handle most conservation legislation are dominated by Westerners. The Westerners themselves are dominated by the local desires and the local pressures of the cattlemen, lumbermen, stockmen and so on--in other words that they're user oriented rather than conservation oriented. Now this is true. It goes back to Teddy Roosevelt's time. A lot of the Congressmen, Republicans and Democrats alike, fought him bitterly on the things that he did and he was acting for the nation. They said, "Well, you're destroying our local industry." This has been operating right up until today. The one tactic, Joe, that I used in order to offset this was to curry favor with and work closely with Congressmen who were either not Westerners or were not typical Western Congressmen. Congressman Sayler of Pennsylvania, the ranking member on the House Interior Committee was very good on these matters. He and I saw much more eye to eye on issues than Aspinall and I. Senator Kuchel of California, the ranking Republican from an urban state now, he was quite good on conservation matters. Senator Jackson of Washington increasingly had the kind of awareness and enlightened approach and was more interested in conservation than in use of resources. So you had to work with those people and kind of surround and put pressures on the more slow moving types like Congressman Aspinall.
F: Let them carry a bit of the weight for you.
U: That's right.
F: What was your particular problem with this shale development?
U: There's quite a history on this and a lot of it is in my papers, of course. The shale resource, is primarily in Colorado, also in Wyoming and Utah, represents ultimately a fantastic resource.
F: Has the technology caught up with it?
U: Not quite yet and that was part of the problem. You see, the question was, it was open to old mining laws and could they stake out mining claims and take it away. Well, that started back in the 20's. President Herbert Hoover closed all the oil shale country to mining locations. I think this was a very provident step and the question was increasingly raised by Aspinall, the Colorado Congressman, and others that the time had come to begin development, to open it up to leasing. The question was whether the technology was ready, whether it would be competitive with other sources of petroleum and petroleum products. So I did several things. Beginning in '64 I appointed an oil-shale advisory committee of very eminent people. They ended up, somebody said, as seven experts and there were seven different reports! A little overstatement but it was a very good report because it put it in sharp focus. Then the question was could we develop some kind of leasing program. We did finally develop a proposal. Industry, in effect, rejected it which proved to me that the technology is not ready and that industry will only move on oil shale development when the economics and the technology are right. In order to encourage technology, if you give them too many advantages, it constitutes a giveaway. Therefore, you ought to wait for technological developments. I had to administer this very carefully because if we moved too fast, gave too many concessions, it would be regarded quite rightly as a giveaway. On the other hand, there was a feeling of some of the congressional people, particularly the ones from these mountain states and from some people in industry, that if you'd open up a leasing program the thing would move forward and so on. I think this is a great reserve for the nation. Probably ultimately the federal government ought to do more research and development work itself and not just leave it up to industry under a leasing program.
F: As I recall, when the leases were first opened up, instead of the great bonanza that was expected the companies proceeded rather, let's say, timidly or conservatively and that they did not bid high nor bid very broadly for the land.
U: That's right. This proved what we suspected all along and what my people felt when we laid out our leasing program. They said, "You'll have no takers." Because if you have a program that protects the public interest, is conservation minded, that this establishes conditions that they would consider unfavorable and too stringent for them to make the investments. So we're right back to the problem we had at the beginning; how do you encourage technology, and how should this be developed; what role should the federal government play; what should private industry play?
F: Every state has something that passes for a conservation commission, board, agency. How did you manage to keep a sort of fine balance between what you're trying to do on the national scale and not override what they look on as their prerogative? Was there a close liaison here?
U: It all depended. Of course, we tried wherever we could, where there were states that were providing the new leadership in outdoor recreation and conservation, to encourage them to help move their programs along faster. Where there were state commissions, state activities, where the states traditionally have played the lead role, we again tried to have some influence on them. You take the whole field of wildlife management, which has been primarily a state concern. In fact the states have been wanting to push the federal government aside and assume the larger role in this area, which I felt was wrong. So what you tried to do was encourage the right kind of developments and to discourage in areas where the states were trying to enhance their role by limiting federal responsibilities, federal action, in areas where the federal government had to play a primary role.
F: Why did you feel that was wrong?
U: Unfortunately, the attitude that you get at the state level to too much a degree is based on again local pressures, local considerations, and it didn't always accord with the best conservation principles and practices.
F: Also, there's nothing magic about a state border, in some cases, so that these things do cross state borders.
U: I've thought increasingly in the last years--or I saw so many of our resources--state boundaries are not only imaginary, they're very unrealistic. You know, if you were to set a group up today, de novo as it were to fix state boundaries, I would favor the state boundaries based on watershed. You'd have a state named Potomac, for example. The state Connecticut would be the Connecticut River Valley, and because this would put thing--
F: You'd save yourself a lot of trouble with the Colorado River, wouldn't you?
U: Yes, that's right. The state boundaries were created very arbitrarily and without regard for proper planning or attitude for resource development.
F: In early March of 1964, not too long after Mr. Johnson had become President, a public land law review commission was set up, and it reported right at the end of his and your Administrations. What was the thinking behind this? What was the genesis of the whole idea?
U: This was really a Congressional initiative and it grew out of the fight over the Wilderness Bill. It was Congressman Aspinall's idea, essentially, and not ours. There were three elements to it. One was that this was, in a way, a sop to Aspinall, who was violently opposed along and finally begrudgingly agreed to a wilderness bill, that there would be a study of the future of the public lands of the United States, which still are a very substantial portion when one included Alaska--almost twenty-five percent of the land area in the country. I think another aspect was that they passed legislation, also, that gave new powers to the Interior Department to classify public lands, to evolve management programs. Actually Aspinall thought of this as a temporary thing. We took the responsibility very seriously and were doing what we regarded as permanent classification of lands. I think it's clear now, because the life of the commission had to be renewed--it still hasn't reported--and I think its report is going to largely be a rather confused and abortive attempt to evolve new policy because Aspinall originally felt that such a study would come up with recommendations that would be favorable to giving the states more responsibility over these lands, to perhaps dealing more of these lands into private ownership and that this would aggrandize the user interest. But he recognizes now that there's very strong sentiment that these lands are a permanent legacy of the country and that we ought to keep the great bulk of them and manage them properly. I don't think this report is going to have much historical significance. That doesn't hurt my own feelings on this because it was his idea and it was not our idea. We never did expect much to come out of it, frankly.
F: Did you get the feeling that neither Congress nor the people in general understood the wilderness idea?
U: The wilderness idea was argued about for nearly a decade before the Wilderness Bill was enacted. The first Wilderness Bill was introduced in 1957 by Hubert Humphrey. It was considered highly controversial. People like Aspinall, some of the western user-oriented Congressmen, thought it was an outlandish idea. It slowly gathered strength over the years. Then when President Kennedy came out for a wilderness bill of some kind, this gave it new momentum. President Johnson supported it and of course he signed the bill in September of 1964. Aspinall initially took a very hard stance that there was going to be no Wilderness Bill and you had to almost break down that opposition.
F: How do you get it through a committee on which he sits as chairman and a pretty strong chairman?
U: The device I used was to work with the committee members who were for it. And particularly Congressman Sayler of Pennsylvania became one of the outstanding advocates and he just constantly kept the pressure on Aspinall. The national publications that were interested kept putting pressure on. He finally recognized that he was going to force the Administration to try and take the committee away from him. So he finally yielded. He got some concessions on his mining phase out , which I think were bad concessions. This was a kind of horse trading.
F: How did that work?
U: It worked essentially by saying we're going to have almost a twenty-year period in which you can have mining exploration in the wilderness. Well, the two are really incompatible. They're still going through that whole process and it really watered down the Wilderness Bill. Actually, in my view right today, we ought to be discussing doubling the size of the wilderness system in this country rather than arguing about whether there are or are not mineral values in some of the wilderness areas. But Aspinall was throughout the most severe obstacle we had. He's a very crotchety, difficult person to work with. I often thought that if I had had someone in the House as chairman of the committee who was comparable to Senator Jackson, let's say, or Senator Anderson of New Mexico, that we might have gotten twice as much done. But he's a very strong-minded, one-man committee, and very dominate and domineering, so you have to cow-tow to him, work with him, get as much as you could, take your half a loaf and settle for that. And he was educable and flexible to a degree.
F: Now when you get something like the Wilderness Act through and it gains acceptance, does he then turn around and embrace it?
U: No, he moves over very slowly. Let me give you an example, Joe. This is one that involved the Johnson Administration. I got the President in his State of the Union message in early 1965 to propose as a kind of complementary piece of legislation to the Wilderness Act a Wild Rivers Bill where we would set aside sections of rivers and tributaries to be left alone, just as we were taking other sections of rivers and we were going to dam them. Aspinall's immediate public reaction didn't surprise me at all. He said this was a ridiculous idea and his committee, he didn't know whether they would even consider it. As a matter of fact, they didn't consider it for three years. We finally got the scenic and Wild Rivers Bill, as it became known, in the last year of President Johnson's Administration. It took four years to break him down. You did this by number one, passing a Senate bill, a good Senate bill and that put some pressure on. The conservation organizations indicated they wanted it and they kept pushing it. The President kept it high up on his agenda of needed conservation legislation. You just had to wear him down, but he did feel I think, even when he got through--as he put it, he called it a crazy idea. That was the kind of opposition we had to fight with this powerful Congressman sitting there. So what I did, I would work with Sayler and work with others on the committee. They'd keep nagging at him and saying, "We've got to do something; the nation wants it done; the President has put it on the list of must legislation." He'd drag his feet and drag his feet and they didn't even hold hearings. This is a major piece, new new initiative by a President for new conservation legislation and a new idea that I think historically will be seen as important as the Wilderness Bill. And though a President proposes it a Congressional committee wouldn't even hold hearings for three years. That's the kind of opposition we had.
F: So really there's a great deal of long range triumph in everything that got passed.
U: That's right.
F: Let's shift a little bit and talk about, well, two things. We have mentioned in the past the possible reorganization of the Department of the Interior and bringing in, say, the Forest Service and the Engineers. You've got, as things stand at the moment, you have a sort of a built-in conflict between part of what you're trying to do in the Department of the Interior and what the Army Engineers are trying to do, do you not?
U: Yes. This conflict, as the '60's wore on, became increasingly a major problem. Actually, the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation, arise out of the great momentum of the dam building movement that began in the New Deal days, they were still riding pretty high in the beginning of the 1960's. In fact as you remember, President Kennedy campaigned mainly in the West on one slogan, that he was going to end the no new starts policy. Well, the no new starts meant no new dams. That wasn't exactly the Eisenhower Administration's policy. They were for slowing it down.
F: That Colorado series, like Turaconti (?) and so forth all were Eisenhower beginnings.
U: This whole upper Colorado project, of course, a Democratic Congress passed it, and it was a joint effort in that respect, but there was some action on that front. But still the Corps of Engineers flood control projects, their harbor dredging, all their main activities, their dam building--with the authority they had--they were given a very broad authority by Congress. Most Congressmen, under the old pork barrel system, regarded this as a beneficial thing, something good for the country and they'd go home with their projects and feel that they brought the bacon home for the people.
F: Pretty close to sacred because you could save water.
U: That's right, but increasingly these activities came under question. Conservationists didn't want dams in certain areas. It turned out much to the embarrassment to the Corps of Engineers--for example, with their harbor dredging projects in Cleveland and Chicago and places like that-- they were dredging all of this poisoned polluted muck, all of the water pollution that will go into the Cuyahoga River for example in Cleveland and take it out in Lake Erie and dump it right in the lake! So they were part of the polluting process. They were destroying important estuaries. They were dredging where they shouldn't dredge. So we began to be in confrontations with them. Congress began to put little amendments on bills giving Interior a right to review certain things. The Corps didn't like any of this. Their Congressmen didn't either, but we had enough of strength to challenge some of these things. And I found myself as the decade wore on increasingly questioning myself some of their major dam building projects that at the beginning of the 1960's had appeared to be a sort of sacred cow. Rampart Dam was one example, Joe. I went to Alaska after I came back from Russia and looked at their big dams in eastern Siberia and sort of made noises, although I had some reservations then, in favor of Rampart Dam in the fall of 1962. By the fall of 1967, or the summer, by our report and our action I in effect delivered the coup de grace to Rampart dam--five years later that showed part of the change.