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Maine Memory Network

Clean Water: Muskie and the Environment

This Exhibit Contains 17 Items
1
Edmund S. Muskie and family, 1968

Edmund S. Muskie and family, 1968

Item 10815 info
Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library

Edmund S. Muskie knew about river pollution first hand.

Muskie grew up in Rumford near the Androscoggin River, which received pollutants from paper mills and municipal sewage as well as sources like agricultural and street runoff.

The geographic and geologic attributes of the Androscoggin, like other rivers in Maine and elsewhere, made it ideal for industry -- and pollution.


2
Sketch of Androscoggin River, ca. 1830

Sketch of Androscoggin River, ca. 1830

Item 25774 info
Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library

The Androscoggin River, from its source in the Rangeley Lakes to its outlet in Merrymeeting Bay, drops 1,500 vertical feet.

Those drops, often in scenic falls, such as Great Falls in Lewiston-Auburn painted by Josiah Spooner Swift in 1830, are excellent sources of waterpower, and drew industry to the rivers' shores beginning in the early nineteenth century -- and settlements, which also brought sources of pollution, even earlier.


3
Summary of river condition, Lewiston, 1948

Summary of river condition, Lewiston, 1948

Item 25720 info
Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library

Before Edmund S. Muskie went to the U.S. Senate in 1959, the problems of the Androscoggin River had come to the fore through the work of Dr. Walter Lawrance, a Bates College chemistry professor.

Since the 1880s when paper mills began creating pulp with a sulfite chemical process, water downstream of paper mills often smelled awful and was too polluted to use.

A study of the Androscoggin in the early 1940s showed that it had almost no dissolved oxygen and therefore could not support fish or aquatic life.


4
Walter A. Lawrance with students, Lewiston, ca. 1949

Walter A. Lawrance with students, Lewiston, ca. 1949

Item 25765 info
Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library

Lawrance was named Androscoggin River Master in 1948 and, a year later, was given the authority by the state to set discharge limits.

The river was threatened not only by industrial chemicals, but also by organic debris from log drives and by agricultural and sewage runoff.

Lawrance's limits on industrial discharge led to changes in the way paper mills processed pulp.

He also introduced sodium nitrate into the river to improve its oxygen levels and hence its odor and the health of the river.


5
Muskie, Udall at Cadillac Mountain, 1962

Muskie, Udall at Cadillac Mountain, 1962

Item 25773 info
Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library

While Walter Lawrance worked to improve the water quality of the Androscoggin River, Muskie operated on a larger stage.

When he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1958, he was assigned to the Public Works Committee, which had little influence.

Known as the father of the modern environmental movement, Muskie turned the committee and its Subcommittee on Air and Water Pollution, formed in 1965, into important voices.

Muskie believed that environmental regulations needed enough science and scientific analysis to justify the Federal government getting involved.


6
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Clean Air Act, December 17, 1963

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Clean Air Act, December 17, 1963

Item 10829 info
Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library

Muskie and the committee wanted the Public Health Service, which had a charge to deal with pollution, to collect scientific evidence of the effects of pollution on health and welfare.

Leon G. Billings, the former staff of the Air and Water Pollution subcommittee, wrote, "Better science argues for more, rather than less, aggressive pollution controls."

Muskie was known for thoroughly studying issues and basing his arguments for legislation on the facts he gathered.

Muskie shepherded the 1963 Clean Air Act through Congress and stood close to president Lyndon Johnson as he signed the landmark law.

Muskie later said his greatest achievement was the 1970 Clean Air Act, an act that led the way to the 1972 clean water bill.


7
Letter to Muskie on Portland pollution, 1970

Letter to Muskie on Portland pollution, 1970

Item 25771 info
Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library

As a number of Muskie's assistants and colleagues from the 1960s note, "environmental" was not a term much used then.

There was a conservation movement that focused on preserving wild lands. Muskie's focus was different -- he wanted to clean up the air, water, and land.

When the polluted Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire in 1969, Muskie's crusade for clean water drew a larger audience.


8
Student letter to Edmund Muskie, Poland, 1970

Student letter to Edmund Muskie, Poland, 1970

Item 25726 info
Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library

Muskie's reputation as a steward of the environment earned him the nickname "Mr. Clean" and drew letters from people around the country seeking his intervention or support for clean air and clean water causes.

Suzanne Clune, an 11-year-old from Poland, wrote to Muskie about the odor of the Little Androscoggin River near her home.

She said area residents had written to the governor with no result and urged Muskie to help the situation.


9
Casco Bay pollution, 1970

Casco Bay pollution, 1970

Item 25725 info
Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library

A Portland dentist wrote to Senator Muskie, enclosing photographs of pollution of Casco Bay at the outlet of the Presumpscot River, and asking Muskie to take action.

The dentist, Richard E. Gosse, wanted industries, especially the paper mill upriver in Westbrook, held accountable for river pollution.

Gosse was just one of hundreds of people who wrote to Muskie, expressing their concerns and helping to strengthen his case that the federal government must do something to protect the environment.


10
Edmund S. Muskie on the environment, 1970

Edmund S. Muskie on the environment, 1970

Item 26512 info
Northeast Historic Film

Muskie's popularity and position as an environmental leader gave him the opportunity to speak about the challenges of dealing with pollution and other problems.

In this film clip, Muskie says, "It has been said that pollution is a highly sexy political subject."

He called dealing with pollution a "highly difficult and potentially explosive political opportunity," and noted there were hard choices to be made, especially at the local level.


11
Letter to Muskie from Montana students, 1971

Letter to Muskie from Montana students, 1971

Item 25766 info
Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library

Muskie introduced what came to be known as the Clean Water Act on October 28, 1971.

His Senate subcommittee held 33 days of hearings over a period of two years in various locations around the country before and after the bill was introduced.

The visibility of those hearings brought Muskie even more mail about environmental issues.


12
Letter to Muskie on environmental work, 1971

Letter to Muskie on environmental work, 1971

Item 25724 info
Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library

The legislation that Muskie and the strongly bipartisan committee backed was groundbreaking.

It required zero discharge by 1985. The goal was that nothing of a polluting nature ultimately would be allowed to be dumped into rivers and lakes directly and indirect runoff would be controlled as well.

Previously, water pollution was discussed in terms of how much discharge from various sources the body of water could stand.

Muskie and the committee believed a goal of no pollution was the best alternative to trying to decide what and how much of various materials would be acceptable in a body of water.


13
William Chisholm letter to Sen. Muskie, 1971

William Chisholm letter to Sen. Muskie, 1971

Item 25767 info
Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library

The bill set a goal of ensuring that all waters would be drinkable, swimmable and fishable.

It gave the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to implement pollution control programs that promoted "biological integrity," a term that became especially important to continued environmental efforts.



14
Muskie Clean Water Bill cartoon, 1971

Muskie Clean Water Bill cartoon, 1971

Item 25722 info
Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library

Adding to the disputes over discharges, cost, and enforcement were political tensions arising from the 1972 Presidential election.

Both Ed Muskie, a Democrat, and Richard Nixon, the Republican incumbent, were running for president. Even though Muskie dropped out the race, accusations of political posturing continued.


15
Edmund Muskie battles the Giant cartoon, 1968

Edmund Muskie battles the Giant cartoon, 1968

Item 25723 info
Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library

Nixon was not the only opponent of the bill and the standards it created.

Some environmentalists opposed it as well because they did not trust the experts that the committee had relied on in constructing the bill.

They also did not trust the government enforcement agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.


16
Muskie as wrestler cartoon, undated

Muskie as wrestler cartoon, undated

Item 25721 info
Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library

Many people contributed to writing and marking up the bill, and Muskie worked with colleagues of both political parties to settle on language and provisions before sending the legislation to the floor of the Senate for a vote. It passed 86-0 in the Senate and 380-14 in the House.

The House and Senate then spent 39 days in conference to work out their differences.
The Conference Committee report was passed with similar large margins.

President Richard Nixon vetoed the 1972 Clean Water Act, but on October 18, 1972, the veto was overridden and the bill became law.


17
Edmund S. Muskie letter to the editor, 1971

Edmund S. Muskie letter to the editor, 1971

Item 25835 info
Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library

While the no-discharge goal that Muskie and his allied promoted has yet to be achieved, the 1972 Clean Water Act is credited with leading to improved water quality in rivers, lakes and streams.

In the years since the bill passed, agricultural and urban runoff, in particular, have been greatly reduced.

While many were concerned about the costs to industry and to employment, as Muskie's letter to the editor suggests, the bill did not lead to the dire results some predicted.


This Exhibit Contains 17 Items