Don't Breathe the Air
Air Pollution and U.S. Environmental Politics, 1945-1970
Environmental History - Political Science
6.125 x 9.25, 336 pp.
Pub Date: 08/01/2000
Environmental History Series
Price:        $39.95 s


Published by Texas A&M University Press

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Don't Breathe the Air

Air Pollution and U.S. Environmental Politics, 1945-1970

By Scott Hamilton Dewey

With the menace of smog hanging over an increasing number of American cities in the 1960s, “Clean Air!” became a rallying cry for a new environmentalism. Citizen activists rallied passionately to force state and local governments to address problems that threatened human health and even survival. In Don’t Breathe the Air, Scott H. Dewey traces the history of air pollution control efforts, focusing on the decade of the sixties, and describes how local efforts helped create both the modern environmental movement and federal environmental policy.

Early in the fight against air pollution, activists recognized the need for intergovernmental solutions. Because air was mobile, no single jurisdiction could address problems alone. Dewey has chosen three case studies involving different sources of air pollution and different configurations of governments to discover how jurisdictional issues affected environmental organization and the ability to clean up the air.

First, Dewey looks at Los Angeles, arguably the birthplace of modern air pollution. Because much of the city’s air pollution was automobile-related, Los Angeles had to enlist help from the State of California to regulate both the industry and car owners. Relatively speaking, Los Angeles was a success story, one that set important precedents and illustrated a pattern of local concerns entailing action in a larger arena.

Dewey then turns to New York City, a city plagued by air pollution problems that involved more than one state and required regional action. In its comparative lack of success in dealing with its atmospheric woes, compounded by the pollution descending on it from neighboring New Jersey, New York was more typical of the overall national pattern than was Los Angeles.

Finally, Dewey examines central Florida, where a rural, agricultural area suffered from severe industrial air pollution that required a multi-jurisdictional solution and a confrontation with influential phosphate manufacturers that all levels of government were long reluctant to tackle.

Don’t Breathe the Air is a comprehensive look at the role of air pollution and citizen activism during the rise of environmentalism in the post–World War II United States. It clearly lays out the issues and strategies that prepared the way for the federal clean air legislation of the 1970s.

Scott H. Dewey, who received his doctorate from Rice University, is an adjunct professor at California State University–Los Angeles. He has published several articles on environmentalism, focusing on the role of various organized groups in the movement for clean air.

What Readers Are Saying:

“His is a pregnant story, one whose further exploration and interpretation should provide for important revisions in our understanding of what postwar American politics was all about.” --American Historical Review

“Don’t Breathe the Air is a meticulous, well-documented study of three specific cases of air pollution and attempts to control it. . . . The author deftly corrects misconceptions about the history of air pollution and environmental policy and points out the important role played by citizen activists. This book is highly recommended for all libraries concerned with environmental history and policy.” --E-Streams

“His book brings to life the crusades and crusaders who fought this battle so hard. . . . Don’t Breathe the Air provides a great deal of information and contributes to the larger history of environmental policy with case studies rich in detail. The book is relevant to anyone interested in the history of the interaction between local, state, and federal levels of American government. It could be useful as an auxiliary text in a graduate or advanced undergraduate course on political history, federalism, environmental policy, or environmental history.” --New York History

“Dewey’s overarching argument is that the creation of local, state, and national air pollution regulation entailed a long, exhaustive battle between those causing the problem–consumers and industry–and those wanting it solved–local officials and negatively impacted citizens. His book brings to life the crusades and crusaders who fought this battle so hard.” --New York History

“Scott Dewey has produced a valuable study on a subject that has received far too little attention from historians. . . . the book gives serious and necessary attention to a major environmental issue. It offers graphic case studies. And it asserts the vital role of grassroots protests, too often forgotten in more traditional regulatory histories. The book is well worth reading.” --Florida Historical Quarterly

“In any case, this work is a useful study of early pollution control efforts, of the difficulty citizen groups face in confronting corporate polluters, and of the labyrinth of intergovernmental relations.” --University of Northern Colorado

“The true value of the book—extensive use of often illuminating archive material, which also provides something of a tribute to the efforts of the activists.” --Environment and History


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