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While the roads, bridges and tunnels encouraged the growth of the suburbs, the advent of the interstate highway system in the 1930's through 1950's contributed to the decline of many river towns. Industry no longer relied on the river or railroads for transportation; many manufacturing companies moved to lower cost sites elsewhere in the country.
The environmental movement we know in the United States today has it roots firmly in the Hudson. While influenced by the conservationist tradition that established the PIPC at the turn of the century, the movement blossomed nationally and locally in response to several events in the 1960's: first, to accommodate growing demand for power from New York City, Consolidated Edison announced its plan to build a generating plant at Storm King in 1962 (the same year Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was published). The proposed plant would have defaced one of the most prominent sites on the river. What's more, its cooling system would have pumped massive amounts of heated water into the river, threatening aquatic life. A group concerned about Con Ed's plans formed the Scenic Hudson Preservation Conference (the precursor to today's Scenic Hudson) to fight the plant. In 1965 the Second Circuit Court issued a precedent-setting ruling: it revoked Con Ed's Storm King license and required that in considering any future power plants, the Federal Power Commission include as a basic concern the preservation of natural beauty and national historic shrines. While the battle with Con Ed dragged on and was not finally settled until 1980, the Court's ruling established for the first time the importance of including environmental and aesthetic impacts in plant licensing.
The precedent established by the Second Circuit case had national repercussions and was reinforced by the passage of two Federal laws which are foundation pieces of environmental protection: the Clean Air Act, passed in 1970, and Clean Water Act, passed in 1972. In addition to Scenic Hudson, two other prominent national environmental organizations, the National Resources Defense Council and The Environmental Defense Fund were established in direct response to the Storm King controversy.
A second event important to the environmental movement was the publication in 1969 of Robert Boyle's The Hudson River: A Natural and Unnatural History. A fisherman and popular writer for Field and Stream Magazine, Boyle's book chronicled the pollution and environmental decline of the Hudson. The book, in conjunction with the battle over Storm King, acted as a call to arms for the public at large and motivated them to join local advocacy groups like Scenic Hudson, The Riverkeeper and the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. Launched in 1969 by the folk singer Pete Seeger, the Clearwater's mission is to investigate pollution sources and to educate the public on the Hudson's environmental and cultural importance.