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As The Times prepares to endorse a presidential candidate for the first time in more than 35 years, the editorial board will examine the candidates' stances on issues through our own sense of the meaning of some essential American values. How much have The Times' values changed since its 1972 endorsement of Richard Nixon? We'll find out by looking through editorials from that year. Earlier, we went through The Times' positions on life, liberty and justice and the pursuit of happiness.
Today, The Times considers "the powers of the earth" or the key environmental issues of our time. In 1972, Nixon was on his way to establishing a fairly solid environmental legacy, signing the basis of the Clean Water Act that year. The Environmental Protection Agency had been around only two years, and California was already fighting to enact its own stronger environmental standards. The Times of old advocated pollution control and exploration of new energy sources only by control, the board meant control; pollution included the noisy kind; and new energy sources meant not renewables, but nuclear.
The Times started the year strongly on Jan. 6 with an expose on air pollution and a long, harsh list of policy measures for "pure air" by the end of that decade:
Reporters of The Times throughout the nation and around the world have set forth in today's edition the story of air pollution, the corruption of the earth's atmosphere by the effluents of a global industrial revolution. The industrial revolution has brought man a longer and easier life. But man has paid a terrible price, rapidly exhausting irreplaceable resources, littering the landscape, and now obscuring it with clouds of gaseous and particulate filth that erode the mucous membranes, facilitate the assault of bacteria and viruses on the respiratory system, divert the mind, strangle the population with irritations and infections. It is astonishing to learn that air pollution has become almost universal in a single generation. Smog may even be worse in Mexico City than in Los Angeles
.London wiped away the smoke and sulfur. So did Pittsburgh, and so did Los Angeles. Those were great victories. But they made all the more conspicuous the problem of photochemical smog
. The search for solutions has been frustrated step by step, by political malingering, by a petroleum industry which was slow to see its responsibility, by a motor industry that preferred postponement to commitment
. [T]here is a word of hope
of relatively pure air by 1980
. [I]t will be possible only with a shift to nuclear energy for power generation, improvement of bus transportation, conversion of fleet vehicles to natural gas, restrictions on traffic in some urban areas, and stricter auto emission controls.
The board banged the drum for clean air again on Jan. 18, this time throwing around talk of "police power" that wouldn't pass today:
State and federal officials are currently cooperating in a farce involving clean air in California. It cloaks a deadly serious problem. Clean air, under federal law, is air that is not harmful to health, and the national deadline for getting air of this quality is 1975
. It is up to the states to devise ways to meet the federal standards
. We understand the practical difficulties in the way of the state's plan. But we understand too that the quality of our air isn't going to be improved without effective and vigorously enforced measures to reduce the pollutants we are putting into it. The time may indeed come when the state will have to use its police powers to restrict auto use, to protect the health of the community. The time is here now, however, when the state can take feasible steps to assure us at least cleaner air in the years ahead.
And nine days later, the pre-Three Mile Island-era Times applauded efforts to build a better, faster nuke plant, a position with which the current board would disagree:
By 1980, the Atomic Energy Commission, working with industry, hopes to have in operation in Tennessee the nation's first large fast breeder reactor, a new type of nuclear power plant that could point the way to providing cheap and abundant electrical energy to meet the expanding needs of coming decades
. With the nation's electric power demands doubling every 10 years, the need for developing economical new power sources has become acute
. The safety record of commercial American nuclear reactors has been generally excellent, but the possibility of accident, and perhaps of widespread radiation, can never be entirely ruled out.
At the end of January, the board decried noise pollution and lest they seem old fogeyish, they made sure to note they were hip to rock music:
Noise is more than an annoyance, it is a health problem
. Excessive noise not only harms hearing and interferes with sleep. It may have effects on the heart, the circulatory and respiratory systems. Too much noise is indisputably bad for people, and most of us are exposed for varying parts of the day to too much noise. Hearing tests were given recently to more than 40 rock musicians; half were found to have some impairment. The doctors who conducted the examinations noted, however, that audiences at rock concerts actually are exposed to higher noise levels than the performers, because of amplifying equipment. Hearing impairment is becoming not only an occupational risk, it would appear, but a cultural one as well.
On Feb. 24, The Times wanted to control urban blight and air pollution by regulating gas stations (who knows how the old board would have reacted to Olympic and Robertson today):
There is a justifiable clamor for controls to eliminate air pollution caused by the gas-burning automobile engine. Also needing control is the visual pollution produced by those ubiquitous gas stations especially the abandoned ones that become such eyesores
. [r]egulating business locations always has been an integral part of sound planning and zoning. Most ordinances allow gas stations in industrial and commercial zones. More specific statues are now needed.
It may seem surprising these days that a Republican administration was being praised for its environmental achievements, but things were different during the earth-happy Nixon era. The board wrote on March 17:
Alaska, one-fourth the size of the continental United States, is the last great American frontier. Its timber, oil, coal and other resources are immense. The disposition of these resources between the federal government and the state, and the release of land for private development involve decisions of the greatest importance to the entire nation The action taken Wednesday by Secretary of the Interior Rogers C. B. Morton was in the tradition of great conservationists of the past like Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot. Morton set aside 274 million acres of federal land in Alaska.
But maybe that was too hasty. The Times reconsidered somewhat on March 22, alluding to the instability of oil sources in '72 (which would get a lot worse the next year):
It now appears that the controversial trans-Alaska oil pipeline will be approved
. The issue is not whether the vast oil reserves of Alaska's North Slope should be tapped moving the oil to domestic markets will be a welcome means to reduce dependency on foreign sources and to help the balance of payments. The issue has been whether the pipeline is the best way to do it.
And on April 13, the board listed the pros of natural gas in a more optimistic way than the present-day board:
Southern California faces a serious and potentially severe shortage of natural gas used to fuel its electric power plants, and that shortage could lead to a major increase in air pollution as early as next year
. A reduction in the supply of natural gas would require California electric utilities to shift more and more to fuel oil
. This is where the air pollution problem comes in. Natural gas is virtually pollution-free. Most oil, on the other hand, has a high sulfur content. When this oil is burned, sulfur oxides are created. These oxides reduce visibility. They can damage buildings and plant life. And they can affect health.
The board cheered the House of Representatives for letting a nuclear power plant operate temporarily without an environmental impact report. Heat pollution was the only worry the board had on April 24:
Nuclear power is an alternative to fossil fuels that poses no air pollution problem. Nuclear plants do give off heat pollution, but that can be controlled. It is clear the nation will have to rely increasingly on nuclear power to meet its electricity needs. California particularly, with its tough clean air standards, needs nuclear power.
On May 4, the board responded to a federal government study, which claimed to have calculated the economic impact of environmental protection, down to how much extra money a car would cost:
The federal government figures it will take $105.2 billion over the next five years to control environmental pollution, and has made estimates of what this will mean in terms of lost jobs, increased inflation, a decline in exports and a drop in the annual growth of the gross national product
. Job loss is put at between 50,000 and 125,000
new autos [are] estimated to cost between $294 and $343 a car by 1976. Overall the EPA estimates that cleanup costs will increase the annual rate of inflation by .23%, a tolerable amount, and hold down the growth in the GNP by .3% a year
. There will be more than fair return for those costs in a cleaner, healthier, more livable country.
And in a tradition it carries on today, the board stood firm for cleaner cars on May 16:
Automakers have hinted they will fight the EPA ruling, either by court appeal or by asking Congress to amend the 1970 Clean Air Act to give them more time to develop control technology
For now, however, the EPA's ruling stands. It should. It is in the public interest. It reaffirms a deadline for action after years, decades even, of apathy and deliberate delay in confronting a public health problem of growing seriousness. It is a deadline to be met, not postponed.
On May 24, it scolded Ford Motor Company for fudging its clean air testing results:
It seems that personnel in Ford's engine division made unauthorized adjustments on prototype engines of 1973 model cars that were undergoing antipollution tests. The changes, not one or two but at least 48 of them, were detected by Ford's computer division and promptly reported to the Environmental Protection Agency. Phony tests, of course, are no tests at all, and so Ford will have to start all over again to show that its 1973 engines meet federal standards for emissions of carbon monoxide, unburned hydrocarbons, and oxides of nitrogen
. The obvious point is that someone had to make the executive decision to doctor the tests, and for reasons that demand explanation. For what that decision once more reflects, it seems to us, is an arrogant attitude that pollution controls needn't be taken too seriously, that engine performance or whatever takes priority, that a little dishonesty, if undetected, will hurt no one. No one except the people who have to breathe polluted air.
After an environmental-editorial-free summer, the board reacted on Aug. 9 to a presidential report on pollution control:
The President's Council on Environmental Quality has issued its third annual report on where the nation stands
. The good news is that "we are winning the battle against air pollution"
. The bad news is twofold. Water quality is worsening in some respects. And it is going to cost the American people more than was originally predicted to bring pollution under control
. In accepting the council's report, President Nixon chided Congress for its inactivity on more than 20 legislative proposals on environmental matters that have been gathering dust. The complaint is valid, though blame must also be shared by the President
Five days later, the board presciently warned of an imminent energy crisis:
The nation is moving closer to the point where the increasing demand for energy of all kinds for use in industry, transportation, the home cannot be met. Periodic electric power blackouts have already hit some parts of the country
. Between now and 1985, when some experts think the energy gap will become the energy crisis, the nation's population will increase by an estimated 37 million. Not only will raw energy demand grow, but so will per capita energy consumption
. An ever-greater percentage of
oil will have to be bought overseas, resulting in an estimated $25 billion a year balance of payments deficit, as well as excessively dangerous reliance on foreign sources to meet domestic energy needs
. The nation's welfare our economy, our standard of living is so absolutely dependent on adequate energy resources that we have come to take their availability for granted. Only now is it beginning to sink in that the oil, gas and coal we burn are finite in amount and irreplaceable
.. The ultimate choice may be between doing without, or doing better with what we have.
On Aug. 27, The Times tried to balance its consumer rights bent with its commitment to environmental protection:
It is not often that a government body acts too quickly to combat pollution, but the state Air Resources Board may have done just that last week when it approved mandatory installation of special emission control devices for about 4 million California cars
. The ARB may have made the right decision under the circumstances, but the element of doubt that hangs over its action must be recognized. It seems clear that there has not been a full and objective enough study of one of the devices that has been approved for sale and installation, and it is possible that motorists may be running a costly risk if they buy this device.
And continuing that theme on Oct. 20, The Times fretted about the impact on taxpayers of a pollution control law, seemingly retreating from its earlier editorial encouraging the government to spend billions:
Despite President Nixon's veto, the nation now has a new water pollution control law of grand intent and huge cost. The measure sets the goal of eliminating all discharges of pollutants into U.S. waterways by 1985
. Virtually every congressional district in the country will benefit from the law, which explains the ease with which the measure initially passed Congress and swept over Mr. Nixon's veto before adjournment this week. The water bill is a pork barrel of voluminous proportions. That does not mean it is a bad bill. On the contrary, it serves necessary and even urgent purposes
. But it is a very expensive bill.
The Times worries about cost again on Dec. 4, but still wants price controls on natural gas:
There is little question that natural gas prices will have to go up if the country is to get the gas supplies it needs. It does not necessarily follow that gas prices should be decontrolled, as some of President Nixon's advisers are urging
. As ground reserves are exhausted, the nation has no choice but to turn to imports of gas and conversion of coal to gas. But such alternative supplies will be costly. Liquefied natural gas from Algeria, for example, costs roughly three times what a producer in Texas is allowed for interstate sales
. For far less than the cost of imported gas, domestic producers say, they could drill deeper and uncover reserves that they estimate would last at least 50 years. But they insist they cannot afford such exploration with existing prices.
And on Dec. 13, the board remembered what environmental conservation is really all about preserving that wilderness feeling:
The Colorado River, which already suffers from salt pollution on its lower reaches, is now beginning to suffer people pollution on the stretch of rapids through the Grand Canyon
. [Restrictions are] a sound move, both for the protection of the ecology and the preservation of the "wilderness feeling" that cannot be experienced in overtraveled, overcrowded recreational areas.