A Guide to Documenting Environmental Affairs in New York State
This guide has been created to help in identifying, preserving, and making accessible historically important records created by organizations, government entities, or individuals. Realistically, not everything that is important can be documented. The available resources funding, trained staff, and space within archival repositories are simply inadequate and are likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. The decisions about what to document will be made one at a time by archives that collect records, organizations that produce records, or funding sources that support documentation projects.
This part of the guide includes four sections that can be used together to help you determine whether a particular topic should be a priority for documentation:
- Criteria: To qualify as statewide priorities, documentation topics should meet one or more of the criteria.
- Themes (e.g., document water quality, environmental justice, or citizen advocacy): Priority topics should fall under one of the listed themes.
- Events/Issues & Organizations (e.g., document the formation of Adirondack Park or the Love Canal crisis): The guide names six specific events or issues as priorities for documentation because they meet all or nearly all the criteria, most involve several themes, and they were considered vitally important by most of our informants.
- Existing Documentation: Some aspects of environmental affairs are reasonably well documented and therefore would not be high priority for new documentation efforts.
The lists below summarize the criteria and themes that can be used to identify priority topics, and it lists the six topics specifically designated as priorities in this guide. The criteria are described in detail in the following section. Descriptions and examples for each theme and for each event/issue & organization are in Appendix A.
- Criteria for Statewide Significance--Topic should meet
one or more of these criteria
- Distinctive to New York, seminal, or precedent-setting
- Major impact over large geographical area
- Significant impact in several facets of environmental affairs
- Illustrative of common experience statewide
- Significant over a long time
- Contribute significantly to the database of scientific and technical information
- Not already well documented
- Themes--Proposed documentation topics should address
one or more of these themes AND meet one or more of the Criteria for Statewide
Significance outlined above.
- Land Use
- Water Quantity/ Quality/Pollution
- Protection of lakes, rivers, coastal zones, and wetlands
- Air Quality/Pollution
- Solid and Hazardous Waste Disposal
- Outdoor Recreation
- Public Health
- Environmental Justice
- Development and implementation of environmental laws and regulations
- Environmental litigation
- Citizen action through organizations and government
- Roles of business and corporations
- Environmental education and technical assistance
- Science and Technology
- Funding of environmental affairs
- Events, Issues, Organizations--Designated Statewide priorities
- Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserves and Adirondack Park
- New York City/ Catskills/Hudson Valley water supply system
- Robert Moses: State Park System, State Power Authority
- Hudson River: pollution, power plants, fisheries, etc.
- Love Canal
- Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)
To be considered a statewide priority for documentation, a topic should meet at least one and probably more of these criteria.
- It represents a contribution by New York that is distinctive, seminal,
or precedent-setting to the field of environmental affairs overall;
Examples: The initial suit to prohibit the use of the pesticide DDT on Long Island led to the formation of the Environmental Defense Fund (now a major national organization called Environmental Defense), whose subsequent legal action led to the national ban on DDT. By contrast, while global warming and climate change are major issues that affect everyone in New York, the nation, and the world, and many New Yorkers are engaged with these issues and consider them vitally important, New Yorks contributions in this area have not been particularly critical or distinctive to date.
- It has had major impact or influence statewide or over vast areas on the environment itself or on environmental affairs;
Examples: The establishment of the Adirondack Forest Preserve and Adirondack Park affected an enormous area of the North Country and set important precedents for land use and protection statewide. Similarly, the protection of land through private acquisition by non-profit organizations such as land trusts and the Nature Conservancy has affected all parts of the state. The controversy surrounding a particular Superfund site, on the other hand, which might be extremely important regionally for its effects on public health and water quality, among other impacts, may not have affected a large area or stimulated statewide activity. The issue could be a high priority, however, in a regional documentation plan.
- For an event or issue: It has engaged and had significant impact
in several facets of environmental affairs.
Example: Love Canal engaged issues of toxic waste, public health, and water quality; it stimulated citizen action statewide and nationally and influenced the development of legislation and public policy.
- It is illustrative of common experience statewide.
Examples: Many potential topics under the themes listed below would meet this criterion: the development of sewage treatment plants, land use planning controversies such as battles over zoning or mall development, the coming and going of single-issue organizations, etc. From a statewide perspective, it is important that representative examples of these topics be documented.
- It has been significant over a considerable period of time.
Example: An organization that meets some of the other criteria in this list and has been in existence since the beginning of the modern environmental movement in the late 1960s or earlier will be a higher priority for documentation than an organization doing similar work that was founded ten years ago or lasted only ten years.
- It contributes significantly to the database of scientific and
technical information necessary for longitudinal studies of environmental
changes and other research. This criterion may involve data generated
statewide or at regional or local levels, because local or regional
data may be important to research on statewide patterns, trends, or
Examples: Test results or other data generated for environmental impact statements. Data generated as part of university-, government-, non-profit-, or corporate-sponsored studies. Summary reports based on data gathered in the field may not contain enough detail to serve as the basis for future research, so preserving the raw data may be necessary.
- They are not already well documented. Within environmental
affairs, there are some topics that are already documented and for which
systems of continuing documentation are in place. Some such topics would
meet other criteria for statewide priority, meaning that their documentation
is important enough to be part of the historical record, but since considerable
documentation already exists compared to other important topics, they
would not be considered priorities for new documentation projects.
Example: A repository seeking to document pollution in a river might discover that extensive records exist that document government regulation and monitoring of industry and scientific data on the condition of the river, but that the actions of citizen and business groups representing environmental, recreational, and commercial interests are not represented in the historical record. The repository would then define its topic around collecting in the areas where the important gaps exist.
The extent of existing documentation varies widely among the themes and events/issues discussed in this guide. There are probably none that would be considered well documented overall, despite the vast amount of documentation of environmental affairs that does exist. Some components or aspects of a particular theme, however, may be quite well documented and not require new efforts. For example, some aspects of toxic pollution of the land and water are heavily documented; the State Archives holds voluminous DEC records, and a recent documentation project at the University at Buffalo has surveyed extensive records about Love Canal. But as a rule, citizen action groups activities in this and other areas are not adequately represented, nor are some regions of the state. It is therefore not possible to identify an entire theme as well documented; nor is it possible to list here all the sub-themes that might be well documented in particular areas.
There is, however, a general pattern worth noting: Scientific research, legislation, and regulatory processes are among the better documented functions, because the responsible entities are usually required by law or policy to manage their records and schedule the permanently valuable ones for permanent retention or transfer to an archives. The activities of non-profit organizations, unincorporated groups, individuals, and businesses, on the other hand, are usually poorly documented in the historical record, partly because these creators of records usually lack adequate resources, time, and/or understanding of the importance of documentation, or they may not want to make records available.
The State Archives conducted an online search of environmental documentation that resulted in the production of its Preliminary Guide to Environmental Documentary Sources in New York State, which is available on the State Archives website (see Appendix C: How the Guide Was Developed). When considering a particular topic for documentation, one of the first things to do is search this Preliminary Guide to determine the extent to which the topic is already documented.