4. 1970 to 2000: The Environmental Machine
"A spray like DDT makes people think of a continent arranged like a manicured garden, but you cant kick nature around that way," said John Baker, president of the National Audubon Society, in an interview published in The New Yorker in 1945. Over the next 20 years, the liberal use of DDT and other pesticides wreaked havoc on frogs, birds, fish, and snakes. It also poisoned the mammals that ate them, slowly and silently.
New York was the center of the movement to control pesticide use. It was The New Yorker that alerted the country to the pesticide crisis in 1962, when Rachel Carson published a series of articles that became the book Silent Spring. The Manhattan-based National Audubon Society took on the cause after Rachel Carson died in 1964, going on the record against DDT at its annual meeting in 1967. The Long Island-based Environmental Defense Fund, aided by Audubon, started the legal action that culminated in a nationwide ban on DDT. Audubon immediately began working to restore the damage. In the 1980s, the group supported a successful Cornell University program to breed and release endangered Peregrine Falcons.
State controls on pesticides were established in July 1970, and DDT was banned in the state in 1971. In 1972, the federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide act authorized national regulations on pesticide use, throwing the industry and activists into the arena of battling experts. In this arena, being right was not enough. You also had to be in the room, and public advocates were not guaranteed admission. In 1979, the DEC assumed authority for the 1972 federal act and began certifying some 32,000 farmers, landscapers, and other applicators. This was a win for environmental advocates, because in most states pesticides were still regulated by agriculture departments. But in 1980, at proceedings aimed at revising pesticide regulations, the DEC included representatives from pesticide manufacturers, farmers, and state agencies on its committee. But delegates from citizens groups were not allowed, on grounds that the DEC already represented them effectively.
Further regulations were placed on pesticides in 1983, and in 1987 the state banned the use of chlordane, aldrin, dieldrin, and heptachlor. In 1993, the DEC also agreed to enforce the EPAs new standards for farm worker protection.
Meanwhile, New York scientists began finding ways of controlling pests with fewer or no synthetic chemicals. Cornell Universitys Integrated Pest Management Support Group, based in Geneva, teaches New York farmers how to use inter-planting, targeted applications, and new plant varieties to dramatically reduce their chemical use. The technique offers farmers a way to save money while maintaining their yield and using less pesticide. No pesticide is the goal of the Northeast Organic Farmers Association, which has a New York chapter and nine local groups across the state. NOFA was founded in the 1980s to certify organic farms and serve strong consumer demand for pesticide-free food. The story is another example of how state leaders have shifted their strategy from controlling pollution control to preventing it entirely.