desegregation for several decades and the American Civil Liberties Union had pioneered legal approaches to the protection of various constitutional rights, including freedom of speech and association and the free exercise of religion.
These two social phenomena—increased scientific concern about environmental degradation and the development of a litigation-oriented approach to addressing social/political issues in the United States—were combined in 1967, when a group of scientists concerned about the effects of spraying DDT to control mosquitoes on the eastern end of Long Island in New York State formed a new organization. Calling it the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), they launched a series of lawsuits at the local, state and federal levels to compel government to stop the ecological damages caused by DDT spraying. Within six years, the U.S. government’s newly formed Environmental Protection Agency formally banned DDT spraying for most uses, largely in response to the scientific and legal case EDF had presented.
During this formative period, EDF turned itself into a membership-based organization, with many thousands of contributors of small sums. In addition, a few wealthy individuals and several large private foundations, including most notably in the early days the Ford Foundation, supported EDF’s activities. EDF’s scientific credentials originally were based on the volunteer efforts of its founders, who included professors at several universities and researchers at U.S. government scientific laboratories. Soon, however, they were joined by a professional staff of scientists, lawyers, and economists with equally impressive credentials.
EDF’s efforts to control the wide distribution of pollutants into the environment did not stop with its DDT victory in 1973. Especially active with respect to PCB’s, other chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides, lead-in gasoline, and dioxin, EDF pressed for stricter regulation of various toxic substances with deleterious environmental effects. It also joined other like-minded organizations, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, in addressing even more ubiquitous pollutants including carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides emitted by motor vehicles. The early 1970s, with Republican President Richard Nixon at the helm, and with senior Democrats such as Senator Edmund Muskie taking leadership roles as well, saw a wide range of environmental legislation enacted by Congress.