Publication Citation

3 (2) IUSTITIA 76 (1975)


What do you do when the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers announces that its solution to the hurricane "problem" in New York (four major hurricanes in 200 years) is to build a wall around Coney Island? How do you fight it when a local landowner secures a zoning variance so he can open a game farm whose main access (for its projected 300,000 visitors in 100,000 cars) is the only street in your tiny village? In the days before the citizen's suit provisions of the present environmental laws there was very little recourse for people outraged by plans like those described. One could appeal a zoning variance or seek an injunction against a nuisance, but these are highly expensive tactics and almost hopeless in the face of such a formidable foe as the Corps.

Today there are a variety of federal, state, and local laws under which concerned citizens can challenge projects they find unreasonable. For example, under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), the Corps would have had to file an environmental impact statement, whose adequacy could have been challenged by any individual or organization which could demonstrate that the wall would cause them "injury in fact". Similarly, under Vermont's Land Use and Development Law (Act 250), before the game farm could be built, the developer would have to prove that his "Wildlife Wonderland" would be damaging neither to the environment nor to the community for which it was planned. But not every environmentally unsound project comes within the legislative purview, and those that do still require legal and scientific expertise to meet the various burdens imposed on those challenging the project. Yet many of these projects are successfully challenged; many environmental laws are nullities until grass roots environmental groups assert their rights under them. How was it done, and how can it be done more effectively in the future? James Robertson and John Lewallen have put together the environmental do-it- yourself Grass Roots Primer. They describe it as "a practical book for people whose world is threatened, and who want to do something effective to prevent the piecemeal destruction of Earth's natural environment." (p. 7) And that is exactly what The Grass Roots Primer is: a practical key to effective action.