Environmental Studies: The Hudson River Essay Sample

Environmental Studies: The Hudson River


The Hudson River is a very important source of water for the city of New York and many other surrounding regions. It is also an important tourist attraction for many people considering its biodiversity. Moreover, it is a fishing place for both commercial and recreational anglers. However, the present pleasant state of the river is a result of the commitment of a group of ordinary, even poor individuals residing in the vicinity, which united to protect it from illegal actions causing its previous despicable situation. All their efforts and progress are documented in the book The Riverkeepers by John Cronin and Robert F. Kennedy.


The Hudson River has always been an important source of livelihood for many people, particularly, those living in its neighborhood. Its fish had been a source of income for many families up to the early 1960s. Besides, its waters were used for drinking by municipalities, including the New York City. Many enthusiasts practiced sport fishing on its waters (Cronin & Kennedy, 1999). One of the sport fishermen was Robert Boyle, a writer for a local magazine and consequently a little more enlightened than an average user of the Hudson River in those days. He made friends with many of the fishermen and became part of them.

A beautiful state of the river was not to continue for a long time, mainly due to pollution. The main culprits were multinational companies that disposed of their untreated effluence into the river. In the 1970s, General Electric dumped over two million pounds of PCB wastes into the river. Exxon Mobil was another company, the tankers of which spilled oil into the waters of Hudson. The New York City had been also constantly releasing tons of raw sewage for a long time. These and other types of contamination from the tributaries of the river completely altered its state (Cronin & Kennedy, 1999).

Fish became inedible because of consuming toxic materials in wastes. The health department actually advised against the consumption of fish from the Hudson River. Thus, many households had their income sources negatively affected. Fish developed some queer taste and was stopped from being sold in local market places. After the consumption of poisonous fish species, some people developed poor health conditions. Various fish species became dying suddenly. They were in danger of extinction unless corrective measures were taken. Recreational fishermen were going to lose a source of their attraction to the river soon. The water was also no longer safe for consumption. It actually produced a foul smell. The paradise that had been the Hudson River was slowly losing its beauty.

However, in the book The Riverkeepers, the authors underlined that the government or the local municipalities were not willing to take up arms against polluters (Cronin & Kennedy, 1999). Powerful multinationals were feared, and any interference with their operations, no matter how destructive they were, was considered against the public interest. They also knew their influence and tended to display it whenever threatened by regulations. For example, when a lobby group complained that General Electric was responsible for the death of fish in the river, its reaction was in the form of a threat to sack its workers. It countered with an argument that the claim was not proven, and such action would push it out of business and consequently make many people jobless. The municipalities were also very corrupt and unwilling to enforce any regulations against similar companies and themselves (Cronin & Kennedy, 1999).

Rise of River Keepers

Ordinary men and women suffered from the degradation of the river most of all. They met and discussed possible ways out of the problem that was facing them, recounting the past days when the river was teeming with fish and the current situation, whereby their lives were under threat. The enlightenment and leadership of Mr. Boyle came in handy in that situation. He had previously begun writing and doing research on the state of the river. He was also critical of its polluted state (Cronin & Kennedy, 1999).

In their meeting in the American Legion Hall, Boyle brought to the knowledge of his companions clauses in the constitution they could use to file lawsuits against the pollutants. He was aware of the Refuse Act of 1899. The law spelt out that any person or organization that degraded any American waters was liable to a fine of 500-2500 dollars, a half of which was payable to a person who reported the matter. It became an eye-opener. A group of commercial and sport fishermen, HFRA, filed a lawsuit against Penn Central Railroad for spilling oil products into the river. The company lost the case and was ordered to pay the fine according to the law. It was the first time in the legal history when the pollutant had been punished. The environmental lobby relied on the ruling that the destruction of the scenic and aesthetic value of a natural resource for the community is a violation of a constitutional right. The previous legislation demanded a proof of an economic loss. It was a great turning point for the organization, which set a course to sue every perpetrator of any act of pollution on the river. The group then sent out invitations to any person who could report an evidence of pollution against any organization. It had a monetary incentive attached to it. In that form, the organization locked horns with many mighty organizations (Cronin & Kennedy, 1999). The success of the group gained widespread publicity and won acclaim. It set the basis for the formation of many other regional organizations that wanted to protect their waterways.  Finances started coming to the organization in order to help them achieve their vision. The group grew in membership as many people joined it.

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Another major legal success was a lawsuit against the Federal Power Commission. The government agency had issued an approval for the construction of a hydroelectric power plant on a very important course of the river. It was to be on the Hudson’s highlands near the Storm King site. The latter had apparently the biggest population of bass fish. The HRFA went to court seeking to stop the process on the grounds that the population of fish was under threat. It also gave evidence that the previous actions of the firm had led to the death of fish, producing photos to confirm its claims (Cronin & Kennedy, 1999). The company agreed on a treaty, according to which the project was cancelled. The firm also paid twelve million dollars as a donation to the river to carry research on its further protection. Another case involved the Exxon Mobil Company, the tankers of which released oil deposits into the river while drawing water in 1983. Cronin who had become an official employee of the company went upstream recording all activities impeccably for a period of two years. When the case came up to the court, it was so watertight that the company had to pay 1.5 million dollars for the damages to the New York City and half a million dollars to the HRFA. In 1986, the HRFA and River Keepers merged to form one strong group to champion the interests of the river. It filed cases in the court against any pollution of the river and its tributaries. Thus, many river keeping organizations have been formed around the world since that time, which operate under an alliance to achieve their goals (Cronin & Kennedy, 1999).

Ethical Issues

Ethics pertains to acceptable standards of operations. A business must always consider the interests of the community where it operates. It will help attract the goodwill of people, which is helpful for its long-term profitability and existence. It is unethical for business organizations, such as General Electric and Exxon, to contribute to the degradation of the very environment where they operate. Greed and a short-term pursuit of high profits may be costly to the image of the company in case it loses court cases like in the case of the companies stated above. It is also unethical for municipal authorities to engage in corruption activities together with companies at the expense of providing quality services to citizens who pay taxes. The municipality itself is also involved in releasing waste into the river, thus, it is not in a position to enforce respective regulations against private companies (Cronin & Kennedy, 1999).


The book The Riverkeepers is a demonstration of the process of procuring justice for the community as well as its natural utilities. This mission requires the cooperation of everyone in the community who is aggrieved. In the process of pursuing justice, there is much opposition. The forces that stand against the communal welfare in favor of short-term interests are strong and will always fight back. However, the steps taken to restore the Hudson River and maintain it have been effective and long-term with numerous challenges. They have been successful because of dedication, sacrifice and visionary leadership. As a result, it is always important for a community work as a whole in pursuit of its rights.

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