In the forty years that have passed since oily debris on the banks of the Cuyahoga River caught fire, the river has been transformed from a sewer of industrial waste to habitat for fish, bird , beaver, and other wildlife. The burning river became a symbol to a new and growing environmental movement in the 1970s, and some would claim it helped secure the passage of the Clean Water Act. Those groups may credit federal legislation with the river’s rebirth as well as that of other polluted waterways around the nation. Some would differ with that interpretation. Jonathan Adler, a professor of law at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law and former PERC Julian Simon Fellow, would argue that the nation was already well launched on the path toward a cleaner environment. Neither local nor state government failures led to the abundance of federal environmental legislation and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, but rather other factors too, not the least of which was greater pubic awareness of deteriorating environmental quality and threats to human health.
Read both sides of the argument:
NEW YORK TIMES, by Christopher Maag, June 22, 2009, "From Ashes of ’69, a River Reborn"
PERC Reports, by Jonathan Adler, December 2004, "The Fable of Federal Regulation"