Air Pollution, Politics, and Environmental Reform in Birmingham, Alabama 1940--1971
McKinney, J. Merritt
Boles, John B.
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation contends that efforts to reduce air pollution in Birmingham, Alabama, from the 1940s through the early 1970s relied on citizens who initially resisted federal involvement but eventually realized that they needed Washington's help. These activists had much in common with clean air groups in other U.S. cities, but they were somewhat less successful because of formidable industrial opposition. In the 1940s the political power of the Alabama coal industry kept Birmingham from following the example of cities that switched to cleaner-burning fuels. The coal industry's influence on Alabama politics had waned somewhat by the late 1960s, but U.S. Steel and its allies wielded enough political power in 1969 to win passage of a weak air pollution law over one favored by activists. Throughout this period the federal government gradually increased its involvement in Alabama's air pollution politics, culminating in the late 1960s and early 1970s with the enactment of environmental laws that empowered federal officials to pressure Alabama to pass a revised 1971 air pollution law that met national standards. After the passage of this law, but before the appointment of an air pollution control board to enforce it, a federal judge temporarily shut down Birmingham-area industries at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency, the first time that the agency had used such emergency powers. Over time, grassroots activists in Birmingham came to the realization that their efforts were doomed to fail, or at least to be significantly delayed, without the aid of the federal government. For nearly twenty-five years after the enactment of the 1945 smoke ordinance, supporters of air pollution control wanted the state government to deal with the problem of air pollution, with the federal government only providing technical expertise and funding for scientific research. But with their defeat in the 1969 legislative session, when the industry-backed air pollution bill passed, clean air campaigners in Alabama realized--and publicly stated--that only pressure from Washington would force Montgomery to clean up Alabama's air.