Environmental Defense Fund Archive
Manuscript Collection 232

Historical Note

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is a public membership, non-profit, tax-exempt organization of scientists, lawyers, economists and citizens dedicated to improving environmental quality through innovative strategies.

The Environmental Defense Fund was created to translate knowledge of the environmental sciences into public policy through advocacy before courts and regulatory agenciesthe experience of EDF shows clearly that scientific knowledge, as testimony from the witness stand, exerts far greater influence on public policy than the same knowledge exposed through the normal channels of scientific literature or advisory panel. (EDF Prospectus, ca. 1970)

In 1967, Environmental Defense Fund was incorporated in Stony Brook, Long Island. Its founding members were a group of scientists, citizens, local activists and legal minds who demonstrated the toxicity of dichloro-diphennyl-trichloro-ethane (DDT) in a class action suit against Suffolk County Mosquito Control Commission.

The period of 1967-69 focused on EDF establishing its Board and Executive Committees, fundraising and litigation activities. The litigation arm took on other cases related to pesticides. EDF attorneys argued cases in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Washington, DC seeking a ban on registrations of DDT and aldrin dieldrin. DDT was finally banned in the US in 1972.

In 1970, formal membership and fundraising functions were implemented. During this time, litigation was initiated in the areas of pesticides, lead in gasoline, and Army Corps of Engineers projects such as the Gillham Dam and Cross Florida Barge Canal. Environmental situations were also monitored in the west concerning power plants and air pollution.

By 1977, EDF activities were established into programs. The goals of the programs were promoting standards, public awareness, cost effective alternatives, and policies in these areas: toxic chemicals, land/water quality and energy development. The activities included of research, dissemination, litigation, and legal advisory roles to other organizations. The programs were interdisciplinary in nature and were teamed by economists, lawyers, and scientists and other experts.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s EDF opened offices in Washington DC, California, Colorado, North Carolina, Texas and Boston. With this expansion came an evolution of tactics for resource conservation and improvement of environmental quality.

An EDF Timeline: Highlights
(source: EDF Letter, Solutions)

1967

•  The Environmental Defense Fund is incorporated as a not-for-profit organization. Founding trustees are: H. Lewis Batts, Jr.; Robert Burnap; Dennis Puleston; Robert E. Smolker; Anthony S. Taormina; George M. Woodwell; Charles F. Wurster; Carol Yannacone; and Victor Yannacone.

1970s

•  Litigation to ban the use of DDT and other pesticides and advocates the use of alternative methods of pest control.
•  Litigation to stop the permits for the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.
•  EDF allies with the Florida Defenders of the Environment to stop the construction of the Cross-Florida Barge Canal.
•  Litigation to halt construction of the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway, citing violations of the National Environmental Policy Act.
•  EDF's attorneys and scientists advocate against several dam projects and propose alternatives to water supply and flood control problems.
•  EDF testifies at hearings on regulations regarding the taking of porpoises during fishing operations.
•  EDF participates in hearings to reform utility pricing structures for electric power.
•  Litigation against water diversion projects in California.
•  Advocates for alternative energy sources in lieu of constructing power plants.

1980s

•  In a court action, EDF supports the New Jersey Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan and its proposed use of Pinelands Development Credits; these credits can be exchanged to benefit both those living in preservation areas and those in designated growth areas.
•  Action alerts begin, asking members and citizens to raise a voice about issues such as acid rain/air pollution, global warming, and marine mammal conservation.
•  Hazardous Waste Community Health Project created to develop tests for early detection of health effects of exposure to hazardous waste.
•  EDF participates in litigation and Congressional hearings to protect wetlands under the Clean Water Act.
•  EDF participates in proceedings before the NY Public Service Commission and proposes utilities invest in energy conservation.
•  EDF initiates campaign to protect tropical forest facing development.
•  EDF attorneys and scientists develop solutions to the ozone problem, including cutting emissions of chlorofluorocarbons.
•  EDF testifies against an EPA proposal to abolish lead limits in gasoline.

1990s

•  Litigation to stop the pollution of Everglades National Park.
•  EDF supports transportation laws and policies that promote better air quality goals through limiting vehicle emissions and advocating alternatives to highways.
•  EDF staff contribute to the preparation of significant documents on climate change signed at the Earth Summit in Brazil.
•  EDF proposes an air quality management district on the U.S.-Mexico border.
•  EDF allies with Vice President Gore and the Chemicals Manufacturers Association in a program to test the environmental and health effects of industrial chemicals.
•  EDF maintains a web presence with their sites www.edf.org and www.scorecard.org. The scorecard provides free community information about air pollution.
•  EDF participates in the negotiation meetings on the Kyoto global warming agreement.
•  The Safe Harbor program is developed to address the problem of endangered species creating a habitat on privately-owned land.

2000s

•  A campaign to protect oceans and coastal areas is initiated.
•  Marine Protected Areas created as a refuge for marine species; areas kept off-limits to fishing, mining and drilling.
•  Alliances with organizations such as McDonalds, and Fed Ex create environmental friendly alternatives to packaging and delivery trucks, respectively.
•  EDF allies with China to demonstrate the effectiveness of market incentives to meet goals for cleaner air.
•  Living Cities, a campaign to improve quality of life in urban areas by reducing emissions, traffic congestion, and promote responsible development, is created.
•  EDF advocates for responsible development of nanotechnology.
•  The Supreme Court issues a ruling that holds the federal government responsible for regulating pollution from vehicles; Environmental Defense Fund among the parties which argued in favor of the measure.