Paying for and profiting from pollution control

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In this 1973 interview Gaylord Nelson gave to the news syndicate Sunday Group, he reflects on the abrupt about-face Congress has done on environmental policy in the three years since the first Earth Day.

By 1973, after the ambitious environmental agenda and slate of legislation he offered in the first months of 1970, Gaylord Nelson had added nearly 36 new environmental bills during the next legislative term. With core regulatory structures in place, Nelson was spending more energy lobbying for the increased funding of pollution clean-up efforts.

In this interview he measures the cost of environmental spending ($20-25 billion annually) against the economic toll pollution exerts both on health costs for individuals as well as on resource-dependent industries. This calculus resembles later environmentalists' estimates of the monetary value of so-called "ecosystem services."

But while offering staggering figures for the price tag on fighting pollution, Nelson insisted the financial news is not all bad. As much as he had always pitched the purchase of public lands as a boon to the recreation industry, he painted ecological cleanup as a fast-growing industry that would create hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the private sector. In this interview, he went as far as to predict recycling would develop by the 1990s into a $10 billion industry - a conservative forecast in terms of current markets.