Wealth Creation And Environmental Devastation
This chapter, which begins by exploring California's early history, demonstrates the critical role played by both geography and public policy in shaping the state's early economic development, the environmental impacts of that development, and the state's efforts to address those impacts. The discovery of gold in the Sierra foothills in 1848 literally created the state of California. However, the geography of those foothills and the valley into which their rivers flowed also made gold mining one of the most environmentally destructive natural resource activities in nineteenth-century America. It sharply divided the business interests of northern California, leading to a prolonged and bitter battle between mining companies and farmers in the Sacramento Valley. This conflict was finally resolved by a federal court decision in 1884 that banned hydraulic mining—the first important environmental ruling issued by a federal court. This decision was issued in San Francisco by a California judge, illustrating the important role played by the state in the history of pollution control in the United States.
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