REPORTS FROM ENVIRONMENTAL SOURCES indicate that Harvard is moving one step closer to the sale of part of its Black Rock Forest to Consolidated Edison, the New York power utility. It is a move that is neither welcome nor wise.
The University's impending decision about Black Rock--where Con Ed plans to build a pumped storage power plant on New York's Hudson River--has taken on increasing importance in the light of recent events. Legal door after legal door has slammed shut on environmentalist efforts to block the project, and few remain to be tried. Strident action by the University at this time could make Harvard a decisive adversary to Con Ed's plans.
Since the Bok Administration took office, however, the University's handling of the controversy has been marked by a lack of stamina. In sharp contrast to President Emeritus Nathan M. Pusey's vocal opposition to the project, Bok has said almost nothing about Black Rock.
The special committee he appointed in 1972 produced a bizarre report which highlighted numerous environmental problems, including some that opponents of the project had not recognized. It noted projected damage to fish populations, possible peril to public safety from a proposed dam, and the chance of damage to the Catskill Aqueduct, which supplies 40 per cent of New York City's water. It noted that the economic feasibility of the project depends on the questionable construction of two other power plants currently stalled in legal action. Without these facilities serious increases in air pollution could occur. The committee acknowledged that action was necessary to solve these problems, but in-comprehensibly recommended that the University take no direct action outside of encouragement.
HARVARD ALSO HAS a responsibility to its donors. Ernest G. Stillman '08, who bequeathed the land to the University, was an avid naturalist who intended his gift to be used for forestry research. It is not unreasonable to believe that he would have objected strenuously to the sale of his land--as have many of his descendants--to a utility bent on using it with transparent disregard for the intricacies of the region's ecology.
The environmental and donor responsibility issues are clear. It is equally clear that Con Ed will not give up without a fight, and the utility may be counting on the University's lack of stamina to ensure that no new legal battles rage.
University opposition to condemnation proceedings--which would likely be begun by Con Ed should Harvard deny the utility its land--would admittedly be long and expensive. But financial support would undoubtedly be forthcoming for such a battle, and the time consumed would be short compared with that needed to undo the environmental damage that the Storm King project might cause.
For Harvard to ignore its responsibilities to the environment, its donors and the public interest--literally selling them down the river--would be a critical and irrevocable mistake.