By Emily Vetne, Bicentennial Intern, Class of 2019, History, Bloomington
Breaking news on October 8, 2018 stated that the world has until 2030 to correct climate change before the changes become irreparable. While the majority of the scientific community are aware of the environmental changes forecasting the climate shift, this latest news came as a chilling wake-up call for many.
For Professor Lynton K. Caldwell, professor of political science and public and environmental affairs at IU from 1965-1984, this announcement would have been inevitable given the lack of diligence paid to implementing environmental policy standards. Dr. Caldwell dedicated his career to natural science policy, but his work on NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act) is his most lasting contribution to the field.
Educated at the University of Chicago, Caldwell kept his talents localized in the Midwest, teaching at both Indiana University South Bend and IU Bloomington for a total of 24 years. He had much influence during his tenure—he was instrumental in the founding of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
In addition to his lengthy teaching stint at IU, Dr. Caldwell held brief teaching positions at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, University of Michigan, Syracuse University, and the University of California Berkeley. He also worked as an advisor for the Senate and United Nations. In terms of helping to create national environmental policy, there was no one better for the job.
I was fortunate to interview Mrs. Barbara Restle, a Bloomington resident who was a student of Dr. Caldwell’s in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Mrs. Restle described him as someone who always knew exactly what he wanted to say during class. She remembers him as tall, elegant, and always in control of the classroom.
His lecture hall, says Mrs. Restle, was silent except for Caldwell’s voice, because he was so intimidatingly smart that no one would dare interrupt him to ask a question. He had total command of his floor and of his material; he was the ideal person to create lasting environmental policy.
NEPA was signed on January 1, 1970 during the Nixon administration. At its most basic level, NEPA ensures that governmental agencies will consider the environmental impact of their actions before physically implementing any changes. The goal of NEPA is to maintain an atmosphere in which “man and nature can exist in productive harmony.”
Caldwell’s frustration with NEPA’s implementation was evident in his vocal criticism. Years after NEPA was signed into law, he wrote essays and gave speeches on strategies for how NEPA could be better used. He also offered his speculations as to why NEPA wasn’t working. In his 1989 article, “Beyond Rhetoric: Implementing the National Environmental Policy Act,” he wrote, ““Ultimate responsibility for the implementation of the declared intent of NEPA rests with the Congress and with the President who under the Constitution must take care to see that the laws are faithfully executed.” Almost 20 years after NEPA’s passing he remained skeptical that presidents and other politicians had not used this legislation to its fullest extent.
Caldwell did not stop there. In the same essay he went on to write, “I believe that NEPA, as with other lofty moral declarations, expresses widely accepted ideals that, although held sincerely, go against the grain of long standing human behavior.” He noticed the gap between the expressed desire for some sort of national environmental policy and actual implementation. A page later he writes: “Fine-tuning the law will make little difference if the mind-set of people and their public officials remains unchanged.” He saw before many others did that changing policy to help the environment would require a change of heart as well as commitment to changing our actions.
When Caldwell’s book Environment as a Focus for Public Policy (edited by Robert V. Barlett and James N. Gladden, two of his doctoral students) was under review at Texas A&M Press, the reviewer did not mince words about Caldwell’s importance in environmental policy:
It also seems that many recent publications are ‘reinventing the environmental policy wheel’ so eloquently formulated by Lynton Caldwell in his earlier works. The ready availability of many of Professor Caldwell’s earlier works may lessen such a tendency.
It is evident here how important Caldwell’s research was to environmental policy—if people who published after him were “reinventing the wheel,” all they were doing was restating what Caldwell had said first. By having an accessible guide to Caldwell’s work in Environment as a Focus for Public Policy, Caldwell’s research became more accessible to all who studied policy and thus easier to cite, making it clearer that Caldwell was indeed at the very forefront of environmental policy thinking.
Caldwell blamed the US government for NEPA’s inability to do its job. In 1985, he published an article which stated his frustration about NEPA’s unrealized potential. In Environmental Analysis: The NEPA Experience (ed. Stephen G. Hildebrand and Johnnie B. Cannon, Lewis Publishers, 1993), Caldwell wrote, “NEPA’s purpose and precepts reflected a general public anxiety.” He knew the public wanted environmental protections, but following through on them was another story entirely.
According to Mrs. Restle, Dr. Caldwell’s legacy lives on through NEPA. She insists that, if people in the government had known at the time what NEPA truly meant, “they wouldn’t have passed it.” When I exclaimed in incredulity, she shrugged and said, “Well, they’ve been whittling away at it ever since.” In today’s political climate, it’s nostalgic to think of Dr. Caldwell (a registered Republican) crossing party lines to pass environmental legislation. Climate change is a partisan issue today, but Dr. Caldwell’s life and work proves to us that it shouldn’t be. NEPA is a prime example of what can happen when political parties work together.
Dr. Bruce Huber, J.D., Ph.D., is a professor of environmental law at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, and he believes that NEPA “has major ramifications on the actions that federal agencies take every single day.”
He wrote, “Climate change is only one of the issues that we face. There are numerous other ways in which our environment is being degraded every day. As citizens, many of us want our government to be vigilant in making sure that its actions aren’t making matters worse.” Thanks to Dr. Caldwell, NEPA exists to do its part in making America’s air, water, and land cleaner and safer.
 hjstone, “Lynton K. Caldwell papers,” Blogging Hoosier History, Indiana University Archives, September 13, 2011, https://blogs.libraries.indiana.edu/iubarchives/2011/09/13/lynton-k-caldwell-papers/.
 Barbara Restle, “Lynton K. Caldwell and Will Counts,” interview by Emily Vetne, September 25, 2018.
 “What is the National Environmental Policy Act?” EPA, United States Environmental Protection Agency, last updated January 24, 2017, https://www.epa.gov/nepa/what-national-environmental-policy-act.
 Beyond Rhetoric: Implementing the NEPA 1989, Lynton K. Caldwell papers, 1883-2010, bulk 1965-2002, C432, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington. Page 3.
 Beyond Rhetoric: Implementing the NEPA 1989, Lynton K. Caldwell papers, 1883-2010, bulk 1965-2002, C432, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington. Page 4.
 Beyond Rhetoric: Implementing the NEPA 1989, Lynton K. Caldwell papers, 1883-2010, bulk 1965-2002, C432, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington. Page 5.
 Environment as a Focus for Public Policy 1995, Lynton K. Caldwell papers, 1883-2010, bulk 1965-2002, C432, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
 “Chapter 1, “Achieving the NEPA Intent: New Directions in Politics, Science, and Law,” in Environmental Analysis: The NEPA Experience, 1992”, Lynton K. Caldwell papers, 1883-2010, bulk 1965-2002, C432, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.
 Bruce Huber, “NEPA and Why It Matters,” interview by Emily Vetne, September 9, 2018, transcript.