The Battle over Hetch Hetchy: America's Most Controversial Dam and the Birth of Modern Environmentalism

By Robert W. Righter | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8

The Power Controversy

"Congress would not have passed the Raker Act" "if we
did not believe the 200,000 horsepower of electricity
would forever emancipate San Francisco from the
collar of the hydroelectric trust."

CONGRESSMAN WILLIAM KENT

THE HETCH HETCHY controversy should be seen nationally not only as a fight about water but also as a battle between the proponents of public power and those who favor private companies. Public-versus-private-power conflicts dominated the world of electricity for half a century. Some of the main advocates of San Francisco's position focused on the hydroelectric power issue, rather than water, national parks, or anything else. Senator George Norris, Congressman William Kent, and the influential Gifford Pinchot recognized that a peaceful social revolution was at hand. Electricity was coming of age, spreading throughout the country, changing the everyday lives of urban Americans. They believed that the benefits from Hetch Hetchy flowed less from water than from electricity. Who controlled this electrical revolution, and who profited from it? Norris, Kent, and Pinchot fought for public ownership of utilities throughout their political careers.1 They were in the vanguard of a determined group of Progressives intent on keeping control of utilities in the hands of the people, or more specifically, municipal governments. They had already seen evidence of monopoly exacting unwarranted profits from customers. By 1907 Samuel Insull captured 20 power companies in the Chicago region, effectively combining them into Consolidated Edison. He maintained his monopoly not only through sharp business

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The Battle over Hetch Hetchy: America's Most Controversial Dam and the Birth of Modern Environmentalism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • The Hetch Hetchy Harriet Monroe vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Contents xiii
  • Hetch Hetchy Chronology xv
  • Cast of Characters xvii
  • List of Illustrations xxi
  • Introduction 3
  • Chapter 1 - The Uses of the Valley 11
  • Chapter 2 - The Imperial City and Water 29
  • Chapter 3 - Water, Earthquake, and Fire 45
  • Chapter 4 - Two Views of One Valley 66
  • Chapter 5 - San Francisco to [Show Cause] 96
  • Chapter 6 - Congress Decides 117
  • Chapter 7 - To Build a Dam 134
  • Chapter 8 - The Power Controversy 167
  • Chapter 9 - The Legacies of Hetch Hetchy 191
  • Chapter 10 - Restoration 216
  • Afterword 242
  • Notes 245
  • Index 279
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