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The Debate
Hearings before Congressional committees typically involve prepared statements by those testifying followed by questions, statements, and posturing by committee members. Check CSpan for a contemporary example. The best way to understand the process, though. and the arguments in this case for and against the Raker Act and damming the Hetch Hetchy Valley is to simulate hearings in your classroom. Source materials and guidelines are given below.

One element that will be missing in a classroom simulation, however, is the lobbying that took place backstage and in the national media. The Sierra Club and those arguing against the dam won that battle when a Hetch Hetchy bill was first introduced and defeated in 1908. By 1913, however, the city of San Francisco was prepared to put on a massive PR effort that included extensive personal lobbying of Congress and the Freeman Report, a five pound, 400 page, leather bound engineering study of the proposed project. Copies of the report were put on the desk of every congressman in Washington. It proved highly effective, especially the lengthy introduction promoting the scenic value of the mountain lake that would be created. Pictures, including "photos" of the yet to be created lake and roads around it, were aimed at undermining preservationist arguments that the valley would be destroyed as a place to visit.


To Start You Thinking

Names of individuals who appeared before the House and Senate Public Lands Committees and others who contributed to the debate regarding Hetch Hetchy are identified above. Assign class members the role of each individual. Their job is to carefully read the material related to their role taking careful notes using a format like that suggested above. They need to be able to identify themselves, briefly explain who they are and a bit about their background. They will need to do some additional research into their character's background beyond the limited biographical information provided. Finally, they are responsible for giving a 2-3 minute presentation of their position and for answering questions posed by committee members. Presenters will submit an outline of their prepared remarks and their responses to questions raised.

The remainder of the class will assume the role of the Public Lands Committee. Select a chairman and divide the group into two parts, the first half to briefly look over the arguments in favor of the dam (Gifford Pinchot - John Freeman), the second half to skim the arguments of the opponents ((John Muir - Allen Chamberlain). The purpose of the review is to become generally familiar with the arguments that will be presented and to write questions that they would like to pose to presenters.

The chairman of the committee will conduct the hearings. Committee members need to take notes and ask appropriate questions. Follow-up the formal presentations with a discussion among the committee members about the merits of the arguments presented. At the conclusion of the hearing each committee member will write a 1-2 page summary defending their vote aye or nay on the issue.

Guidelines for evaluating the oral reports and written summaries are available.

Last modified in April, 2017 by Rick Thomas