Sierra Club Board Member Gets Money from Chevron and Freeport McMoran

by Bernardo Issel

The Sierra Club has been a leading critic of corporate polluter funding of politicians and of corporations trying to greenwash their record. So it is with great surprise to find that Sierra Club Director Anne Ehrlich benefits from donations from Chevron and other interests linked to polluting corporations. The membership of the Sierra Club recently re-elected Mrs. Ehrlich to the board, but without knowledge of these environmentally tainted funding sources.

Mrs. Ehrlich is the associate director of Stanford University’s Center for Conservation Biology (CCB). The Center was founded by Mrs. Ehrlich’s husband, Paul, who is current president of CCB. Since at least 1995, the oil giant Chevron has funded CCB. This is problematic to say the least.

Chevron operates polluting refineries in Richmond and Los Angeles, California. Its basic product oil is a major contributor to air and water pollution in California and elsewhere. Its product also contributes to global warming; and Chevron has been a supporter of the Global Climate Coalition, a leading global warming naysayer. Abroad, environmentalists have challenged Chevron drilling operations for despoiling the environment. A recent Human Rights Watch Report charged Chevron with involvement in severe human rights violations in Nigeria, including ties to “Kill-And-Go” death squads.

In an interview, Mrs. Ehrlich brushed off concern about the Chevron support, explaining that it merely funded a few graduate students and that the donation was given with no strings attached. Well it just so happens that Mrs. Ehrlich supports continued oil drilling to meet future global demand, a position that she failed to disclose in her Sierra Club ballot statement. One is reminded of the rationalizations by politicians receiving oil funding. If Chevron is quite happy to support the Ehrlichs, it raises questions as to why their environmentalism is acceptable to this environmentally noxious company.

In light of Mrs. Ehrlichs outspoken stances on population control and immigration restrictions, the fact that she is comfortable accepting funding from a company whose profits have been described as “blood money” is exceedingly loathsome. As an advisor to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, she supports tight controls on immigration into the United States, but is apparently comfortable taking funding from a company bringing in oil from abroad where it has despoiled the environment and violently repressed opposition to its operations, as in Nigeria. The Sierra Club has been at the forefront of criticizing Shell Oil’s operations in that county, yet has been seemingly silent on Chevron, the actions of which have been viewed as comparable to that of Shell. It so happens that Chevron is headquartered San Francisco, California – the site of the Club’s own headquarters and the Club’s home state. It would seem that a Sierra Club campaign exposing Chevron’s odious environmental and human rights abuses could fruitful results. Yet with Ehrlichs’ funding from Chevron, one should not expect her to be supportive of such an effort.

The funding by Chevron is not the only questionable funder of the Ehrlichs’ conservation work. Others include:

— Ward Woods, a director of Boise Cascade, Freeport McMoRan, and Kelley Oil – Boise and Freeport are environmentally rapacious companies; for example, Freeport, the New Orleans based mining giant which invited Henry Kissinger on its board, has been charged with cultural genocide and eco-cide for its operations in Indonesia.

— Global coal and natural gas power plant billionaire Roger Sant of AES

— The Ehrlichs’ leading benefactor NYC apartment property heir Peter Bing sits on the board of the conservative Hoover Institute along with the likes of Richard Mellon Scaife and Dwayne O. Andreas(Archer Daniels Midland CEO). The Hoover Institute has long been a fountain of anti-environmentalism, recently publishing a book touting the benefits of global warming.

— Support from the Munger foundation, which receives its wealth from the founder of and partner in law firm that represents Unocal and Southern California Edison. Stanford’s board of trustees has close ties to Edison, including the presence of Edison CEO John Bryson. Perhaps not surprisingly, Mrs. Ehrlich views Edison as one of the most forward looking corporations. Edison’s efforts to run the Carbon II power plant without scrubbers seems not to be a concern to Ehrlich. The California chapter of Sierra Club in 1998 supported a repeal of billion dollar bailout of Edison’s nuclear stranded costs, but with no help from Sierra Club leadership – no wonder with board members like Anne for whom it would be awkward.

— Donations from the Pew Charitable Trusts, the foundation of the scions of Sun Oil, which has been criticized by many grassroots environmentalists for its domineering funding strategy. In the 80’s Pew was viewed as part of the right wing funding community. In this decade the foundation has tried to remake itself as a centrist do-gooder agent, yet Pew supported pro-NAFTA advocacy of the Heritage Foundation while simultaneously generously funding many of the environmental groups that supported NAFTA. Sierra Club courageously opposed NAFTA.

— Funding from Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) trustees Teresa Heinz and Wren Wirth through the Winslow Foundation. On a variety of policy matters, i.e. NAFTA, global warming, and air pollution strategies, EDF has been at odds with Sierra Club. The Ehrlichs’ recent book acknowledged input from EDF staffers and extolled market based environmentalism, yet seemed to have no link to or mention of the Sierra Club. Perhaps Mrs. Ehrlich would be more comfortable at EDF.

This briefing at the very least raises several disturbing questions that Sierra Club members have not been informed of about the resume, financial backers and environmental philosophy of Anne Ehrlich, when they elected Ehrlich to the board of directors of the Club. While Mrs. Ehrlich separates the funders of CCB and her role as a Sierra Club director, it is not clear that Sierra’s membership would agree with this compartmentalization. At the least, there is concern that Ehrlich’s corporate ties create a conflict of interest with her role as a director of the Sierra Club.

A Sierra Club volunteer Karen Jones who served on a Sierra Club consumption task force with Mrs. Ehrlich while Ehrlich was a Club director found a disinclination by Ehrlich to take into account the role of corporations in driving consumption and resource extraction; ultimately the report included none of the concerns of Jones who had her name removed from the report. In a letter of dissent, Jones cited the case of populations in foreign countries unable to control the operations of oil companies taking advantage of repressive political regimes — ironic in light of how this reflects Chevron’s operations in Nigeria. CP

Click here to read the entire report on the funders of Anne Erhlich.

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch. Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

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