The Rot in Gang Green

by GEORGE OCHENSKI

Since its inception, the environmental movement has continued to change and, some would say, mature. But with those changes and maturity has come a bane common to groups that grow beyond their original mission. In the case of Gang Green, the term applied to the large environmental advocacy groups in the U.S., their growth—into large, showy and expensive operations—has come with a price, and that price, as Time magazine revealed in an exposé on their Ecocentric blog, is finding the money to keep those huge organizations running. Specifically, the scandal of the week is the Sierra Club taking $25 million from natural gas corporations between 2007 and 2010 and not telling its members or anyone else about it.

Most people who support environmental organizations expect them to be beyond reproach when it comes to telling the truth to their members and the public. The reason is both simple and compelling: In most of the policy battles over the environment, it’s usually the mega-corporations who are on the “dirty” side of the issue and mainly concerned with profit margins, while the environmentalists are supposed to be fighting not for themselves or for money, but for the good of the environment.

Time’s exclusive has blown the lid off that assumption for the Sierra Club and intimates that other members of Gang Green may have equally astonishing corporate relationships. The problem is not with the leaders of the groups rubbing elbows with their generous corporate sponsors, but the fact that at the grassroots level, where the impacts from the hydraulic fracturing process known as “fracking” are accumulating, those who support Gang Green expect them to fight for the environment, not make excuses for industry donors. A Wall Street Journal article from December 2009 exemplifies what many grassroots supporters probably have in mind: “The pressure from local environmentalists appears to be having an impact. The Natural Resources Defense Council is now pushing for stricter regulation of drilling, the Environmental Defense Fund is working with companies to encourage them to adopt stronger environmental safeguards and the Sierra Club has formed a task force to draft a policy on hydraulic fracturing.”

In 2009, the Sierra Club was already taking millions from some of the nation’s largest natural gas producers, who were, of course, fracking deep underground to release hitherto unobtainable deposits of gas locked in shale formations. While their members voiced expectations that the Sierra Club would fight fracking tooth and nail because of the damage it can cause to precious groundwater supplies, the club’s executive director, Carl Pope, was touring the nation with Aubrey McClendon, the CEO of Chesapeake Energy, the largest of the natural gas industry donors. The twisted logic behind Pope’s thinking was that natural gas would be a “bridge fuel” to transition the nation away from coal. They even called it the “Beyond Coal” campaign.

Unfortunately, this political ploy is not unique to the Sierra Club. It’s more common every day to find big environmental groups moderating environmental advocacy in favor of access to politicians, and trading hard fighting for hard funding. Add to that a concerted effort by ever more moderate foundations to fund groups that “collaborate” with environmental polluters in order to come up with what they dub “pragmatic solutions” to our growing environmental challenges.

In Montana, we can see the effects as groups such as the Montana Wilderness Association take hundreds of thousands from the Pew Charitable Trusts to suddenly sing “Kumbaya” with timber mill owners, aka “timber partners,” in Senator Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, which sets a new and horrible precedent for mandating timber harvest levels in national forests. That the bill sacrifices Wilderness Study Areas already protected in law by Montana’s late Senator Lee Metcalf only adds insult to injury—but it probably keeps that foundation funding flowing freely for MWA.

The Sierra Club actually had another $30 million in natural gas donations lined up when the news about the initial $25 million began to leak. Caught in what they knew would be a firestorm, they replaced Pope with Michael Brune in 2010. To his credit, only months after being hired, Brune advised the board to reject any future contributions from natural gas producers and continues to hold that position today. But that doesn’t mean the Sierra Club has severed all of its dubious corporate-donor ties. It formed a much-criticized partnership with Clorox Corporation, allowing the use of their emblem on the company’s “green” product line. They also recently have partnered with Hartford Insurance, which, like Clorox, gets to use the club’s logo in their ads.

The ties between Gang Green and big corporations seems to be growing, not diminishing. The U.S. Climate Action Partnership, for instance, teams Big Green groups like the Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council with the likes of Dow Chemical, Duke Energy, Shell, the notorious mining firm Rio Tinto and many other mega-corporations. Perhaps the exposé on the Sierra Club will lead to a cleanup, but for now, the gangrene in Gang Green is Big Green corporate donations.

George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Missoula Independent, where this column originally ran. He lives in Helena, Montana. He can be reached at: opinion@missoulanews.com.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire