Congressmen Speak Out on Environmental Groups

DATE: 5/11/01
 
BACKGROUND:
Following a scathing four-part expose of environmental groups by by Tom Knudson in the Sacramento Bee, three Congressmen, James Hansen (R-UT), Mike Simpson (R-ID) and George Radanovich (R-CA), have spoken out about these groups' alleged corruption, fraud and abuse of power. You can access the Sacramento Bee series at http://www.sacbee.com/news/projects/environment/index02.html. All parts of this series, entitled Environment, Inc., are listed in the field on the left side of the page.  
 
The following is a report, by associate editor Tim Breen, in today's Greenwire, of the Congressmen's remarks (note: you can subscribe to Greenwire at http://eenews.net ):
 
'Three Republicans tore into environmental groups in the House Tuesday night, using free floor time to charge among other things that fundraising has supplanted field work; big executive salaries belie the notion of young, idealistic workers; and purposeful misinformation has replaced public education and advocacy. The lawmakers, all from the West, cited a recent Sacramento Bee series for support, but they also appeared moved by the environmental groups' support of irksome Clinton administration actions and more recent opposition to nascent Republican policies.  
 
'I have witnessed over the years how environmental groups have changed from actually doing constructive work into self-interest business organizations whose main goals seem to be marketing, self-perpetuating power and growth, and to achieve those ends by any means,' said Rep. James Hansen (R-Utah), who chairs the House Resources Committee. 'They become masters at slashing and burning the character and reputation of those elected officials or reporters who dare to challenge them or who dare to take different points of view on specific environmental issues.' 
 
"Hansen singled out the Sierra Club, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council and League of Conservation Voters as especially 'all about big business.' Far from a grassroots group 'operating out of some guy's basement,' each one employs many accountants, marketers and attorneys whose main focus is to raise money. 'If they were public corporations listed with the stock exchange, they would be listed by analysts in the 'buy' category,' Hansen said.  
 
"He termed 'truly shocking' the amounts of money raised, such as from the 'previously venerable' Pew Charitable Trusts, especially since the money goes to 'slick' entreaties 'all designed to shock and stimulate individuals to reach into their pocketbooks.' In short, a movement that started in the 1960s with essentially a good idea -- he contributed his own money as a college student -- has lost its way, and now too often contorts issues for its own enrichment, Hansen suggested. Moreover, environmental groups label their often partisan lobbying activities as public education, abusing tax law and their 501(c)3 status in the process, he said.  
 
"The Bee rightly -- alone among the media today -- questioned fundraising activities by some groups that have put their leaders among the top 1 percent of all U.S. wage earners, Hansen noted. The presidents of NRDC, the World Wildlife Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Wilderness Society and Defenders of Wildlife all have salaries over $200,000, according to Hansen and the Bee. Sierra Club President Carl Pope's listed salary went from $138,000 in 1998 to $199,577 in 1999, and NWF President Mark Van Putten got a 17 percent raise, to about a quarter million dollars, Hansen noted.  
 
"Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) took to the floor as well, among other things saying Democrats are paralleling environmental groups in their demagoguery. 'It seems to me that the [Democratic National Committee] has taken on the same characteristics that the extreme environmental movement has taken on where raising money has become more important than the truth,' Simpson said. 'They will say anything to try to discredit this president and the policies that he sets forward.'  
 
"He also said that 'the extreme environmental movement has taken over the grassroots environmental movement. It is no longer about saving the environment; it is about raising money. They spend an awful lot of their funds raising money.'  
 
"And as Hansen alluded, the fundraising too often is misleading, Simpson said. He accused the Wilderness Society of making a pitch for money to curtail clearcutting in California and the Pacific Northwest, even though the practice declined 89 percent in the 1990s, and charged Defenders of Wildlife with saying recent wolf killings -- which it needed money to fight -- had occurred against Yellowstone wolf populations, even though they had occurred against the burgeoning central Idaho population. 'Unfortunately, much of the pleading that they do with the American public at best can be called dishonest,' Simpson said.  
 
"He added of Defenders specifically: 'Pick up copies of its federal tax returns and you will find that its five highest paid business partners are not firms that specialize in wildlife conservation. They are national direct mail and telemarketing companies.'  
 
"California Republican George Radanovich got in the act as well, calling some groups 'extreme sellouts' whose goal 'is not necessarily about good environmental policy for federal lands, it is about power, keeping power, keeping power and influence. I think that the federal policies become secondary to that,' he said.  
 
"Radanovich closed by saying: 'This summer we are going to have to face the fact of we either force a temporary relaxation of air quality standards or we are going to have rolling blackouts and people are going to be dead, and those are the choices that we are facing in California. People are going to face that choice all over the country because of the undue influence of the environmental community in this country right now.'"
 
TEN SECOND RESPONSE:
It is about time so-called environmental organizations were exposed for what they are: political organizations with little interest in the environment.

THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: For the most part, members of environmental groups are well-meaning and sincerely interested in the environment. But they have been taken by environmental leaders whose primary interest is in amassing personal wealth and political power. It is time to set aside the scare tactics these groups' leaders use to raise money, recruit members and advance their personal agendas and base our environmental decisions on sound science.

 

 
By Tom Randall, Director of Environmental and Regulatory Affairs, The National Center Public Policy Research

Contact the author at: 773-857-5086 or [email protected]
The National Center for Public Policy Research, Chicago office
3712 North Broadway ­ PMB 279
Chicago, IL 60613