Enviromental groups get federal subsidies


Well-Known Member
Here is our little group working so well together - another RDC member alerted me to this article in the Sac Bee and as it made him mad, it made my eyebrows raise a little ( and kept me from retreating back to the couch)

It is a bit lonc, but I am sure you will find it interesting - this goes back to who we elect and how much power certain government entities are given or were given by a certain administration.

read on..............................................

<font color=yellow>Taxpayer dollars help fund many environmental groups
By Tom Knudson
Bee Staff Writer
(Published Oct. 21, 2001)
A major investor is helping The Nature Conservancy -- America's largest environmental group -- buy land and protect species across the United States.
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The same benefactor is providing financial aid to the World Wildlife Fund for international conservation. It is spending heavily to help other groups, from the American Farmland Trust to Trout Unlimited, hold conferences, post Web pages, restore habitat and sway public opinion in favor of protecting the natural world.

Few philanthropists, in fact, have ever showered money so broadly across the environmental community.

Who is this conservation-minded patron?

<font color=yellow>You -- and every other taxpayer in the United States, that's who.</font color=yellow>

It's well-known that the government dispenses billions for foreign aid, medical research and other socially desirable activities. It's not common knowledge that it also distributes financial assistance to environmental organizations, including activist groups that seek to influence, and even sue, the government.

"When the federal government subsidizes one side of a public policy debate, it undermines the very essence of democracy," said Randal O'Toole, a senior economist at The Thoreau Institute, a free-market environmental think tank in Oregon.

Those who receive such funds have a different view.

"This is part of the give and take of democracy," said Michael Replogle, transportation director at Environmental Defense, a nonprofit advocacy group. "Government agencies have a role to play" in reaching out to the environmental community, he said.

Just how much public money flows to environmental groups has never been calculated, partly because it springs from so many sources. More than two dozen federal entities, from the State Department to the Fish and Wildlife Service, make awards to environmental groups. But no government agency charts the total spending, identifies trends or assesses what taxpayers are getting for their money.

Information gathered by The Bee, though, shows the volume of federal support for environmental groups is substantial, and growing.

Last year, about <font color=yellow>$137 million flowed to 20 major environmental nonprofit groups -- an average of $377,000 a day </font color=yellow>-- up 27 percent from 1999. Since 1998, more than $400 million in federal money has been granted to environmental groups.

Four groups -- The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the World Wildlife Fund -- have gotten more than two-thirds of the money since 1998. More than 15 nonprofits received $1 million a year or more.

Most large environmental groups take government grants, but some -- such as the Sierra Club and Greenpeace -- do not.

More than half of the money is used to help groups purchase, restore or protect land and species. That process, which often involves mingling federal and private dollars to maximize their impact, has achieved dramatic results for fish, wildlife and open space across the United States.

Conservationists say such teamwork is vital to preserving the biological diversity of life on Earth.

"When you look at what it is going to cost to protect biodiversity, it far exceeds our capability, even as one of the wealthiest conservation groups," said Mike Horak, a spokesman for The Nature Conservancy, which last year received $37.3 million in federal funds -- the most of any group.

The rest of the federal money is channeled to hundreds of projects and purposes, worldwide. It trains park rangers in Central America, pays for mollusk monitoring in Tennessee and funds anti-poaching programs in Africa. It underwrites pro-nature radio ads in Ohio, condor recovery efforts in California and water pollution control efforts in the Appalachians.

But federal audits, reports and records show public money also trickles into more controversial activities, such as<font color=yellow> lobbying and advocacy </font color=yellow>. Some also helps fund government adversaries.

Few groups have been more critical of the U.S. Forest Service than The Lands Council, which calls itself a "front-line activist-based forest conservation group" that favors a ban on commercial timber sales on public forests. Recently, the council received a $30,000 grant -- about 10 percent of its budget -- from the Forest Service.

"How can the Forest Service justify funding an organization whose mission is to prevent management on federal lands?" asked Chris West, vice president of the American Forest Resource Council, which represents timber companies and sawmills. "Clearly, there needs to be some better checks and balances in terms of how this money is spent."

The Forest Service defended the award.

"The grant is not paying them to market their no-commercial-cut philosophy," said Bob Swinford, staff assistant to Forest Service chief Dale Bosworth. Rather, it will be used for workshops on fire safety in rural communities.

Fire safety "is something we actually agree with the Forest Service on," said Mike Peterson, conservation program director for the Spokane-based council. "We've made a commitment to stay on message."

But it's not the first time Forest Service grants have kindled controversy.

A 1998 federal audit found numerous problems, including "expenses which appeared unreasonable" at the National Forest Foundation, a congressionally chartered private nonprofit organization funded in part by the Forest Service. Among the expenses drawing attention were consulting fees of $82,700 for "a retired Forest Service employee and to an ex-Foundation board member"; luncheon, dinner and banquet tabs of $10,108; and $123,500 spent trying to recruit members, which brought in only $13,000 in membership fees.

Such problems have since been resolved, said Doug Crandall, the group's new vice president. "Basically, we're starting over. We have a new board, new direction and a lot more focus."

The Environmental Protection Agency has run into trouble, too.

In April, the General Accounting Office noted "wide-ranging problems" with EPA grants, including the use of EPA funds "for unallowable activities such as lobbying." In May, the agency's inspector general observed the EPA "does little to promote competition" when awarding grants. And in June, the GAO said EPA's "oversight of nonprofit grantees is not likely to ensure that funds are spent as intended or allowed."

The EPA did not respond to any of those findings, despite repeated requests from The Bee.

Federal funding for environmental groups may not be secret, but it's certainly not well-publicized. Much of the supporting information is squirreled away in obscure places -- such as financial summaries in annual reports and IRS nonprofit tax returns. That drought of data can lead to confusion and surprise.

One day in 1998, for example, Peter Samuel, publisher of Toll Roads Newsletter, which serves toll road managers and consultants, was scrolling through a Web site of The Smart Growth Network, www.smartgrowth.org</A> -- a coalition of nonprofit groups that seeks to curb urban sprawl.

Curious, Samuel sent an e-mail to the Webmaster.

"Please inform me who controls the content of this Web site and give me their phone number," he wrote.

Not long after, he got a reply -- from the Environmental Protection Agency.

"The Smart Growth Network is an EPA initiative," an agency employee wrote. "The Web page is written and funded by the EPA."

Samuel was stunned.

"Government money should not be used for activist groups," he said. "It should be used for genuine, impartial research."

A senior EPA official said the agency funds the Web site because "it provides information about different development options." EPA does not control the content, the official said, and many groups contribute to it. The official said the EPA would not allow him to be quoted by name.

Since 1998, the EPA has awarded more than $5 million to nonprofit groups that pursue so-called smart-growth objectives, which include working with state and local governments to promote conservation-friendly urban development.

"Working together really is quite a natural," said Betsy Garside, spokeswoman for the American Farmland Trust, a member of the Smart Growth network and a recipient of EPA and other federal funds. "If we can help the government be more efficient, and they can help us be more far-reaching, the public benefits."

But O'Toole -- a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley -- contends such alliances shortchange democracy.

As he put it in "The Vanishing Automobile," a new book about urban sprawl: "EPA funding creates the appearance of a grass-roots movement against sprawl when in fact much of the 'movement' is supported by a federal agency."

The senior EPA official disagreed. "There is widespread concern about the impacts of growth and development," he said. "We are responding to people's concerns."

Concern about taxpayer-funded advocacy is a recurring theme in Congress, where at least five hearings have addressed the subject since 1995.

"Organizations have every right to advocate and advance their point of view. What they don't have a right to is taxpayer dollars," said Jonathan Adler, who testified at one hearing. Adler is a well-known critic of the environmental movement and author of "Environmentalism at the Crossroads: Green Activism in America."

The issue is not that simple, according to Replogle, who works for Environmental Defense, an advocacy group that receives federal grants.

<font color=yellow>"Environmental groups represent tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of ordinary citizens," he said.</font color=yellow>

"Efforts to tie a gag around (environmental) groups, to cut them off from any access to government grants seeks to undermine essential parts of public involvement in the democratic process," Replogle said.

Federal funding of environmental advocacy is at the heart of concerns about the $30,000 federal grant to The Lands Council, which has repeatedly attacked Forest Service timber policies. Members of Congress have complained to the agency.

"This is a little uncomfortable," said Mark Rey, a Department of Agriculture undersecretary who oversees the Forest Service. "But getting people together and finding consensus (on wildfire issues) requires a certain amount of discomfort."

Some say such funding aids advocacy indirectly.

"When the government funds a group to do things you may not disagree with, it frees up resources for it to do things you do disagree with," said O'Toole.

But Peterson said it works the other way. The grant "is actually diverting resources out of our regular program. I'm spending a lot of hours trying to interpret long documents and figure out how to comply" with federal rules. "And I'm not funded to do that."

<font color=yellow>Sometimes federally funded environmental groups also sue the government.</font color=yellow>

On July 1, 1997, the National Wildlife Federation sued the EPA over water quality. The same day, it applied for a $70,000 EPA clean-water grant, records show. A few weeks later, it got the money.

The federation succeeded with its suit as well, eventually getting the federal government to pay its $14,000 legal costs.

"The government is doing a lot of good work. ... And we work with them wherever possible," said Philip Kavits, vice president of communications for the federation. "By the same token, that does not, in any way, insulate the government from (legal action) where we feel they are doing the wrong thing."

Some lawmakers have raised concerns about the EPA's "practice of providing grants to organizations that have initiated legal action against the agency," according to the GAO.

Most federal support for environmental groups is put to work in a more pragmatic manner: to buy land and protect habitat.

One such arrangement is unfolding along a stretch of the Sacramento River in Northern California where The Nature Conservancy purchased 67 acres -- then sold a piece to the government.

A mix of orchards and cropland, the place is no scenic wilderness. But a 27-acre piece of forest and savannah along the river is vital habitat for many species, including migratory songbirds.

That is what drew the attention of the Fish and Wildlife Service, which is seeking to expand its holdings in the heavily farmed Sacramento Valley.

But last year, when the parcel came up for sale, the Fish and Wildlife Service didn't have the cash. Nor did it want the farmland. Enter the conservancy. "We stepped in and held the property as an interim owner," said Sam Lawson, director of the conservancy's Sacramento River project.

Today, the conservancy has sliced and diced the land into saleable units. For $71,980 in federal funds, the river section will soon become part of the Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge. The farm portion is to be sold to a local grower.

"It's a win-win for everyone," said Glenn County Supervisor Denny Bungarz. "Land suitable for habitat goes into habitat. Land that should stay in agriculture stays in agriculture."

Yet such transactions generate suspicion among conservatives.

"Land purchases are an extremely political matter and an increasingly controversial policy," said Christopher Morris, who scrutinizes environmental groups for the Capital Research Center, a conservative think tank in Washington.

"There is nothing inherently wrong about The Nature Conservancy wanting to preserve scenic places," Morris said. "But the scope of its efforts ... come at the expense of private landowners.

And, he charged, "the conservancy also makes money" by selling land to the government.

Lawson insisted that that's not the case.

"We have a 'no-net-profit' rule, which says we are not allowed to sell (land) to a government agency for more than we paid for it," he said.

On the Sacramento River property, records show the conservancy sold the 27 acres to the Fish and Wildlife Service for just what it paid for it: $71,980.

International conservation is another huge ticket item. Last year, more than $37 million in federal funds were routed, through environmental groups, to programs outside the United States. A small portion -- $1.7 million -- ended up in the lowland rain forests of northern Guatemala where Conservation International is using it to establish sustainable farming practices, set up health clinics and jump-start a new industry, eco-tourism, in the Mayan Biosphere Reserve.

"People are willing to pay big money to hike into the forest and camp out and explore the Mayan ruins with somebody who knows something about it," said James Nations, a Conservation International vice president.

<font color=yellow>One 1997 foreign award to the Natural Resources Defense Council even had links to a prominent politician: then-Vice President Al Gore.</font color=yellow>

The goal of the $20,000 Department of Energy grant was to support Peter Miller, an NRDC scientist, in testing an ultraviolet water purification system in South Africa. The low-cost process has potential for improving public health in developing nations.

After the work was complete, NRDC sent a billing letter to the government, which said, "DOE requested that we initiate the effort at this time in order to have a site ready for the visit of Vice President Al Gore and the meeting of the U.S./South Africa Bi-national Commission in February."

In the end, though, Gore didn't show up.

"We would have hoped to get some nice publicity but, frankly, it was more of a pain," said Miller. "We kind of scrambled around trying to get the thing set up in time for him to visit so he can get the photo op -- and he went to some other project."

<font color=yellow>Paige<font color=yellow>