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     Environmentalists' tactics face review


By Tom Knudson
Bee Staff Writer,  (Published May 3, 2001)

The House Resources Committee, sparked by last week's series of articles in The Bee, plans to hold hearings later this year on environmental fund-raising techniques and other matters

 The environmental movement "is a very powerful force. It has become an industry," said Resources Committee Chairman James Hansen, R-Utah, who said the committee plans oversight hearings examining the environmental movement

 "They've got buildings, automobiles, airplanes, batteries of lawyers," Hansen said, speaking of national environmental groups. "And they don't want to settle issues. They keep wanting more."

The Bee series -- Environment, Inc., published April 22-26 -- investigated the increasingly corporate nature of the nation's growing environmental movement, including its reliance on costly, crisis-related direct-mail fund-raising pitches and its use of litigation

 In 1999, environmental groups nationwide took in a record $3.5 billion in donations. But, according to charitable ratings organizations and IRS records, some groups spend substantial portions of donations not on conservation but on administrative overhead and fund raising

 "To my knowledge this is the first time any paper in this country has ever done this kind of report," said Rep. Richard Pombo, a Tracy Republican and member of the House committee

 "What most of these groups are -- are fund-raising machines," Pombo said. "They don't really care if they solve a problem. Their interest is in maintaining the battle because that is what funds their organization."  Environmentalists reacted coolly to such comments

 "Frankly, I don't think this is the government's business," said Dan Taylor, executive director of the National Audubon Society's California chapter. "Since (environmental) groups are funded and supported through the public, let the market decide."  John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace, said Congress is the problem

 "Congressmen, working with industry, have done their best over the last 30 years to block good environmental regulations," he said. "To say that somebody who cares about rising rates of cancer or global warming, to say there is some sort of greed motive in that is shameless."  Colorado Rep. Scott McInnis, another Republican committee member, said environmental groups have learned to sell fear

 "They have every right to tell their side," McInnis said. "But there ought to be a fundamental obligation to tell the truth."  Another sore spot is the use of "citizen suits" to compel federal agencies to enforce laws, such as the Endangered Species Act

While such suits have resulted in dramatic victories, Pombo said they are prone to abuse -- and are generating hefty taxpayer-funded attorney fee awards

 "Groups have figured out a way to exploit" citizen suits, Pombo said

"When they have a friendly administration, they use that (legal) process to get things done that they could not get done through Congress."  But in testimony before a House subcommittee Wednesday, Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., a Democratic member of the House Resources Committee, defended the citizen suit provision

 "The administration claims (it) is necessary to stop the lawsuits that have made the Fish and Wildlife Service's job of listing species more difficult," he said

 "The real answer is to provide the Fish and Wildlife Service with those resources it needs to address the backlog of numerous species that are either candidates for listing or are in need of critical habitat designation."  Key committee members are expected to voice their views about The Bee series on the House floor Tuesday, to be aired live from 4 to 5 p.m. PDT on C-SPAN

 The series has generated a flood of letters and e-mail and has launched a debate within the environmental movement itself

 Some environmental leaders reacted with indignation

 "Yes, we are still spending more on fund raising than groups like Save the Redwoods League or Conservation International," wrote Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope. "But those groups, bluntly, don't take on corporate or governmental abuse of the environment. Instead, they take their money, in many cases, from the very corporations that damage the environment, or from big foundations afraid of controversy

 "Yes, we occasionally have donor events in fancy hotels," he said about a prominent event in the penthouse of San Francisco's Westin St. Francis. "Not, I can assure you, nearly as often as ... the Conservation Fund and the Trust for Public Land."  Others sounded a different tone. "Congratulations for taking on a tough subject and pulling up the shades for a little light to enter," wrote Amos Enos, former executive director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

 The series drew numerous responses from scientists, foresters and professional organizations

 "As a professional ecologist for about 30 years," wrote Richard Shepard, president of Applied Ecosystem Services in Oregon, "I became disillusioned over a decade ago with what I've been calling the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt Industry."

 

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