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                    Lawsuits seek federal environmental grant data

By Tom Knudson -- Sacramento Bee Staff Writer
  Published 5:45 a.m. PST Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2001

 Landmark Legal Foundation -- a conservative nonprofit law firm -- has
filed three lawsuits against federal agencies seeking to compel the agencies
to release information about government grants to environmental groups.

  "We want to know exactly what the money is going for, to whom and whether
the federal government has a handle on what's going on," said Mark Levin,
president of Landmark Legal Foundation in Herndon, Va.

  Landmark filed the suits against the Forest Service, Environmental
Protection Agency and Bureau of Land Management on Dec. 5. The legal actions
resulted from an Oct. 21 Bee story showing that federal agencies have
awarded more than $400 million in grants to national environmental groups
since 1998.

  "You woke us up," Levin said, referring to The Bee article, part of an
ongoing series -- Environment Inc. -- focusing on environmental nonprofits.

  Levin said the suits were filed because the agencies did not respond to
three Freedom of Information Act requests filed Oct. 24 seeking information.

  Forest Service spokeswoman Heidi Valetkevitch declined to respond. "It's
our policy not to comment on any pending legal matters," she said.
Representatives of the Bureau of Land Management and the EPA also declined
to comment.

  The Bee article documented a wide range of federal grants to environmental
groups for purposes ranging from the restoration of wildlife habitat to
field projects related to former Vice President Al Gore's visit to South

  More than half of the $400 million was used by environmental groups --
such as The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International -- to purchase
and protect land and species.

  But some also was routed to more controversial activities, such as
advocacy and lobbying, The Bee's article found.

  Overall, the article found that more than 24 federal agencies award money

to environmental groups, but no branch of government charts the total amount
of spending or assesses what taxpayers are getting for their money.

  Landmark, in its information requests, seeks to learn more, asking the
Forest Service, BLM and EPA to disclose thousands of financial and other
documents about grants to environmental nonprofits from Jan. 20, 1993 -- the
day the Clinton administration took office -- to Oct. 24, 2001.

  "The first thing we are doing is gathering facts," Levin said. "We won't
make allegations without the facts.

  "Ultimately what we'd like to see ... is the de-funding of those kinds of

activities where the federal government is giving millions and millions of
dollars to organizations that have an agenda."

  Environmentalists don't like the sound of it.
  "Maybe Landmark ought to think about investing its money helping people,

not beating up on agencies," said Mike Peterson, conservation program
director at the Lands Council.

  The Spokane-based Lands Council, an activist group, recently received a
$30,000 Forest Service grant to help people in rural areas protect their
homes from wildfire.

  Landmark has been involved in a number of high-profile efforts to examine
the inner workings of federal agencies, including administrative rule-making
at the Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton years.

  And although the foundation pursues conservative causes, Levin said its
agenda is not driven by political interests.

  "Whenever we bring litigation, we don't consult with anybody," he said.
"We don't consult with Republicans. We don't consult with the
administration. ... We do this as a matter of principle."



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