by Jeffrey St. Clair and Bernardo Issel

In These Times, July 28 1997

Few issues excite the passions of Americans more than environmental causes. Since the first Earth Day in 1970, the United States has witnessed a proliferation of green groups. One estimate by the Internal Revenue Service suggests that there may be a many as 12,000 groups working on environmental issues, ranging from small neighborhood associations to mammoth groups, such as the Nature Conservancy, that are difficult to distinguish from a downsized transnational corporation. Oregon alone counts more than 250 environmental groups, the most per capita in the nation.

Americans pour as much as $3 billion into environmental causes every year. A sizable chunk of that money goes to the 12 large groups that dominate the green scene in Washington , D.C. With all this money rolling into the environmental , why has so little progress been made cleaning up the nations hazardous waste sites or stemming the destruction of our ancient forests? Some critics, such as investigative journalist Mark Dowie, suggest that size does matter -- in reverse: The larger a group gets, the more bureacratic and less effective it becomes. As Dowie and others have noted, amazing work is being done at the grass roots level against tremendous odds, but these struggles are often neglected by the press and unnoticed by the larger public.

In an attempt to correct the record, we have prepared a brief consumer profile of some of the largest and most ubiquitous environmental organizations, charting their organizational history, political leanings and financial status. We have also profiled a short list of grass-roots green groups that are doing hard and vital work on frugal budgets.

(Jeffrey St. Clair reports on the environment for Counterpunch. Bernardo Issel is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.

The Mainstreams

Environmental Defense Fund
Created in 1967 by a small band of lawyers seeking to ban DDT, EDF evolved into George Bush's favorite environmental group. The group is the premier advocate or market-oriented solutions to environmental problems. EDF was a cheerleader for NAFTA, and gets excited about pollution credits, emissions trading systems and user fees for recreational use of public lands. it hosts the Barbra Streisand Chair of Environmental Studies, the perch of scientist Michael Oppenheimer, who advocates buying up development rights in the Third World as a solution to global climate change. EDF convinced McDonalds in 1991 to reform its solid-waste disposal practices and to move from Styrofoam to paper packaging (but remained mum on quality of food, ecologically destructive ranching practices and abusive treatment of animals and workers.) In cooperation with major timber companies, the group developed a "paper-use task force," whose recommendations discreetly ignored sustainable alternatives to paper such as industrial hemp and kenaf. Inc. magazine praised president Fred Krupp for his ability to "speak capitalism."
Budget: $25.4 million
Staff: 160
Members: 300,000
Salary of CEO: $262,000, including benefits

Greenpeace USA
Greenpeace sprang up in 1971 out of protests against U.S. nuclear testing in the Aleutians. The group has gained a reputation as a media-savvy, confrontational organization with a radical eco-agenda to end pollution, protect biodiversity and bring about global disarmament. it has waged war against factory trawlers, whaling ships, pulp mills and the French nuclear navy. Its membership exploded in the '80s, reaching 4.8 million internationally at its peak in 1991. Since then, it has been on the decline. Greenpeace is one of the few national groups to demonstrate some sensitivity to the social and economic problems of Third World nations. The group valiantly fought NAFTA and GATT, but recently joined forces with NAFTA proponents in support of a controversial bill to weaken US dolphin protection laws. it recently smothered efforts to unionize its legions of canvassers Earlier this year, 16 founding members criticized the group for becoming too bureaucratic, lacking focus and doling out high salaries. Ex-Greenpeacer Cpt. Paul Watson of the Sea Shephard Society calls the group the "Avon ladies of the environmental movement." Budget: $32 million
Staff: 250
Members: 600,000
CEO Salary: More than $65,000

National Audubon Society
One of the oldest and most high-brow of American conservation groups, the Audubon Society has long been a bastion of Rockefeller Republicans. It demonstrates a particular obsession with Third World birth rates, advocating harsh population control measures. In 1991, the group fired Les Line, the award-winning editor of Audubon magazine, and replaced him with Malcolm Abrams, former editor of The Star tabloid. The group takes in hundreds of thousands of dollars from conservative foundations, such as Pew Charitable Trusts (Sun Oil), the J.M. Kaplan Fund (a former pass-through for CIA moneys) and the Ford Foundation. It has also raked in millions from royalties on oil and gas wells in its Rainey Wildlife Reserve in Louisiana. Last year, the group purged staff, including Brock Evans, widely regarded as the best eco-lobbyist on Capitol Hill. Former staffers say the new president, John Flicker, wants to turn the group into a Nature Conservancy for the birdwatching crowd. Local chapters, such as Sassafras Audubon in Bloomington, Ind., and Kalmiopsis Audubon in Port Orford, Ore., often demonstrate a refreshing degree of independence.
Budget: $44.9 million
Staff: 300
Members: 550,000
CEO Salary: More than $180,000 including benefits

National Wildlife Federation
The National Wildlife Federation is the largest environmental group on the planet, with nearly 5 million members. It represents the old guard of the conservative establishment, including many hunting, fishing and gun clubs sustained by a history of racism. For decades, the group was largely funded through the sale of wildlife stamps. Through the '80s and early '90s, the federation was dominated by its CEO, Jay Hair, who had a passion for limousines, expensive travel budgets, swank office furnishings and deal-making. The group has invited corporate chieftains, including Dean Buntrock of Waste Management Inc., to join its board of directors. It's the favorite charity of John Denver and big oil companies, including Arco, Chevron and Mobil.
Budget: $80 million
Staff: 600
Members: 5 million
CEO salary: More than $180,000 including benefits

National Resources Defense Council
Born in the wake of the first Earth Day, the groups' early years were spent litigating the new litany of environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. By the '80s, it had largely settled into an eco-think tank and lobby shop, generating monthly blizzards of white papers. Its bank accounts are lavishly seeded by the Rockefeller and Ford Foundation grants. NRDC is the favorite roost of Hollywood celebs, such as Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. It is a zealous promoter of electric utility deregulation; founding member John Bryson now heads nuke-laden Southern California Edison. The group betrayed the Huaorani Indians in Ecuador by trying to broker a deal allowing oil development of tribal lands. Executive director John Adams boasted that NRDC had "broken the back of environmental opposition to NAFTA."
Budget: $27.5 million
Staff: 172
Members: 350,000
CEO salary: More than $200,000, including benefits

The Nature Conservancy
The titan of green groups, the Nature Conservancy sits on nearly a billion dollars in assets and is awash in cash, thanks to a tidal wave of corporate donations, much of it from notorious polluters such as Arco, Archer-Daniels-Midland, British Petroleum, DuPont, Shell and Freeport-McMoRan. The group eschews political work in favor of the relatively noncontroversial project of buying land. Calling itself "Nature's real estate agent," the Nature Conservancy purchases private land and then sells it to state and federal agencies, often, according to its critics, at a considerable mark-up. Last year, the group violated its apolitical policy to concoct the compromise rewrite of the Endangered Species Act with a secret coalition of corporations and trade associations, including the National Homebuilder's Association and timber giant Georgie-Pacific. The group is led by John Sawhill, former energy aide to Nixon and Ford and a fanatical proponent of nuclear power, who has enjoyed lucrative positions on the boards of Procter & Gamble, North American Coal Company and Pacific Gas & Electric.
Budget: $337 million
Staff: 1,200
Members: 720,000 individuals; 220 corporations
Salary of CEO: More than $196,000, including benefits

Sierra Club
Founded in 1892 by John Muir, who preached a conservationist message that led to the creation of Yosemite National Park, the Sierra Club promotes itself as the nation's "oldest and most effective grass-roots environmental organization." It largely settled into little more than a hiking club for the well-heeled from the Bay Area, until David Brower took the helm in the '50s and led the group in great battles to save Grand Canyon, create Redwood National Park and protect Alaskan wilderness. Brower was ousted in 1969 after the club lost its tax-exempt status for his aggressive political work. The club fought hard against NAFTA and was an early proponent of environmental justice issues. It still maintains the most democratic structure of any major group, though critics, such as Margaret Young, claim the club leadership has used repressive measures to stifle dissent. Under the leadership of Carl Pope, an intimate of Al Gore, the club twice endorsed the Clinton/Gore ticket over the raucous objection of many members. The membership overwhelmingly passed a 1996 ballot initiative calling for an end to commercial logging on public lands, despite the fierce opposition from the group's leaders and lobbyists. The club is currently riding the media hype of Gen-X Board President Adam Warbach.
Budget: $50 million
Members: 550,000
Staff: 150
CEO salary: More than $100,000 including benefits

The Alternatives

Alliance for the Wild Rockies
This relentless, fierce and uncompromising group shocked the West in 1990 with its outlandish proposal to preserve 16 million acres of land in Montana and Idaho as new national parks and wilderness areas. The alliance is by far the most visionary group working on public lands issues. Alliance for the Wild Rockies, P.O. Box 8731, Missoula, MT 59807; 406-721-5420.

Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living
The impoverished Pennsylvania community of Chester is a mecca for hazardous waste. Five incinerators -- marketed as resource-recovery facilities -- now loom over the town, spewing poison into the sky. Unpaid CRCQL director Zulene Mayfield, operating on a budget of less than $15,000 a year, has led emotional protests against Westinghouse, despite death threats, break-ins, the indifference of the national greens and repeated acts of racist intimidation. CRCQL, 2731 West 3rd St., Chester, PA 19013; 610-485-0763.

Earth Island Institute
Founded by eco-legend David Brower in 1982 as Friends of the Earth, this is probably the most visionary and creative U.S. green group. It tackles a wide array of issues, ranging from sea turtle protection to helping indigenous people in Borneo fend off timber companies. Its innovative Urban Habitat project, directed by Carl Anthony, advocates the redesign of cities to make them safer and more livable. Co- director Dave Phillips has led the fight to preserve U.S. Dolphin protection laws, taking on the likes of the U.S. State Department, Mexican drug cartels, Al Gore and Greenpeace. Earth Island Journal is the liveliest and most comprehensive magazine covering the environment. EII, 300 Broadway St., Suite 28, SF CA 94133; 415-788-3666

Food & Water
This small group from Walden, Vt., awakened America to the dangers of rBGH, the dairy cow hormone, attacked plans to irradiate fruits and vegetables, and exposed the dangerous levels of residual pesticides in lettuce. The group issued a ground-breaking report this year on economic concentration in the meat industry. Executive Director Mike Colby, the food industry's most feared and hated critic,. eschews Beltway deal-making as "activist malpractice." He now finds himself the target of so-called food disparagement lawsuits, but shows no sign of backing down. Food & Water, RR 1, Box 68D, Walden, VT 05873; 802-563-3300.

Hoosier Environmental Council
One of the first state environmental councils and still one of the best, HEC has battled steel mills, hazardous-waste firms, coal companies, utilities, chemical agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service -- and usually won. The group was working on environmental justice issues in Gary, Ind., long before such matters became trendy and long after the funding community moved on to other "priorities." HEC, 1002 E. Washington St., Suite 300, Indianapolis, IN 46202; 317-685-8800.

Project Underground
This new group defines its mission as the protection of human rights threatened by mining and oil companies. While the World Wildlife Fund was giving an award to Shell, Project Underground was busy exposing the oil giant's ties to Nigerian death squads. The group is now targeting Freeport McMoRan's toxic mining operation in Indonesia, which has decimated the Amungme people. Project Underground, 1847 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, CA 94703; 510-705-8981

Rachel's Environment and Health Weekly
This is not a group, per se, but an influential newsletter produced by Peter Montague of the Environmental Research Foundation. Unafraid to challenge the tactics of mainstream enviros, Rachel's provides cutting-edge analysis in clear prose of complex science on toxics, corporate accountability and progressive green politics. Rachel's, Environmental Research Foundation, PO Box 5036, Annapolis, MD 21403; 410-263-1584.

Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice
The nation's premier environmental justice outfit, SNEEJ is a seven-year-old coalition of more than 80 groups from eight states in the U.S. Southwest, at least three Mexican states and several Indian reservations. The group is led by Richard Moore, a long-time activist for Latino rights, who is battling a SLAPP suit brought by an El Paso, Texas, waste disposal company. SNEEJ is now fighting the migration of hi-tech companies such as Intel and Motorola to the Southwest, pointing out that most of the horrific environmental and economic costs of industries are borne by poor communities and people of color. SNEEJ, P.O. Box 7399, Albuquerque, NM 87192; 505-242-0416.

Snake River Alliance
This Boise-based group has taken on nuclear-weapons production and radiocative-waste storage at the Idaho National Engineering Lab. program director Beatrice Brailsford made former Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary's enemies list, right behind Bob Dole as DOE's most trenchant critic. This pacifist group has been so effective that a top secret Idaho National Guard security assessment labeled it a potential "opposing force." Snake River Alliance, Box 1731, Boise ID 83701; 208- 344-9161.

Western Organization of Resource Councils
This group organizes the small farmers and ranchers in the West against the import of toxic waste. It also promotes the reform of archaic and destructive mining laws, challenges monopolization of the meat-packing industry, fights for family farms and develops the organizing skills of grass-roots leaders. WORC, 2401 Montana Ave., #301 Billings, MT 59101; 406-252-9672.

Copyright © 1996. The Light Party.

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