August 8, 2014

Just in time for summer beach reading: a tale of environmental-activist intrigue

By Todd F. Gaziano Chief of Legal Policy and Strategic Research, and Director, Center for the Separation of Powers

Last week, I attended the news conference in DC at which Senator David Vitter (R-LA) released a minority staff report from the U.S. Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPWC) titled “The Chain of Environmental Command: How a Club of Billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA.” The report is an interesting read and shines some light on phony, supposedly “local,” grassroots campaigns that are directed by many of the same national entities and interests.

The section that most intrigued me covers the revolving door between individuals who work for environmental activist groups that seek greater government regulation and the federal agencies that produce such regulations. See pp. 23-32. It lists a number of individuals who recently obtained or held influential positions with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and were previously employed by the National Resource Defense Council, Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, Public Interest Research Groups, Union of Concerned Scientists, and elsewhere. These organizations regularly lobby and sue federal agencies seeking ever-increasing government regulation of economic and social activity.

That in itself isn’t all that new, but it bears attention for two additional reasons:

  • First, many government-watchdog groups, including PLF, refuse to take any government grants or contracts to prevent conflicts of interest, but most of the activist environmental group are regularly at the public trough for substantial taxpayer dollars, as the EPWC report details. Thus, the revolving door between those organizations and government grant agencies presents additional opportunities for conflicts of interest to arise—going both ways. After all, he who pays the piper calls the tune. At a minimum, transparency about the revolving cast of characters who are alternatively managing the environmental activist organizations and our government regulators is valuable.
  • Second, the report details that several of these “characters” who have cycled through that revolving door left under investigation or some other ethical cloud. Most of those ethics allegations involve improper communication with environmental activist groups in possible violation of government laws and policies. Several of the EPA officials supposedly resigned when confronted by questions from the EPWC staff or watchdog groups, mostly returning to environmental activist organizations.

Readers also may be interested in the “Case Studies of Services Rendered” section, which describes extensive propaganda efforts in opposition to hydraulic fracking and the Keystone XL Pipeline. The activists seem to have been more successful so far in killing jobs and economic activity related to the XL Pipeline, but perhaps that is because the federal government holds an absolute trump card on that project.

Others may find the legal questions about the foreign funds flow to non-profits engaged in political advocacy and the seeming lax financial and lobbying practices of IRC § 501(c)(4) organizations of interest. Whether major donors to some of the environmental funding organizations have something to gain from regulations that require “renewable energy” technologies doesn’t prove they aren’t pure of heart, but it’s worth knowing those connections.

As to whether this is a worthy beach read or not, you’ll have to judge for yourself. But the operation of our government is often more interesting than fiction.You can send your own reaction to the report to me through Twitter @ToddGaziano.

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