Green Grantmaking in D.C.

On Feb. 3-4, the Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA) met in Washington, D.C. for a "Congressional briefing" on the state of the green agenda on Capitol Hill. During the meeting, foundation heads and the occasional corporate executive received updates from environmental leaders about what strategies have been effective (or not) in holding off efforts to reform environmental laws. The meeting was designed to ensure foundation grants to environmental activist groups have their maximum political impact.

Such a meeting was nothing new for the EGA. The group was founded in 1987 to help coordinate philanthropic giving to environmental organizations and provide direction to the movement. The group's stated purposes include: "To promote recognition that the environment and its inhabitants are endangered by unsustainable human activities; to facilitate communication, foster cooperation, and develop collaboration among active and potential members; and to increase the resources available to address environmental concerns."

EGA members meet annually at retreats and conferences, share information on grantmaking, and strategize about how to achieve environmental goals. "By deciding which organizations get money, the grant-makers help set the agenda of the environmental movement and influence the programs that activists carry out," noted the leftist magazine Mother Jones.

EGA coordinator and Rockefeller Family Fund director Donald Ross believes that "funders have a major role to play" in determining the environmental policy agenda.

While EGA members were not in Washington to lobby Capitol Hill, they wanted to learn how their contributions to environmental organizations could be most effective in defending existing regulatory programs. Lunch addresses were delivered by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner and Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), the "Green Hornet" who led a rebellion of a few dozen moderate Republicans against conservative efforts to reform environmental laws.

According to notes taken by an attendee of the conference (journalists were kept outside), Browner is very concerned that criticisms of EPA regulation have begun to stick, particularly charges that the agency practices junk science. Other panelists stressed that efforts to expand federal regulation will be most successful when they stress the need to protect children, much as is being done in the current debate over the EPA's $10 billion proposal to clamp down on air quality standards.

Concern was also expressed about the fact that CEI, and other like-minded groups (they mentioned us by name), were developing "new" approaches to regulatory policy that threaten the status quo, such as calling for the end of "regulation without representation." This author was even cited for writing critiques of the EGA and its devotion to the environmental statist quo.

The agenda at EGA gatherings is important because foundations do more than simply give money to green organizations. Increasingly, grantmaking foundations are using their wealth to direct the environmental advocacy agenda by focusing on particular issues and policy strategies. Foundations like the Pew Charitable Trust are using an increasingly heavy hand to direct the movement, developing policy campaigns and new environmental organizations out of whole cloth.

The Environmental Information Center, one of the most active, if least reliable, green propaganda mills was launched by Pew to "conduct public education campaigns on priority national environmental issues," and "improve the campaigning skills of national, regional and local environmental groups," according to Joseph Reichert, who manages Pew environmental funding. Reichert told environmental writer Mark Dowie that his ideal leader for the project would be former Clinton campaign guru James Carville. "I don't want someone who knows the facts, or can articulate them persuasively," Dowie said. "I want someone who wants to win and knows how."

Not all environmental activists like the heavy hand of environmental foundations, even when it funds their allies. Pew's creation of the EIC irked Jim Maddy, then-executive director of the League of Conservation Voters, who did not see the need for yet another environmental command center.

Others are more critical. "They're out for control," Wild Forest Review editor Jeff St. Clair told the Newhouse News Service, "They want to control the policy and political agenda of the environmental movement."

Whether or not St. Clair's analysis is accurate, one thing is clear: Most foundation giving to green causes today is used to prop up Washington's environmental establishment organizations and promote the continued expansion of the regulatory state for the purpose of environmental protection. Indeed, of the 16 EGA sessions, only one allowed for questioning of the modern regulatory state. But just to ensure EGA members didn't get the wrong idea, the following panel featured Ralph Nader and Rep. Henry Waxman on "Why Regulation Remains Essential." Rest assured, the latter will remain the focus of EGA member funding for quite some time.

Jonathan H. Adler is CEI's Director of Environmental Studies and the author of Environmentalism at the Crossroads: Green Activism in America