Baptists and Bootleggers: Sierra Club and Natural Gas Money

by Brian McGraw on February 3, 2012

in Blog

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Alternate title: “Sierra Club Acknowledges Role as Corporate Front Group, Industry Shill, Hired Gun for Natural Gas Industry.” From Time:

Now the biggest and oldest environmental group in the U.S. finds itself caught on the horns of that dilemma. TIME has learned that between 2007 and 2010 the Sierra Club accepted over $25 million in donations from the gas industry, mostly from Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy—one of the biggest gas drilling companies in the U.S. and a firm heavily involved in fracking—to help fund the Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. Though the group ended its relationship with Chesapeake in 2010—and the Club says it turned its back on an additional $30 million in promised donations—the news raises concerns about influence industry may have had on the Sierra Club’s independence and its support of natural gas in the past. It’s also sure to anger ordinary members who’ve been uneasy about the Club’s relationship with corporations. “The chapter groups and volunteers depend on the Club to have their back as they fight pollution from any industry, and we need to be unrestrained in our advocacy,” Michael Brune, the Sierra Club’s executive director since 2010, told me. “The first rule of advocacy of is that you shouldn’t take money from industries and companies you’re trying to change.”

Of course I’m kidding. The Sierra Club holds their respective opinions on energy and environmental policies, and then goes out and seeks funding for donors, some who may have their own corporate interests at heart. In this case Chesapeake Energy gave the Sierra Club millions of dollars to attack the coal industry, and the new head of the Sierra Club decided to end that relationship because the Sierra Club and their members don’t particularly like natural gas either, especially when its hydraulically fractured from the ground.

Many groups on the left seem unwilling to acknowledge this obvious dynamic, preferring to paint those who disagree with them as corporate shills and industry front groups on the basis that they receive money from groups whose interests overlap. Somehow I doubt the Sierra Club’s acknowledgement will do much to improve this dialogue. On this note, the Sierra Club and CEI have had constructive conversations in the past, despite many disagreements, and have worked together on some issues such as putting an end to ethanol subsidies.

Finally, one must question the wisdom of the natural gas industry. In the short run they will have gained market share by helping to induce regulations on the coal industry. In the long run, it is quite clear that much of the environmental movement wants them out of the picture as well.

Jeff Moore February 3, 2012 at 2:11 pm

I don’t think its polar “front group” or “best of the left”. Its structural.
The idea that a huge hierarchy like Sierra Club (SC) is going to reform industry isn’t born out by the last few decades. In the last 30 years in Washington State, SC compromise­d, often rejected direct action and protest, while the old growth forest was reduced to 1% of what it was in 1980.
Big budgets and top down NGOs get modest to negative results. We need to do our own horizontal solidarity building and assume that industry will be effective in reforming all the big time environmen­tal NGOs. Big Oil, Logging, and big “left” non-profit­s share an emphasis on PR, lobbying, and “education­” rather than action and building determined act­ion within the thousands of grass roots groups.

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