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March 27th, 2013

Even Environmental Groups Can Greenwash

Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

By Wenonah Hauter

It’s not what you know, but who you know. Relationships are everything, and they’re the key to understanding why certain partnerships do not represent the real social justice and environmental movements opposing the oil and gas industry’s continuing efforts to compromise public resources and wreak havoc on the environment. Last week, two separate announcements introduced us to new alliances that stand in the way of authentic initiatives to develop renewable energy. One creates a marketplace for carbon pollution and another promotes weak regulations for oil and gas companies. Both are maneuvers that will prolong our troubled reliance on fossil fuels and undermine efforts to usher in an obtainable new age of sustainability.

In Pennsylvania, AP reported on the creation of the New Center for Sustainable Shale Devlopment (CSSD), a coalition of “environmental groups, philanthropic foundations and energy companies” whose goal is “making Marcellus Shale drilling companies more accountable.” Some of the partners on the list are evidence enough that accountability will be hard to find. Energy companies Chevron, CONSOL Energy, EQT Corporation and Shell have concocted their own certification system to convince some citizen groups that they support strict regulation, when they are really promoting industry self-regulation.

To think that a set of voluntary standards created in concert with the fossil fuel industry would succeed in properly regulating that industry is naive at best. In fact, the numerous public health risks, environmental risks and climate change impacts that result from shale gas development can’t be properly regulated at all. The industry is inherently bad for human health and global sustainability.

In Maryland, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a government program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, issued a press release to announce they awarded a grant for a joint project between the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the Environmental Defense Fund (which is also a part of the aforementioned “sustainable shale” initiative) for the purpose of creating a carbon offset trading market. The claim is that the collaboration was created to work with polluters to reduce agricultural pollution, but we know better. This partnership disguises what the project is actually promoting. We know it better by its nickname: the pay-to-pollute program.

The most effective way to reduce carbon and nutrient pollution is to create less pollution. Instead of helping large agricultural operations invest in resources and technology that would reduce carbon and nutrient pollution in the Bay Area, this program allows them to claim nitrogen reductions and carbon offsets in the form of credits, which they can sell to power plants and other big industrial polluters. This creates another opportunity for agribusiness to profit off the sale of pollution credits so other industrial sources of pollution can continue to pollute at, or even above, their current rates.

Unfortunately, when people see that this program involves the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and another non-profit with “Environmental Defense” in the name, they tend to think it’s a good idea, when, in fact, it is compromising the very principals of pollution reduction that most environmentalists hold dear. It’s not a secret that EDF has financially benefited from relationship like this. EDF and CBF are essentially cherry-picking government funds to promote unverifiable schemes instead of tried and true regulations that help reduce pollution. And while they grab the headlines, the real environmental and consumer advocates get buried in the news or not covered at all.

Cozying up to energy companies to sell the public on a self-certification program may look like a legitimate effort on the surface, but it ultimately abandons any true form of accountability. The same is true for carbon offsets and nutrient management. Allowing large factory farms and other industrial agricultural operations to sell pollution credits to other sources doesn’t reduce the overall amounts of poisons polluting our air and invading our watersheds, including the Chesapeake Bay. It’s a shame that certain groups want to give these bad ideas any legitimacy, especially the ones who often get credit for leading the charge.


6 Comments on Even Environmental Groups Can Greenwash

  1. JTR says:

    If fracking is concentrated in a specific area that happens to be vulnerable it could destabilize the crust of the Earth and cause an earhquake.

  2. Wenonah, Thanks so much for speaking truth to power and also for naming names! That’s the stuff! There are plenty of environmentalists who think that it reduces the power of our community generally to call out those in our own ranks who help greenwash big intractable polluters. But we cannot ignore that rollbacks of environmental laws and bad environmental policy invariably requires the help and support of tepid and badly compromised environmentalists who think it is “pragmatic” to work collegially with the pollution establishment while getting paid to greenwash them. Pollution Trading in particular is no more than a scheme to make money off of pollution. Everybody knows it and yet few have the courage to say so. We need to hold environmental groups publicly accountable for their flirtations with big business. This is nothing more than a form of cleaning house. After all, how are we going to ever clean up this planet if we are incapable of cleaning up our own house first? For someone on the front lines of bringing polluters to justice it is worth nothing that my own group has never yet sued a polluter that did not have one of their folks serving on the Board of Directors of some “environmental” organization or another. Likewise nearly all are usually funding some well meaning environmental groups to look the other way. It is something not talked about nearly enough in the “environmental” community. How anybody thinks they can both fight or change the behavior of polluters while simultaneously getting paid by them is beyond all common sense. Please keep it up. I am proud to be a member of Food and Water Watch!

    • Ann H Csonka says:

      THANK YOU, ALSO! ….for supporting and reinforcing Wenonah’s excellent post. As Patuxent Riverkeeper (and whatever else I don’t know about) you speak from solid committed experience that makes a difference.

  3. Thank you for saying it like it isin your article, “The industry is inherently bad for human health and global sustainability”, Wenonah Hauter !

  4. Jim Rapp says:

    Dearest Wenonah, It has long been a practice of organizations to include participants with opposing viewpoints. This was done in most cases to foster better understanding, and lines of communication. Usuallly with the guiding principal of obtaining factual truthes to best determine outcomes. Thank you for differentiating this new genre of organizations. It would appear that their new goal is to use lies, half truthes,and campaigns to obfuscate the facts. Any issue clouded with sufficient confusion is soon lost to the general public.In this new public arena the players wear so many hats and masks, always seem to say what the public wants to hear, and then when the eyes of the world turn away, do what best suits their benefactor.We must stay vigilant.Publically call these individuals willing to protitute themselves to account.Misrepresentation is not a hallmark of a great democracy, but rather a statement of decline.

  5. Randu says:

    Thank you for your perspectives on today’s DEMOCRACY NOW program, 2. April, 2013. Your points were a clear presentation of the issues involved, and showed clearly the weakness of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, in protecting the public interest! This dovetails with your blog concerning the rise of dubious public interest advocacy groups, which draw support away from real advocacy groups arising from the grass roots. Anybody who believes that Science is not subject to distortion from the Politics and Big Money of Agribusiness, is living in a dreamworld. Thank you for helping contribute to a great awakening.

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