Environmentalists earn name as big spenders

-- Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville - June 10

Posted: Monday, June 11, 2001

Move over big business, big labor, big tobacco and big trial lawyers. Here comes big environment.

The Sacramento Bee published a series recently relating the growth of the environmental lobbying groups.

Today, the nature-lovers live in a world of Gucci shoes, high-rise offices, ritzy hotels and martinis, the paper said.

One grass-roots conservationist compared the Wilderness Society headquarters to that of Exxon or AT&T.

These large national organizations raked in $3.5 billion in 1999, the paper said. Their chief executives earn $200,000 and up.

At the same time, the organizations are, too often, twisting fact into fantasy to serve their agendas. Dissidents complain that deserving species don't get protection they need because the cash-chasing organizations don't find them sexy enough for TV campaigns.

Big environment today uses a new approach, the paper said: junk mail and scare tactics.

An example cited was the pitch by the Natural Resources Defense Council to save the gray whales. Actually, the paper said, "the California gray whale is a conservation success story."

Some of the accounting practices of the organizations also came under criticism.

Five groups, including Greenpeace and the Sierra Club "spent so much on fund raising, membership and overhead they don't meet standards set by philanthropic watchdog groups," the

stories said.

Others have played the market, and lost. Environmental Defense put $500,000 in a short-selling game and watched it drop to $18,000.

The groups also are litigious. Many have found that suing the government can produce easy cash. Employees at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refer to the agency as "litigation central."

... Another complaint is that the way organizations use devices such as critical habitat designations to stop growth actually works against the environment by preventing government agency resources from being used for necessary species protection.

The Bee series goes into much more detail, but the picture that emerges is of organizations that have grown large and money hungry, perhaps losing sight of their original objectives.

Meanwhile, as most people know, the state of the environment has improved steadily since the end of World War II and everyone has become an environmentalist. For that, environmental organizations deserve some credit, although perhaps not as much as they claim. Another rising concern is the tendency of big environment to brush aside private property issues, which are central to the American way of life.

In 1992, Rush Limbaugh wrote: "With the collapse of Marxism, environmentalism has become the new refuge of socialist thinking. The environment is a great way to advance a political agenda that favors central planning and an intrusive government. What better way to control someone's property than to subordinate one's private property rights to environmental concerns."

Economics, Thomas Sowell says, is the science of allocating scarce resources. How resources should be allocated for additional environmental protection that may have a diminishing return can be a difficult question. One way big environment can contribute to that effort is by admitting that economics must play a part in decision-making. Whether it would be more effective by reverting to its grass-roots status is another question it must consider.

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