Natural Resources Defense Council
Highly adept in the art of using baseless scare campaigns to drum up press and funding, the NRDC is one of the wealthiest and most powerful environmental activist groups in the United States.
At a glanceThe Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an environmental activist organization with over $182 million in net assets to fund its radical agenda. Examples of the NRDC’s extreme tactics include:
- Using questionable science to generate hysteria regarding the safety of chemicals in food production and everyday products in order to scare consumers and to increase donations to the NRDC;
- Fabricating a nonexistent swordfish shortage in another donation-generating ploy;
- Colluding with the Environmental Protection Agency in “Sue and Settle” lawsuits to generate more stringent environmental regulations with minimal input from other stakeholders;
- Hypocritically flip-flopping on the value of the National Environmental Policy Act to suit the NRDC’s agenda;
- Recognizing a “scientific consensus” regarding man-made climate change, but refusing to acknowledge a similar “scientific consensus” on the safety of genetically modified organisms.
BackgroundThe Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is one of the largest and most well-funded environmental activist organizations in the United States. The organization was founded in 1970 with a $400,000 grant from the liberal Ford Foundation.
The NRDC conducts knee-jerk advocacy and creates scare campaigns on a wide array of environmentalist issues, including ending affordable energy, pushing a “guilty until proven innocent” chemical policy that goes against science, and opposing resource development.
FundingThe NRDC is one of the best-funded environmental activist organizations in existence, with net assets of over $182 million. Ironically, the organization has economically benefited from the very fossil fuels it wants to eliminate.
Hedge-fund billionaire and environmental activist Tom Steyer, who could be called the next Al Gore, backs an anti-fossil fuel organization called the Energy Foundation which has given millions to NRDC. Ironically enough, researchers have uncovered that Steyer’s hedge fund “minted a lot of money off oil and gas investments, among other environmentally destructive business ventures.” A profile in the far-left magazine The Nation of environmental groups profiting from the very oil and gas companies they fundamentally oppose confirmed that “NRDC still holds stocks in mutual funds and mixed assets that do not screen for fossil fuels.”
The NRDC also received more than $1.7 million in 2011 from the SeaChange Foundation—a foundation with dubious funders. An exposé by the Washington Free Beacon uncovered that Klein Ltd., a company incorporated in Bermuda that may exist solely on paper, donated at least $10 million to the SeaChange Foundation. SeaChange then funnels that money to a number of progressive organizations.
NRDC has received similarly hidden contributions through other “donor-advised” funds, criticized by some watchdogs as “dark money.” The Schwab Charitable Fund, a donor-advised fund that donors to other left-environmentalist groups have used to obscure their identities, funneled at least $4.7 million in NRDC donations since 2008.
NRDC also receives considerable funding from more traditional liberal foundations. The George Soros-backed Open Society Institute and Foundation to Support Open Society have given NRDC over $2.2 million since 2008. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, one of the largest left-environmentalist foundations in the country, has provided NRDC with over $4.7 million over that same period.
Concocting Hysteria That’s Rotten to the Core
In 1989, the NRDC colluded with Washington PR firm Fenton Communications to create the “Alar-on-apples” food scare.
Following the release of a report called “Intolerable Risk” — which claimed that Alar, a pesticide used by apple growers, was “the most potent cancer-causing agent in our food supply” and blamed the chemical for “as many as 5,300” childhood cancer cases — Fenton and NRDC went on a five-month media blitz. The campaign kicked off with a CBS “60 Minutes” feature seen by over 50 million Americans. Despite the fact that the claims were completely unfounded, hysteria set in. Apples were pulled off of grocery shelves, schools stopped serving them at lunch, and apple growers nationwide lost over $250 million.
The Wall Street Journal printed one of David Fenton’s (of Fenton Communications) internal memos, after the Alar-on-apples scandal was publicly debunked. Here’s Fenton in his own words:
We designed [the Alar Campaign] so that revenue would flow back to the Natural Resources Defense Council from the public, and we sold this book about pesticides through a 900 number and the Donahue show. And to date there has been $700,000 in net revenue from it.Henry Miller, the founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology, summed up the debacle:
Thousands of apple growers suffered substantial losses, some went bankrupt, and the federal government spent almost $10 million to support struggling apple growers. The scare was eventually exposed as a fraud. The source of that chaos, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), is known for that sort of alarmist junk science.
Fabricating a Swordfish Shortage
In 1998, NRDC joined forces with Fenton Communications again. This time, the plan was to convince the public that swordfish were being over-fished, with claims that America’s taste for it “threaten[ed] the livelihood of the species.”
The “Give Swordfish a Break!” campaign was operated by a group called SeaWeb, which, conveniently, was created by Fenton specifically for this purpose. Nearly 100% of the funding for this campaign came from pass-through grants solicited by NRDC on behalf of SeaWeb.
As with the Alar scare, these claims were utterly false, ultimately leading the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to condemn the campaign as “flawed to the core,” while the National Marine Fisheries Institute declared that swordfish were never in any danger of extinction at all.
Rebecca Lent, the director of the Highly Migratory Species Division of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which regulates commercial fishing, said “Swordfish are not considered endangered.” About SeaWeb’s NRDC-backed campaign, Lent said, “I think it will end up having a detrimental effect on our fishermen… I know a lot of [U.S. fishermen] who have lost their jobs already.”
Using Questionable Science to Generate Chemical Scares
NRDC is no stranger to overstating environmental risks to generate public outcry and attention. The organization has been especially effective in using a handful of questionable “studies” to scare the public about the safety of chemicals used in millions of everyday products.
While NRDC has warned the public that many of their favorite products are subtly poisoning them, actual toxicologists fail to subscribe to NRDC’s doomsday forecasts. The Center for Health and Risk Communication at George Mason University surveyed members of the Society of Toxicology and found that these experienced toxicologists “overwhelmingly reject the notion that exposure to even the smallest amounts of harmful chemicals is dangerous or that the detection of any level of a chemical in your body by biomonitoring indicates a significant health risks.”
The toxicologists surveyed were asked specifically about their opinions of NRDC, and 79 percent of respondents who expressed an opinion believed NRDC overstates chemical risks.
Instead of recognizing that professionals who study chemicals for a living question NRDC’s position on chemicals, NRDC slammed the survey for lack of peer review—even though few publicly released polls are peer-reviewed. When asked if NRDC released its data for peer review, Linda Greer, NRDC’s Health and Environment Program Director, responded: “We’re an advocacy group, and we don’t hold ourselves out as scientific researchers.”
After successfully stirring up groundless fears of Alar, NRDC is now pushing to ban bisphenol A (BPA), a common chemical used in plastics. Though research from the U.S. government found that it would be very difficult for BPA to cause health effects in humans, NRDC has sued the Food and Drug Administration for failing to ban BPA. The FDA has determined that science does not justify a ban of BPA from all food and drink containers.
“Sue and Settle” Collusion with the EPA
The Natural Resources Defense Council is one of the many environmental groups that have colluded with federal agencies in “sue and settle” lawsuits. Since 2009, the NRDC has accepted at least nine settlements from the EPA.
In these cases, environmental activists sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), arguing that the agency is taking too long to issue a particular regulation or that the agency isn’t meeting a specific legal requirement. The EPA can then either defend itself in court or settle with the environmentalists. In several cases, the EPA has issued a consent agreement to settle cases the very same day activists filed their lawsuits.
In many cases, if the environmentalists are successful in suing the EPA, the groups’ attorneys’ fees are paid by the federal government.
According to a 2011 report from the Government Accountability Office, between 1995 and 2010, taxpayers reimbursed the Natural Resources Defense Council to the tune of $252,004.
Professor David Schoenbrod—a staff attorney for NRDC during the 1970s who is now Trustee Professor at New York Law School and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute—explained the “sue and settle” strategy:
I used to do this when I was at the Natural Resources Defense Council. There are thousands of such suits brought. Environmental groups would crank these out by the hundreds. They get an intern to look at a company’s emissions reports and compare those figures with what the permit authorized.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which took effect in 1970, requires all government agencies to weigh environmental factors when making decisions and requires agencies to prepare an environmental statement to accompany reports and recommendations for funding from Congress. NRDC has heaped praise on the legislation, calling it the “environmental Magna Carta” and saying “NEPA is democratic at its core.”
Why then is NRDC now trying to stop the federal government from using the NEPA process?
Before developers could even file a NEPA permit application to begin copper mining in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region, NRDC began leading a call for the Environmental Protection Agency to veto the project before the government ever reviewed the development’s environmental impact strategy and plans. Rather than trusting in the environmental review process it treasures, NRDC hopes to stifle new developments before they’re ever vetted—simply because NRDC, like most radical environmentalist groups, essentially never met a mining project it liked.
Cherry-Picking “Scientific Consensus”
NRDC is one of many environmental activist organizations that justifies its push for the end of fossil fuels because of a “scientific consensus” that carbon emissions have led to climate change. However, NRDC and its activist allies neglect to acknowledge a similar scientific consensus regarding genetically modified foods.
The U.S. National Academy of Sciences, British Royal Society, World Health Organization, American Medical Association, and American Association for the Advancement of Science have all expressed their support for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report that carbon emissions have resulted in a warming climate. Those same organizations also agree that no adverse health effects have been attributed to genetically modified foods.
Yet despite the agreement that GMOs are not harmful, NRDC is pushing for the labeling of foods containing GMOs. Science has not shown that there is any reason to label GMO foods as any different from conventional foods. The American Association for the Advancement of Science notes:
Foods containing ingredients from genetically modiﬁed (GM) crops pose no greater risk than the same foods made from crops modiﬁed by conventional plant breeding techniques.The labeling campaign, however, has been heavily funded by individuals and groups that aren’t interested in consumer knowledge—they’re interested in banning GMOs outright, despite the significant costs to food production that this would entail. It’s a purely ideological crusade, not a pragmatic one, and it shows that NRDC and anti-GMO activists prefer to adopt the term “scientific consensus” only when it suits their needs.