Some of the most extreme proposals to counteract climate change have garnered the support of hundreds of environmental organizations. The Capital Research Center has identified dozens of these groups that also received federal grant money in recent years.
Public support for environmental policies is largely one of degree, with polling varying along ideological and issue-specific lines. Most Americans understand that new legislation or regulation in this area must be balanced against competing priorities such as economic growth or the federal budget deficit. Conservatives might readily dismiss the most dramatic environmental proposals as alarmist nonsense pushed by radicals uninterested in weighing those interests. Yet, they likely would be interested in the taxpayer money supporting groups advocating for such radical policies.
Undoubtedly the most influential environmental issue of 2019 has been talk of a “Green New Deal.” This sweeping idea to re-shape the economic and environmental framework of the country coalesced most prominently around a pair of resolutions introduced in early February by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA). Despite being defeated in the Senate 0-57 (43 Democrats voted “present”), the Green New Deal continues to influence national debate, particularly in the Democratic primaries. Estimates of the Green New Deal’s total cost as-introduced have run in excess of $90 trillion, a patently ridiculous sum for any but the most prodigal of macroeconomic spendthrifts.
Regardless of the lack of Congressional support and the astronomical costs involved, many left-of-center groups have come out publicly in support of a Green New Deal. The Green New Deal Coalition, a campaign sponsored by the Sunrise Movement to aggregate support for the resolution, counts among its members several influential national groups such as the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Service Employees International Union. Even the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA signed on as a supporter, a somewhat counterintuitive position for that union to take considering a now-retracted Green New Deal fact sheet spoke favorably of eliminating air travel altogether, and replacing it with high-speed rail.
Prior to the actual introduction of the Green New Deal resolution, however, nearly 650 organizations signed an open letter to members of the U.S. House detailing a series of requirements that they felt “at a minimum” needed to be included in any Green New Deal legislation. While not all of these proposals made it into the resolution in their exact form, the letter is notable both for the radicalism of its “minimum” demands and the sheer number of different groups that added their names in support.
In what is probably the wildest of the letter’s ideas, it calls for a nationwide transition to 100 percent renewable power generation by 2035 or earlier. However, it does not consider “renewable” to encompass nuclear power, large-scale hydroelectric, biomass, or waste-to-energy technology. In other words, doing this would require replacing approximately 90 percent of U.S. electricity generation within 15 years. At the same time, the signatories want 100 percent “decarbonization” of the entire U.S. transportation system—including eliminating all fossil fuel automobiles by 2040—which would similarly invalidate over 90 percent of the country’s current transportation energy sources. As if this wasn’t ambitious enough, the letter also opposes market-based mechanisms such as emissions trading and carbon offsets, seeks to hold fossil fuel companies liable for damages caused by climate change, and calls for a ban on all fossil fuel exports right as those very exports are on the verge of making the U.S. energy independent. In short, simply calling the letter’s contents unrealistic doesn’t quite do their quixotism justice.
That being said, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a large number of environmental groups signed the letter; extreme groups will support extreme policies. And many Americans who find such proposals to be out of step with reality might be surprised to learn that their tax dollars finance a number of these groups. In fact, the Capital Research Center’s examination of data from USAspending.gov showed that over 40 of the letter’s signatories had received some form of federal funding since 2008. In some cases the dollar figures stretch into the millions.
The largest beneficiary of federal grant money that signed on the letter was the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, which received over $6.2 million since FY2008, principally from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Commerce. Another nonprofit called GRID Alternatives, which was over 25 percent government funded in 2017, has taken in about $3 million since 2015 alone. Even the League of Women Voters, whose decision to sign on to such policies might come as a surprise to those unacquainted with its ideological slant, is an occasional recipient of grant money—to the tune of about $1 million since 2008. Other large recipients appearing on the letter were Cook Inletkeeper, the Farmworker Association of Florida, Planting Justice, and the Winyah Rivers Foundation. All received at least $1 million from the federal government since 2008.
A few other signatory nonprofits that took in slightly less money during that time period are nonetheless notable. WildEarth Guardians, which has been a fairly consistent grantee from the very same federal departments that it regularly sues, recently disclosed that a high-level staffer had been embezzling significant amounts of money from the group’s federal and state grants. Over $750,000 has been awarded to Earth Island Institute, a nonprofit with no less than five different fiscally-sponsored projects counted among the letter’s signatories. Named for the billionaire founder of CNN, Ted Turner, the Turner Endangered Species Fund has received a modest amount of federal money in the last few years. So has the Surfrider Foundation. All of the signatories here mentioned, save for the League of Women Voters, are 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.
Simply put, the demands made in the letter—and those proposed in the Green New Deal resolution itself—are far out of step with political and economic reality. Environmental idealism aside, the costs alone that such programs would require make them unworkable. The retracted fact sheet released with the resolution claimed that the Green New Deal would be paid for “[t]he same way we paid for World War II and all our current wars.” The end of the Second World War, of course, happened to bring about the highest Debt/GDP ratio in our country’s history; levels we are unfortunately again rapidly approaching without spending tens of trillions on a Green New Deal. It is perhaps not ironic then that so many of the groups pushing for such policies are themselves the beneficiaries of millions of dollars in profligate federal spending.