Environmental groups cut programs as funding shifts to climate change



In recent years, significant shifts in donations to nonprofits fighting climate change have left some of the nation’s largest environmental organizations facing critical program gaps on toxic chemicals, radioactive pollution, and wildlife conservation. There is.

The Natural Resources Defense Council led a decades-long lawsuit against the Department of Energy seeking to shut down the nuclear mission, force the removal of radioactive waste and halt construction of a nuclear waste repository in Yucca, led by Jeffrey, a top lawyer in the field.・Mr. Fetas was fired. Mountains in Nevada.

NRDC is not alone. The Sierra Club, wildlife groups and the Environmental Working Group, which have been at the forefront of efforts to clean wastewater, regulate pesticides and introduce stricter standards for nuclear power plants, are facing similar financial challenges.

“Most environmental programs no longer have significant toxics programs,” said Ken Cook, founder and chairman of the Environmental Working Group. The Environmental Working Group still devotes nearly half of its budget to combating toxic substances in food, personal care products, detergents, and water.

Meanwhile, global spending by environmental groups and other nonprofits to fight climate change will reach $8 billion in 2021, according to a study released in September by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. , most of which were in the United States and Canada.

Funds are flowing into organizations like the ClimateWorks Foundation, which had $366 million in revenue in 2021. ClimateWorks said in its own report last week that international funding from foundations for climate change activities has more than tripled since 2015.

Marylia Kelly, a senior adviser and former executive director of a citizen watchdog group that has long challenged California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said, “The financiers of the nuclear and toxic programs “I left those fields and went into the field of climate change.” Regarding radioactive releases and national security issues.

Leaders of some traditional environmental organizations generally agree that climate change is a top priority, given its widespread and growing global impacts. But they warn that toxic substances in communities across the country remain an urgent threat to human health and animal habitat. There are also concerns about the growing acceptance of nuclear energy as a “clean” power source.

Mr. Fetus declined to discuss recent layoffs, but he was seen as a unique force in the fight to clean up nuclear waste sites in Washington, New Mexico, South Carolina and elsewhere.

“If there’s no replacement, it’s going to be a field job for the Department of Energy,” said Tom Carpenter, former executive director of Hanford Challenge, which monitors the highly contaminated Hanford weapons facility in Washington state. he said.

NRDC has spent decades suing the department to force a more comprehensive cleanup of Hanford and other nuclear facilities, and to do the work more quickly. The federal government is seeking to renegotiate, and in some cases reduce, some of the previously reached legal agreements, just as NRDC is withdrawing from the field.

The environmental group, which has also filed lawsuits against other government agencies over the years over issues such as water quality, wildlife protection and climate change, has cut nearly 40 positions from its 740 staff.

The company also eliminated initiatives related to antibiotics in California’s water resources and agriculture, a spokesperson said.

Defenders of Wildlife, one of the nation’s largest organizations dedicated to protecting and recovering North America’s endangered species, faced similar financial difficulties this year.

The organization, founded in 1947, has cut 22 staff positions, according to Defenders United, the union representing employees. A spokesperson for the group declined to comment, but union officials said on their website that management had made an unsustainable cut when they announced 14 job cuts in a “short last-minute meeting with staff.” He cited the budget deficit.

Phil Radford said the shift in funding to climate change is part of an overall drop in giving after the “Trump bump” during President Donald J. Trump’s presidency, including a $9 million drop in small donors. He said it was made worse by several other factors. , Chief Strategy Officer of the Sierra Club, and former representative of Greenpeace.

Government stimulus measures during the coronavirus pandemic also encouraged some people to increase their charitable giving, but that effect has dissipated over the past two years, according to environmental groups.

Young donors, especially those who have risen to management positions at large family foundations, are also increasingly likely to see climate change as more urgent than other environmental threats, the group said. .

The Sierra Club warned last spring that it would be in the red by $40 million if it didn’t cut costs. The club declined to disclose the number of redundancies it has made this year.

Radford said the “budget crisis” forced the club to consolidate programs and eliminate duplication, but did not eliminate any of its mission.

Meanwhile, the Sierra Club has stepped up efforts to address climate change since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, outpacing other club efforts. When it comes to climate action, “we’re seeing more funding,” Radford said.

There is growing concern within the larger community overseeing public policy that priorities are skewed.

“It’s good that we’re all united around the climate crisis, but at what cost?” The Government Oversight Project has been monitoring the country’s secret nuclear weapons complex and the toxic pollution it produces for years. said Daniel Bryan, Executive Director.

“Toxic substances are the foundation of the movement for open government. It all started with communities wanting to know about toxic substances in their environment,” she said.

Shifting priorities are also reflected in government policy, with climate change accounting for the bulk of budget increases for some government agencies. His list of seven priorities in his five-year strategic plan for the EPA begins with “tackling the climate crisis.”

Climate change has gained support from many wealthy billionaires, including Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, and Jeff Bezos. Clean energy industries are also growing, including solar, wind, batteries and manufacturing ventures, all of which advocate for progress on climate action, said Kathryn Phillips, former director of California’s Sierra Club. .

In contrast, many environmental groups are forced to fight alone against powerful chemical companies and government agencies to force stricter regulations on toxic exposure and improved cleanup, she said. said.

NRDC Chairman Manish Bapna said the organization is “strengthening its portfolio” with investments in issues that can have significant impacts, such as climate change, rather than retreating from toxics activities. Stated.

These problems include lead in local drinking water, emissions from truck exhaust pipes, and contamination from trichlorethylene and polyfluorides, which are now ubiquitous in humans and animals, Bapna said. Ta.

Eric Olson, an attorney with the group Water and Toxics, said fundraising for toxic pollution was difficult even before there was heightened alarm over climate change. “There’s always been the challenge of dealing with water and toxic substances. This field has never been a well-funded field,” he said.

In nuclear power activities, NRDC supports many initiatives initiated by local groups such as New Mexico Nuclear Watch in New Mexico, which oversees the Department of Energy’s two nuclear weapons design laboratories, and Tri-Valley Cares in California. assisted in funding and litigating the case.

“Obviously, it’s a huge loss for NRDC to leave the field,” said Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch, New Mexico. “I was short-sighted. But young people are more concerned about climate change. If you really want to know about climate change, just wait to see what happens after a nuclear war.”

Ed Chen, former director of federal communications at NRDC, said the passage of the Anti-Inflation Act in 2022, which provides large subsidies for electric vehicles and green power, will dramatically change the federal government’s efforts to combat climate change. He said that this shows that the company is strengthening its operations. He sees NRDC’s move as a “strategic pivot” to keep the organization aligned with changing priorities.

The Biden administration is also proposing tough new regulations on emissions from cars and power plants. But some see the large increase in federal funding as a step back from more direct regulation of greenhouse gases.

“The Inflation Control Act is not an environmental bill like it has been in the past,” said Cook of the Environmental Working Group. “It’s just a lot of expense.”

Growing concerns about climate change are sparking a slightly different debate in the environmental community about how to approach the issue of nuclear power.

There is growing support among some environmental groups for commercial nuclear power plants as an alternative to fossil fuels, but they often come with large donations from people concerned about climate change.

Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear safety for the Union of Concerned Scientists, which has warned about the dangers of nuclear power and its waste, said environmental groups were under “tremendous pressure to introduce nuclear power unconditionally. “There is,” he said.

Gates, the Microsoft founder, is currently the chairman and largest investor in TerraPower, a nuclear power company created to create what the company calls “safe, affordable and abundant carbon-free energy.”

TerraPower’s first 345-megawatt nuclear reactor, using uranium fuel enriched to about four times the level of conventional commercial reactors, is being built in Wyoming at a cost of about $4 billion, the company said. Director of External Affairs and former Chief of Staff at the Department of Energy.

Reimann said that in the environmental community, Gates’ participation in the debate was “a game-changer.”

And while Lyman’s organization is not explicitly opposed to nuclear power, he says it is not essential to combating climate change. “It’s more complicated,” he said.

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