In April, the National Resources Defense Council issued an update in its all-out campaign to demonize and ban the herbicide atrazine. The scope of its attack shows that the NRDC has learned a thing or two from the 1980s, when it ginned up a successful campaign to demonize the apple growth regulator, alar.
After the alar ban, investigative journalist Robert Bidinotto uncovered just how flimsy the science behind that scare actually was. In a recent update [http://biggovernment.com/rbidinotto/2010/05/17/son-of-alar-the-new-pesticide-scare-campaign/#more-121062], he says that “many people—echoing the rock group The Who—concluded that ‘we won’t be fooled again’ by environmentalist fear-mongers.”
Well, guess what . . . A lot of people are being fooled again.
In the NRDC report, “Poisoning the Well,” a reasonable person who knew nothing about atrazine would be alarmed, chocked full as it is with many pocket descriptions of studies alleging ill effects from atrazine on humans, wildlife and the environment. Such reports and the studies they publicize are routinely—and uncritically—the source of news stories that in turn do what they are intended to do: Inflame public opinion against atrazine, just as NRDC once successfully did against alar.
This time, the stakes are much bigger than alar. The attack on apple growers was a one-time hit. The Wall Street Journal [http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703630404575053510187558820.html] reports that the environmental lobby “figures that if it can take down atrazine with its long record of clean health, it can get the EPA to prohibit anything.”
The activists at NRDC are nothing if not entrepreneurial. Knowing they can’t pull off another alar on the shoulders of a celebrity endorser like Meryl Streep before a jaded public, this time they come armed with a plethora of serious-sounding, peer-reviewed studies. Exposed to this kind of advocacy for the first time, reporters and policymakers alike might be forgiven for stampeding in panic. This is the NRDC, however. Given this NGO’s checkered history, journalists should ask the NRDC and its allies a few questions—
Why do you have so much money and time to spend on an all-out campaign against an herbicide that has been safely used for more than fifty years? Why are you so motivated in overturning the findings of the EPA in 2006, the governments of Britain and Australia, as well as the World Health Organization? In short, who are you and what are you really about?
And should activists get a free ride when it comes to full disclosure?
Let’s take these questions each by each.
Who Are These People?
The official filings of the National Resources Defense Council reveal the outlines of an NGO behemoth. According to its most recently available tax return from 2007, the NRDC received revenues of more than $100 million. It has net assets of more than $187 million. According to the Green Tracking Library, former NRDC president and founder John H. Adams had a combined 2006 income of $757,464.
Just because the NRDC is officially non-profit does not mean it cannot make money from its attacks. In going after alar, the NRDC caused apple farmers to lose more than $100 million. In the aftermath of this campaign, PR strategist David Fenton said, “We designed [the alar campaign] so that revenue would flow back to the National 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.”
And these are the pure ones not tainted by the dirty fingers of commerce?
While often portraying industry meetings with federal regulators in the most sinister light, the NRDC itself is financially intertwined with the federal government. By 2004, this 501(c) (3) non-profit had received nearly $6.5 million in discretionary grants from the EPA since 1993. (The EPA concedes that all the discretionary grants awarded to NRDC were awarded without competition.) Tax returns show NRDC received $350,000 in government money in 2007. The allied Land Stewardship Project also gets about 14 percent of its money from government grants.
So while taking in money from the government, the NRDC lobbies that same government with its 501 (c) (4) and 527 political organizations. Could a critic infer a conflict of interest here?
Corporate competitors also fund NGO attacks, though you will rarely see a charge of a conflict of interest here, either. NRDC’s ally, PANNA, (whose stated goal is “moving persistent pesticides toward global elimination,”) owes much of its roughly $3 million budget to financial support from organic food companies that presumably would be interested in scaring consumers away from the competition.
PANNA, NRDC and LSP share one very powerful, controversial funding source: the Tides Foundation, a far-Left philanthropy powerhouse that helped start and nurture the now-defunct, scandal-ridden ACORN. The related Tides Center also supports the Huffington Post Investigative Fund, which frequently weighs in on the NRDC’s anti-pesticide stories. The Huffington Post calls the fund “our fiscal sponsor” which “provides administrative support” for its journalists.
The Tides Center, which spent more than half-a-billion dollars as a fiscal sponsor to 677 projects, does not release the identity of its donors. (Tides founder, Drummond Pike, told The Chronicle of Philanthropy that “Anonymity is very important to most of the people we work with.”) It is widely believed that Tides receives significant donations from wealthy trial lawyers—possibly the same trial lawyers who have a moneyed interest in lawsuits against the very pesticides these organizations are characterizing as unsafe.
In the case of atrazine, as Bidinotto writes, the attack on atrazine (and by inference, the whole corn economy of the Farm Belt) is being “led by the notorious Texas law firm of Baron & Budd” and “attorney Stephen Tillery, operating in the litigation paradise of Madison County.”
These people are no strangers to junk science. Is it fair for reporters to ask if they are strangers to the Tides Foundation, either?
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