One of America’s most influential environmentalist groups
Responsible for the 1989 Alar hoax
Founded in 1970 on a $400,000 seed grant from the Ford Foundation, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is today one of the most influential environmentalist lobbying groups in the United States. It claims a membership of one million people, including some 400,000 Internet activists. The organization's President is Frances Beinecke, a co-founder of the New York League of Conservation Voters, a former Board Chair of the Wilderness Society, and a Board member of the World Resources Institute.
NRDC identifies ten program areas as its priorities:
(a) Clean Air and Energy: "[E]lectric power plants and motor vehicles are by far the biggest sources of air pollution and its myriad effects, from lung damage to acid rain to global warming."
(b) Global Warming: "Higher temperatures threaten dangerous consequences: drought, disease, floods, lost ecosystems. And from sweltering heat to rising seas, global warming's effects have already begun."
(c) Clean Water and Oceans: "NRDC fights to safeguard drinking water, to protect, preserve and restore our oceans, rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands and coastal waters, and to promote conservation and better water management in the arid western states."
(d) Wildlife and Fish: "The threats vary, from pollution to logging to harmful development, but the effect on wildlife is the same: shrinking habitat and the inability to survive and reproduce."
(e) Parks, Forests, and Wildlands: "[P]ollution, neglect and skyrocketing attendance have taken a toll on national parks … while the livestock, logging, mining and oil and gas industries keep up the pressure to use our last remaining public wildlands for their profit. NRDC works to secure permanent protection for millions of acres of wildlands … and reduce wood consumption and damaging forestry practices."
(f) Health and Environment: "When toxic contaminants -- such as pesticides, mercury pollution and diesel exhaust -- are released into the environment, their effect on human health can be profound. … We educate the public about the health threats …"
(g) Nuclear Weapons, Waste, and Energy: "Our overarching goal is the reduction, and ultimate elimination, of unacceptable risks to people and the environment from the exploitation of nuclear energy for both military and peaceful purposes." (NRDC is a leading member of the Nuclear Weapons Complex Consolidation Policy Group, a coalition of nuclear “watchdog” organizations that have called on the United States to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in its stockpile by 95 percent.)
(h) Cities and Green Living: "City dwellers face a wide range of environmental challenges: dirty air and water, … traffic, the impacts of industry. … We work to preserve open space and help create plans for new urban parks and incentives that revitalize central cities."
(i) U.S. Law and Policy: "NRDC's legislative team … press[es] for vital new programs to meet such difficult challenges as global warming, urban sprawl, air and water pollution, depletion of our fisheries, pesticide threats to children's health, and … disappearing wilderness and wildlife."
(j) International Issues: "Global warming pollution from power plants and cars in the United States increases the risk of floods in Europe and droughts in Asia. …."
To help communicate its message on these matters to the public, NRDC publishes a quarterly environmental magazine called On Earth and an online bulletin titled Nature's Voice.
In a joint effort in 1989 with Fenton Communications, a Washington-based public relations firm headed by David Fenton, NRDC claimed that growers who treated apples with the pesticide Alar were creating a serious health threat to consumers. For five months, NRDC flooded media outlets with accusations that Alar was a dangerous carcinogen. Eventually the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded that the fear campaign was unfounded, explaining that a person would have to eat 50,000 pounds of Alar-treated apples per day over the course of a lifetime in order to ingest enough of the substance to develop cancer.
Apple growers lost some $250 million as a result of the campaign, with many smaller growers being forced out of business. NRDC fared much better. According to an internal memo written by David Fenton and later published in the Wall Street Journal: "We designed [the anti-Alar campaign] so that revenue would flow back to the Natural Resources Defense Council from the public, and we sold a book about pesticides through a 900 number and the Donahue Show. And to date there has been $700,000 in net revenue from it."
In the late 1990s, NRDC was an outspoken booster of Enron Corporation, which has since become synonymous with corporate malfeasance. For its support of environmentalist legislation like the Kyoto Protocol (a tactical move by the company aimed at eliminating its competition in the energy industry), Enron earned the praise of NRDC and other environmentalist groups. NRDC's Ralph Cavanagh said in 1997, "On environmental stewardship, our experience is that you can trust Enron. When Enron later declared bankruptcy, NRDC lawyer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., in a December 2003 Rolling Stone article titled "Crimes Against Nature," assailed the Bush administration's energy plan as a sop to corporate interests and as proof, cited the administration's alleged ties to Enron CEO Kenneth Lay.
As a tax-free corporation under section 501(c)(3) of the tax code, NRDC is subject to limits on the amount of money it can disburse for the purposes of lobbying Congress. But it has found a way around such restrictions by establishing a separate lobbying arm, the NRDC Action Fund. Operating under a different section of the tax code, section 501(c)(4), the Action Fund is exempt from similar restrictions. Under the banner of "environmental action", NRDC lodges lawsuits to impede the construction of everything from highways and hydroelectric dams to nuclear power plants. The NRDC Action Fund complements this work, launching advertising campaigns to arouse grassroots support.
Moreover, it is estimated that NRDC received $2.6 million from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the first three years of the Bush administration. NRDC, which accused President Bush of attempting the "rollback of almost every major environmental law on the books," subsequently used the EPA money to finance anti-Bush radio spots in battleground states prior to the 2004 presidential election.
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