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Policy: Environment & Energy

The hidden persuaders of the environmental elite

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Opinion,Ron Arnold,Columnists,Energy and Environment,Transparency,Rhea Suh

America’s environmental agenda is set by elite foundations that decide which activists get the money. And they form “affinity groups” to collude with President Obama’s bureaucracy, which funnels tax dollars to Democratic advocates to enforce that agenda.

Meet the conservation cash cartel of the uber-rich: the Environmental Grantmakers Association, a veteran organization (founded 1985) of more than 200 ultra-wealthy foundations caught in the spotlight of a new 92-page report exposing Big Green wealth eating away America’s industrial strength.

This is the same EGA that emerged during the Senate confirmation hearings for Rhea Sun Suh, the Interior Department’s new head of national parks and the Fish and Wildlife Service — a veteran EGA member who invited colleagues to come visit her any time.

Suh once worked for the Packard Foundation on programs to block oil and gas production in the West. Ironically, Packard’s investment portfolio — the profits from which the foundation pays its anti-oil and gas grants — holds more than $350,000 in ExxonMobil shares, and millions in dozens of other lesser-known fossil fuel securities.

Most of EGA’s foundation members have similar million-dollar dirty little secrets, but their tax-exempt activist recipients are not morally conflicted by taking fossil fuel cash and keeping it a secret as long as it furthers their corrosive goals.

The convoluted ethics that Greenpeace, for example, concocts in order to show how its oil-soaked funding — when exposed — is purified by the intent of the giver are classic unintentional self-parody.

The new report is titled “The Chain of Environmental Command: How a Club of Billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA,” and was produced by the Republican staff of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee under the direction of Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, the committee's ranking minority member.

Its executive summary states, “an elite group of left-wing millionaires and billionaires, which this report refers to as the 'Billionaire’s Club,' directs and controls the far-left environmental movement, which in turn controls major policy decisions and lobbies on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”

Having researched that topic for decades, I was impressed by the scope and detail of the oversight team’s work, and asked Vitter how he felt about it.

“This report really gets to the core of tracking the money and exposing the collusion," Vitter told me. "The complicated, layered system is intended to create a lack of transparency. There is an unbelievable amount of money behind the environmental movement and far too much collusion between far-left environmental groups and the Obama EPA."

The collusion is like something out of a bad spy movie. Vitter’s oversight team uncovered a June 2009 deal in which the Rockefeller Family Fund offered then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to pay for a plant inside the President’s Council on Environmental Quality to “stake the EPA’s claim there,” and then slip the shill into a pre-arranged EPA job, giving the agency a White House insider on staff — and, not coincidentally, tightening the Rockefeller power grip over the EPA.

Jackson wrote her chief of staff Diane Thompson, “I think it’s a fine idea and can only help EPA in the long run” — using her fake Richard Windsor email account – and Thompson replied, “My thoughts exactly. The more inside connections the better.”

The Rockefeller shill was Shalini Vajjhala, who agreed to leave her minor position at Resources for the Future, a Washington think tank, for a two-month stint at the CEQ (with the pretentious title of "deputy associate director for energy and climate"). Then the EPA slipped her in as deputy assistant administrator of the Office of International & Tribal Affairs. Vajjhala remained until her 2011 appointment as EPA’s special representative leading a presidential U.S.-Brazil initiative.

After Vajjhala cycled through the White House and EPA, she got her personal reward in 2012: approval to found and manage a new investment portfolio supported by the Rockefeller Foundation (the original 1913 John D. Rockefeller philanthropy, not the fourth generation’s Family Fund — there are many Rockefeller tentacles). Vajjhala now contributes to the Huffington Post, funded in part by the Park Foundation.

EGA foundations are metastasizing into hundreds of far-left funds. The report drills into the Sea Change Foundation, “a private California foundation, which relies on funding from undisclosed donors and funnels tens of millions of dollars to other foundations and prominent environmental activists who strive to control both policy and politics.”

There is an incredible seedbed of Sea Change front groups: Bill Gates’ foundation gave Sea Change Capital Partners $2.5 million; eBay’s Omidyar Network Fund gave the same partners $2 million; David Rockefeller’s personal foundation gave to the Center for Sea Change. Walmart’s foundation gave $500,000 to Strategies for the Global Foundation Sea Change, an international tentacle into the White House.

But it’s not just the environment. The Crime Prevention Research Center, a nonprofit that tracks gun control activists, reported, "On January 8th, 2013, the Obama Administration met with 23 large foundations to organize a push for national gun control. They included such organizations as the Open Society Institute, the McCormick Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation” and the MacArthur Foundation.

Foundations appear to be colluding with almost every department of the Obama administration. And it’s not just the Big Green donors. It’s time for Congress to hear testimony from a sampling of manipulative foundation program directors and investment managers explaining themselves to those whose lives they influence.

RON ARNOLD, a Washington Examiner columnist, is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.
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