At a glance
The Sierra Club is one of the nation’s oldest and most powerful environmental activist organizations, with a war chest of over $79 million. Examples of the Sierra Club’s radical positions include:
- Crusading to eliminate the sources of 95 percent of our current energy usage.
- Colluding with the Environmental Protection Agency in “Sue and Settle” lawsuits to generate more stringent environmental regulations with little input from other stakeholders.
- Recognizing a “scientific consensus” regarding man-made climate change, but refusing to acknowledge a similar “scientific consensus” on the safety of genetically modified organisms.
- Using the Endangered Species Act to thwart industry and obstruct technological progress.
The Sierra Club was originally founded in the 19th Century to preserve America’s parkland as a recreational resource for all. But in recent decades, the organization has used its deep pockets to push its extreme environmentalist policies. The organization’s collusion with the Environmental Protection Agency to advance its radical agenda will likely lead to much higher energy prices and higher prices of many consumer goods. With this growing influence, the Sierra Club and its fellow environmental activists could successfully push through regulations that cost our economy additional billions in compliance costs—costs that will trickle down to every American.
The Sierra Club is one of the best-funded environmental activist groups with over $79 million in assets on its last tax return.
Tracing the murky maze of donations almost requires a finance degree. An exposé by the Washington Free Beacon uncovered that Klein Ltd., a company incorporated in Bermuda that may exist solely on paper, donated millions of dollars to the Sea Change Foundation.
The Sea Change Foundation then passed a massive amount of money to the Sierra Club Foundation—a total of $5.45 million in 2012 alone.
Ron Arnold, author of Undue Influence: Wealthy Foundations, Grant-Driven Green Groups, and Zealous Bureaucrats That Control Your Future, described the strategy to the Free Beacon:
A number of Big Green donors have chosen offshore foundations for government-guaranteed anonymity… Several countries have become favorites in the no-disclosure-required industry, notably Bermuda, Panama, and Liechtenstein.
SeaChange also donates money to the Tides Foundation, which behaves less like a philanthropic organization than a legal front for laundering donations that might otherwise draw scrutiny. Tides has collected over $200 million since 1997, most of it from other foundations, and in turn uses that money to fund environmental activist campaigns. This way, more mainstream foundations can donate to more radical causes without a money trail. In 2011 alone, Tides gave over $600,000 to the Sierra Club, including $300,000 to “Research education and organizing of dirty fuels.”
The Club also received $50 million from billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for its anti-coal work.
The Sierra Club grew dramatically under the leadership of radical activist David Brower in the 1950s and 1960s. Brower advocated a form of eugenics:
Childbearing [should be] a punishable crime against society, unless the parents hold a government license… All potential parents [should be] required to use contraceptive chemicals, the government issuing antidotes to citizens chosen for childbearing.
The Club moved even further toward extremism when it elected animal liberation extremist Paul Watson to its board of directors in 2003. Watson founded the ultra-radical Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) in 1977 after being booted from Greenpeace (which he also co-founded) for espousing violence in the name of the environment.
Watson and his Sea Shepherds — declared pirates by the Chief Judge of the 9th United States Circuit Court of Appeals — sailed the high seas, terrorizing the fishing industry by sinking ships and endangering lives. “I got the impression that instead of going out to shoot birds, I should go out and shoot the kids who shoot birds,” says Watson (as quoted in Access to Energy, 1982). Unsurprisingly, Watson told the animal rights magazine SATYA that his “ten commandments” include Number One: “Don’t bring any more humans into being. There are enough of us.”
In 2003 Watson announced that he was openly “advocating the takeover of the Sierra Club,” claiming to be just three votes shy of controlling a majority of the group’s 15-member board. During the Sierra Club’s 2004 election season, Watson allied himself with candidates endorsing strict limits to legal immigration. Promising to “use the resources of the $95-million-a-year budget” to address both immigration policy and animal-rights issues, Watson actively promoted his chosen slate of candidates. While he lost in a record turnout, Watson remained on the Sierra Club’s board until 2006.
Watson is now an international fugitive, with Costa Rica seeking his extradition to face charges relating to a 2002 incident where he allegedly used his ship to ram a Costa Rican boat he says was running an illegal shark finning operation. In 2012, Watson was detained by officials in Germany in relation to the incident, but skipped bail and fled the country. In July 2012 Interpol issued an international request for his arrest. Japan has also flagged Watson for arrest with Interpol. The country accuses Watson of “breaking into [a] vessel, damage to property, forcible obstruction of business, and injury” in 2010.
Suing for Profit
The Sierra Club is no stranger to the courtroom. It’s one of many environmental groups that have colluded with federal agencies in “sue and settle” lawsuits.
In these cases, environmental activists sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), arguing that the agency is taking too long to issue a particular regulation or that the agency isn’t meeting a specific legal requirement. The EPA can then either defend itself in court or settle with the environmentalists. In several cases, the EPA issued a consent agreement to settle cases the very same day activists filed their lawsuits.
In many cases, if the environmentalists are successful in suing the EPA, the groups’ attorneys’ fees are paid by the federal government. According to a 2011 report from the Government Accountability Office, between 1995 and 2010, taxpayers reimbursed the Sierra Club to the tune of $966,687.
The Club has also profited from lawsuits under California’s Proposition 65 “bounty hunter” law.
The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology notes that one of Sierra Club former executive director Carl Pope’s “major accomplishments” is his co-authorship of California’s infamous Proposition 65, which requires any product containing one of several hundred “known carcinogens” to bear a warning label — even if the chemical appears in concentrations so low that adverse health effects are likely to be nil or negligible.
Prop 65 has a “bounty hunter” provision to encourage frivolous lawsuits by trial lawyers looking to cash in on any product containing a listed “carcinogen” and lacking a warning label. Prop 65 “violators” can be fined up to $2,500 per day, per violation, and plaintiffs can collect up to 25 percent of the total take. Between 2000 and 2010, nearly $90 million went to pay attorneys’ fees, with another $33 million going to plaintiff organizations or groups designated by plaintiffs.
Between 2000 and 2002, one California group called As You Sow (AYS) reaped more than $1.5 million playing the Prop 65 lawsuit game. Former Sierra Club President and current board member Larry Fahn is also AYS’s executive director. A self-described “leading enforcer of Proposition 65,” As You Sow functions as a litigation machine, conjuring up lawsuit after lawsuit. The group has sued everyone from scuba gear manufacturers and retailers to the makers of nail care products.
Under Fahn’s leadership, AYS routes its Prop 65 money to some of the most radical groups around, including the Rainforest Action Network and the Ruckus Society (both co-founded by Earth First! godfather Mike Roselle), as well as California affiliates of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Waterkeeper Alliance and David Brower’s Earth Island Institute.
“Beyond” Energy Campaigns
“They’re cheating themselves if they keep believing this fiction that all we need is renewable energy such as wind and solar.”
– James Hansen, former NASA climate change scientist, to the Associated Press
One of the Sierra Club’s primary goals is to shrink our energy portfolio to only include renewable resources such as wind and solar. The Club runs campaigns aimed at eliminating the use of fossil fuels, including “Beyond Coal,” “Beyond Natural Gas,” and “Beyond Oil.” Ending the use of fossil fuels isn’t enough for the Club, however. The Sierra Club also opposes the use of nuclear power and large-scale hydropower. Currently, “Sierra Club-approved” energy sources contribute less than 5% of the power in the United States, and adoption of their unrealistic energy policy would mean disaster for family budgets and the economy.
If the Sierra Club opposes all fossil fuels as “dirty,” it should favor nuclear energy as a way of producing reliable energy without producing carbon emissions. Yet the organization also claims that “Nuclear is not the answer.”
The extreme position that wind and solar can produce all the energy the world needs is opposed by even the most fervent climate change scientists. Four of the world’s top climate change scientists sent a letter to politicians and environmental groups stating, “Realistically, they [renewable energy sources] cannot on their own solve the world’s energy problems.” Instead, the scientists call for an increased use of nuclear power to meet the worlds’ growing energy needs.
Ironically, one of the Sierra Club’s key arguments against nuclear power is that it’s “propped up by government subsidies.” However, wind and solar power (the only energy sources strongly supported by the Sierra Club) are not currently viable without massive government subsidies.
Use and Abuse of the Endangered Species Act
There was a time when the Sierra Club was almost entirely concerned with straight-ahead conservation of natural resources. But that time has come and gone. Today’s Club is more concerned with thwarting industry and obstructing technological progress than improving the environment.
- One prime example is the Club’s abuse of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and similar state laws: The Sierra Club is a major advocate of solar energy, but sued in 2012 to stop the development of a large-scale solar plant in California because the project could potentially harm the desert tortoise, golden eagle, and other protected species. The Club argued that the project violated California’s version of the ESA—a claim that the courts ultimately rejected.
- In 2012, the Sierra Club joined the Center for Biological Diversity to stop hunters from using lead ammunition, arguing that it was harmful to the California Condor. The Arizona Department of Fish and Wildlife intervened in the lawsuit, arguing that a mandatory ban would actually hurt efforts to conserve the condor population. The Department also pointed out that “None of the groups that filed the lawsuit have actually participated in on-the-ground condor conservation efforts, despite numerous invitations to join the cooperative partnership that oversees condor conservation in Arizona and Utah.”
Genetically modified food crops have been heralded for their environmental benefits, including the ability to grow more food on less land and a decreased need for pesticides.
Yet despite all the promise that these revolutionary crops hold for the future, the Sierra Club demands “a moratorium on the planting of all genetically engineered crops and the release of all GEOs [genetically engineered organisms] into the environment, including those now approved.” This technophobic stance falls right in line with former Sierra Club executive director David Brower’s creed: “All technology should be assumed guilty until proven innocent.”
According to Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug, widely acknowledged as the “father of the green revolution,” the reckless actions of groups like the Sierra Club may hinder our ability to feed future populations. “I now say,” Borlaug told a De Montfort University crowd in 1997 “that the world has the technology — either available or well-advanced in the research pipeline — to feed a population of 10 billion people. The more pertinent question today is whether farmers and ranchers will be permitted to use this new technology. Extremists in the environmental movement from the rich nations seem to be doing everything they can to stop scientific progress in its tracks.”