Private Sector Environmentalism Showing Bigger Impact In Energy Projects

January 2013, Vol. 240 No. 1

Carol Freedenthal, Contributing Editor

Natural resource industries are well versed in the regulatory and rule-making impact of government agencies. Not as well understood and sometimes not even considered in decision making are the many private sector environmental concerned organizations like the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, or Greenpeace.

There are many energy projects that civic organizations are working hard to stop or alter. Sometimes they want to stop project totally. Today, big and bright in the spotlight are both parts of the Keystone Pipeline for bringing tar sands crude oil from Canada into the U.S. for refining and marketing.

The project building the Keystone extension from the already-in-place Mid-America crude terminal in Kansas to the Gulf Coast refineries is facing fierce civic action, mainly at the local level. Some landowners are objecting to the pipeline on their properties and environmentalists want to stop the refining and marketing of more fossil fuel.

The second part of the planned pipeline coming out of Canada, Keystone XL, is facing strong objection from U.S. and international groups who are against tar sand oil development. Since this pipeline crosses the U.S./Canadian border, State Department approval is necessary. President Obama vetoed this previously and what he does next is uncertain.

Environmental groups are making a big issue of “fracking” used in the new methods for obtaining oil and gas from shale and tight formations. What it really comes down to is these “earth-saver organizations” are against fossil fuels of any kind! They see these kinds of fuels coming from deep down in the earth as “dirty” – climate-changing and harmful in every way.

Their logic is interesting. They acknowledge that substituting biofuels for fossil fuels does not change the major combustion products but they reason the carbon dioxide from biofuels is only replacing the carbon dioxide taken up by the plants that are used to make the fuel. They believe climate-changing carbon dioxide coming from fossil fuels is being taken from deep down in the earth and putting it back in the atmosphere to do its dirty work.

One can generalize that the environmental groups want clean “green” energy like solar, wind and biofuels to power the country’s growth regardless of whether the economics and other issues work to this effect. Sometimes they overlook the practical aspects of availability, costs and infrastructure in their eagerness to promote their causes.

Sometimes they even attack the very alternatives that would give them a large measure of what they are looking for to maintain the earth’s health. They are against nuclear for power generation, demanding greater safeguards and safety features before allowing new fission nuclear plants to be built.

They have even argued against putting wind farms offshore the East Coast. Here, the safety of birds and the scenic beauty are the concerns.

These environmentally concerned civic groups are not only in the U.S. but worldwide. Alone in the U.S., there are more than a hundred national groups. In addition, many local ones have sprung up as need or necessity arose. To protest the Keystone extension in South Texas, many local groups have encouraged and taken part in having members chain themselves to pipeline construction equipment or living in trees to stop the construction.

Many of the groups are very large with substantial financial resources. They work closely with federal and state environmental groups and have developed strong legal and scientific resources. They are a big part of the environmental movement which includes both conservation of the earth’s resources and “green politics”, the use of energy supplies friendly to the environment. They are part of diverse scientific, social and political movement on environmental concerns.

Their history is long, believed to have started in the late 19th century on two bases; preserving nature in its beauty and managing the earth’s resources. One of the earliest founders was John Muir, who was also the founder of perhaps the oldest of these organizations, the Sierra Club.

Others well known and associated with the early development were Henry David Thoreau, concerned about the wildlife in Massachusetts; George Perkins Marsh, concerned with resource management and conservation. Muir is considered the “Father of the National Park System”.

Events from the 1950s through 1970s showed the environmental damage that humans might cause. Rachel Carson with her book, “Silent Spring”, showed the damage caused by chemicals to the environment; oil spills along the English and California coasts showed the dangers of shipping large crude oil supplies. Mercury poisoning in Japan was a big headline. These and others were the basis of the growth for today’s’ large number of environmentally concerned groups.

It’s too numerous to list all of the national groups but some information on the top ones is useful.

Sierra Club
Founded in 1892 it has more than 1.3 million members and is very effective in lobbying governments and corporations. It covers a wide range of issues from clean air and water to preservation of land and forests.

Audubon Society
Its declared mission is to “conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity.” Named after the noted John Audubon, the noted conservationist.

World Wildlife Fund
One of the most known organizations worldwide and has more than 5 million members internationally, 1.2 million in the U.S. Group works to preserve nature and its creatures.

Earth First
Earth First came to prominence in the 1990s and is somewhat different from the others. It has no members or slick website. It welcomes any and all. Calling the group a priority and not an organization, it is known for taking action in green issues, sometimes even breaking the law.

Greenpeace
Begun in 1971 to stop nuclear testing off the coast of Alaska, Greenpeace has helped stop whaling and nuclear testing, is a leader in protecting Antarctica with 2.5 million members worldwide.

National Wildlife Federation
This group is dedicated to preserving animals in the U.S., one of the largest environmental organizations with more than 4 million members. It was founded in 1936 at the behest of President Franklin Roosevelt.

Natural Resources Defense Council
The website statement says, “The Natural Resources Defense Council works to protect wildlife and wild places and to ensure a healthy environment for all life on earth”. NRDA has more than 1.2 million members including hundreds of active lawyers.

1% For the Planet
A fund set up with nearly 1,000 firms and companies to give part of their bottom line back for environmental causes.

Green America
A green organization seeking to empower consumers to make the planet sustainable for future generations. A business-friendly group considered the gold standard for green businesses to be approved by.

The Nature Conservancy
The group was started in 1951 with the purpose of saving lands and waters. It is known worldwide for its conservation efforts using a science-based approach.

These civic and public-sector groups play a vital role nmaintaining the balance between industry and growth and sustaining the environment. As they become bigger and more diverse in their membership, they are better able to cope with the conflicts between various groups. In many environmental issues, sometimes the alternative is more harmful than the original action. A well-balanced team of scientific, engineering, economic, legal, and social advocates are needed when evaluating uses of earth’s resources.

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