Transparency a Must to Protect Our Ecosystem

April brought us Earth Day and with it at focus on both our ecosystem and those that claim it is their highest interest to protect the same. With reflection, though, we have to wonder if these self-appointed guardians of our environment are really just foxes guarding the henhouse succumbing to the temptation of power and money, even as they demonize those “greedy” corporate interests, they oppose. In many cases we may discover that these supposed “non-profits” are anything but.

A recent article–one of many on this theme–shows that even the so-called mainstream environmental groups like the Sierra Club are becoming targets of ridicule and derision from a brash new breed of environmental activist. It brings to mind the old adage that there is no honor among thieves.

Armed with money from deep-pocketed, left-wing donors have loosed an army of idealistic shock troops. With social media marketing skills and lawyers on staff, these organizations have perfected the art of adeptly (and legally, I might add) picking the public’s pocket while bragging about it. It is, as Forbes magazine says, a costly game of “sue and settle.” Worse, there is collusion going on between these environmental groups and the federal government.

At issue is the secrecy of the oft times million-dollar settlements that result from these cases. What are the terms of these settlements, who is paying, how is the money allocated, and how does that translate into helping the environment or an endangered species? Why don’t we, the people, know about these details? These are the important questions that must be answered.

Meet the poster child for just such an approach: The Center for Biological Diversity.

The US House Natural Resources Committee recently convened an exhaustive set of hearings that brought these shady practices into clearer focus. Whether you agree with the committee findings or not, one thing is clear–CBD and other like-minded organizations game the system to extract profit from the current Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing process while thumbing their nose at those who administer our nation’s environmental laws.

Unfortunately, it is a zero sum game. The money that CBD lawyers grab comes out of the American taxpayer’s pocket. Nearly one-third of our country is literally owned by the Federal government–that’s a lot of land for UFWS, DOI and BLM to watch over–and with these million-dollar settlements, that leaves the government fewer resources to administer those lands. The questionable tactics and the plundering of the treasury by this new breed of environmental capitalists is bad for both the environment and the taxpayer.

Certainly these “public advocates” for our wildlife and environment have the right to make their case–and for sure we want the private sector involved in these things–but when they are using other people’s money (OPM) to do it, questions of fairness and ulterior motives arise. When taxpayer dollars are involved, transparency is critical to protecting public trust in the process and to ensure that the public gets its money’s worth. But the public may not understand that instead of paying the salaries of park rangers, they are lining the pockets of lawyers and staffers that work for organizations like CBD.

One of those perpetrating these shady practices is the CBD’s Tierra Curry. Curry, along with her boss Kieran Suckling (no, I didn’t make up the name) are both oft quoted mouthpieces for CBD–a leading “sue and settle” group that makes a windfall picking the pockets of taxpayers.

Ms. Curry has an odd profile for an activist. She once claimed to have enjoyed dynamiting creek beds in rural Kentucky and taking perverse pleasure at sending fish and aquatic animals flying onto dry land and certain death. Now Curry spends her time filing petitions to “save” some of the same animals she once enjoyed killing.

As one of the chief spokespeople for CBD’s listing machine, Curry–who like her boss Suckling, has a degree in Philosophy–is rarely challenged in the sympathetic media. Part of her organization’s sure fire formula for success is to locate a high profile corporate target, find a “rare” bug, slug, fish, or insect and file a petition claiming the creature is endangered thereby putting a halt to construction or other of that corporation’s operations. Curry has infamously claimed that the ESA listings she files won’t cost jobs. Meanwhile, of course, the real endangered species are those very jobs she claims she isn’t impacting!

But Curry also may have an undisclosed conflict of interest. Even as she draws a salary from CBD, official records provided by the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office suggest that Ms. Curry was or is an Officer (Secretary of the board) atContext Consulting, which among its past and current clients includes the venerable British Petroleum, BP.

Naturally, Ms. Curry and CBD has been a frequent and vitriolic critic of BP in the media, but one hand seems to have been in the till, or at least a beneficiary of largesse from the oil company CBD loves to hate, while the other hand was attacking that big oil company.

Although Curry and the other CBD staffers are not required to publicly disclose their outside business relationships, her corporate interests don’t seem to be in concert with those of the organization from which she draws a salary: the Center for Biological Diversity. Yet CBD seems to have little problem criticizing other, more “tame” environmental organizations for their coddling of corporate polluters.

Why? To paraphrase Kieran Suckling, CBD’s president–environmental groups are just like any other business trying to differentiate from others (and incidentally burnishing their credentials with financial supporters), jockeying for position, power and most importantly, money.

Perhaps it’s time to reform the Citizen Petition provision of the listing process, make it more about saving species and less about fundraising for environmental groups. House Republicans have introduced legislation to do just that. But we need to start thinking about how to hold these groups to account if they aren’t doing what is really needed?

When you boil it all down, Curry is true to both the spirit of the CBD and her one time political party registration. She’s clearly a “Green” Party girl. Except in this case, the “green” we’re talking about involves dead presidents paid out by big oil companies.

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