The Greening of the Green Movement

 Environmental foundations have developed into big money ventures – ever wonder who’s controlling the funds?

 By Deborah Dasch

 No mission statement for a company doing business in the mining industry (Note: or any other resource providing industry, for that matter!) is complete without careful attention paid to environmental concerns. Today it’s an established fact of life that extracting Earth’s natural resources goes hand-in-hand with reclaiming the land after use and, in some cases, leaving it in a more pristine condition than it was before.

 The tenuous relationship between the mining industry and the burgeoning environmental movement may not have started out as a match made in heaven, but it can evolve toward a working partnership where both parties are committed to reducing environmental impact during the controlled process of extracting the minerals that are the building blocks of daily life around the world.

 Or so it would seem.

 While there are several "green-based" organizations that say they understand the value of mining and the need to work together, there are many more groups out there that, as Steve Borell, executive director of the Alaska Mining Association, puts it, pretty much feel that, "I’ve never met a mine I liked."


The New Look

 Close your eyes and picture in your mind an environmental activist. What do you see? A bearded fellow in a plaid shirt and blue jeans? A long-haired woman in a tie-dyed T-shirt and Birkenstock sandals?

 Well, guess again.

 Today’s environmental activists are more likely to come in tailor-made suits, have expensive haircuts and own rolodexes that read like a "Who’s Who in Power." Instead of being outdoors hugging trees, these careerists are in the offices of federal and state lawmakers and corporate America, pressing the flesh of the decision makers who determine the regulations the mining industry must meet.

 They’re smart. They’re focused. They’re in the loop. Heck, they’re part of the establishment. And they’ve enlisted the aid of celebrities from just about every industry – film, music, television, public affairs. They even have the vice president of the United States speaking out about global warming and the critical need to protect Mother Earth.

 It’s oh so politically correct.

 How did all of this happen? "Environmental groups have always had grassroots support," says Borell, "but over the last five to 10 years in Alaska we’ve seen the real support coming from the big grant givers – foundations." According to Borell, these grant givers are "pinstripe suits in the largest cities in this country influencing environmental policy on a state and local level."

 Foundations are big business. During the last 15 years the number of foundations has nearly doubled from 22,000 to 39,000, and their assets are nearly $225 billion. Since foundations are required to give away about five percent of their invested assets annually in order to keep their tax-exempt status, they’re eager to pump money into carefully chosen, and politically motivated, causes.

 Then there are the activist environmental groups, most of which are firmly entrenched in the Washington, D.C., establishment. With their own scientists, lobbyists, lawyers and public affairs specialists, they can work around-the-clock to further environmental agendas in every state . . . Especially when they’re bankrolled by both private and public-interest foundations.

 At Oregon State University (OSU), for example, a new program will help "some of the nation’s leading environmental scientists" become "professional communicators." The program is being funded by $1.5 million from the Ecological Society of America, according to an OSU press release, in order to "improve the flow of accurate, credible scientific information to policy makers and the general public on critical issues of the environment."

 The trouble, says Borell, is that chasing after grants gives the grant giver a lot of influence over shaping issues and determining public policy, in effect determining the environmental agenda. "Can anyone be surprised that environmental groups develop Alaska programs and set up Alaska operations, when they know that foundations are pumping millions into wilderness initiatives and efforts to prohibit logging oil, and mining?" he asks.

 Worse yet, he adds, is the negative impact these foundation decision makers have on local economies thousands of miles away, when the jobs dry up after a mine development project is blocked.


Standoff in Alaska

 Alaska seems to be the perfect setting for the standoff between miners and enviros. With its breathtaking panorama of unspoiled wilderness, mountain ranges and ice-cold rivers running with salmon, the Land of the Midnight Sun conjures up a romantic picture of America – beautiful, rugged, majestic.

 What many people don’t know, says Borell, is that half of the state’s 365 million acres already is off limits to the mining industry. "About 165 million acres are in some form of congressionally-designated set-aside," he says. "The greenies don’t waste your time telling you that fact," he adds sarcastically, "they’re too busy warning people that we’re getting ready to crush the last rock and drill the last hole."

 In recent years the state has seen three new environmental coalitions set up by the Environmental Grantgivers Association (see sidebar) to end logging in the Tongass National Forest. At a major mine this year an attorney from the National Wildlife Fund met with the mine’s environmental manager to see for himself the mine’s environmental safeguards and reclamation plans. "The lawyer said they had done a great job, but when the manager said, ‘So we’re okay then,’ he replied, ‘Oh no, we’re going to sue you. We don’t want any mining in Alaska.’"

 Borell says that foundations also have granted thousands of dollars for Alaska’s green organizations to set up computer networks for more effective and immediate communication. "They’re so far ahead of us it’s not funny," he claims.

 And it’s not just in Alaska, he adds. "It’s happening to everyone, everywhere, and they don’t know it."


Wyoming Woes

 They do know it in Big Sky Country. It already was difficult to raise venture capital for mining projects because of the perceived liability of environmental risks and the length of time it took to permit. But it got worse when initiative I-125 was passed in 1996 – thanks to the Montana Environmental Center – precluding any for-profit corporation in the state from making contributions to support or protest ballot initiatives. "Basically, the initiative prevents an industry – it could be mining or dry cleaning – from spending a dime to defend itself," says Eric Williams of Environomics, a public relations and governmental affairs firm with offices in Montana and Washington State.

 But there are loopholes for the nonprofits if you meet three criteria, says Williams: "Number one, you can’t engage in business activities. Number two, you don’t have any for-profit members. And number three, you don’t accept more than five percent annually of your total revenue from for-profits."

 Now a new initiative on the ballot, I-137, threatens to ban the use of sodium cyanide to extract gold and silver from mineral ores. If passed, mining would pretty much grind to a halt in Montana. Exploration for new minerals, requests for expansion permits and investment in new mines would stop. Companies that use cyanide in their floatation processes – for example, copper, zinc, and molybdenum – also would be impacted.

 Jill Andrews, executive director of the Montana Mining Association, is angry about both initiatives. "I’ve done business throughout the country, and it’s absurd that you could put millions and millions of dollars into this state and not be able to protect your investment," she says. Andrews and others in the industry have gone to the state supreme court to try to block I-137, but the outcome is uncertain.

 One fact remains: Although mining uses less than 0.01 percent of the land in Montana, it provides jobs for thousands of the state’s citizens and spends millions each year in tax revenues for schools, roads and county services. Andrews wants to know who will be able to afford to live there once "the enviros drive mining out of the state."

 Perhaps only media mogul Ted Turner, who owns somewhere in the neighborhood of a million acres of Montana land.


Do Something Now

 What’s happening in Alaska and Montana is a taste of worse things to come, predicts Borell, Williams and Andrews. "It’s not just a matter of mining companies needing to wake up and smell the coffee," says Andrews, "If they don’t do something soon they’ll find themselves out of business."

 Williams adds, "If you think you can run to a far corner of the Earth and be left alone, forget it." He cites this example. "If you look at the Kumtor Gold Project in Kyrgyzstan, and I-137 in Montana," he says, "not only will 95 percent of the information come from environmental groups, but the sound bites and rhetoric are the same, even though these two places are on opposite sides of the Earth."

 Another example is what just happened in New Zealand. "There’s a big mining project there that uses sulfite," says Williams, "and environmental groups walked into the regulatory offices and plopped down the Wisconsin Sulfite Mining Bill, which resulted in large segments of mines in that state being shut down.

 "Now what action do you think the regulatory bureaucrats are going to take?" he asks.

There are steps companies can take to protect against being bulldozed by a radical green agenda:

 ·            Research the grant givers who are bankrolling environmental groups in your community. Find out who they are and where they spend their money (see sidebar). "Don’t sit at the table with someone you don’t know," advises Williams.

 ·     Step up efforts to educate the public about the funding that is coming into your state. Find ways to let them know that this funding is coming from special interest groups with a radical agenda and that its sole purpose is to block development, which translates into loss of jobs in your community. For example, in Alaska a state legislator has proposed that any foundation money coming into the state be made public knowledge. "That’s a good start," says Borell.

 ·     Build alliances with other natural resource providers. This will foster a strong base of support with those who have an affiliation with the mining industry, claims Williams.

 ·     Be creative and innovative in your approach to environmental groups by refusing to engage in "stop doing that" tactics. "It doesn’t do any good to tell foundations to stop giving away their money, any more than for them to tell us to stop mining," says Williams. "They’re what we call a "conflict" industry," he adds. "They may be nonprofit, but their bottom line is to make money, and they do that on conflicts."

 Instead, Williams suggests that the mining industry find constructive ways to bring about environmental improvement and protection on "real-life, on-the-ground projects that that foundation money could be used for."

 ·     Get the word out, at least locally, about the many positive contributions natural resource extractive industries have made in this country. Granted, this kind of public relations campaign on a grand scale has had limited results in the past ("It didn’t matter. No one cared," says Andrews.). But remaining silent, while the other side trumpets its cause, invites suspicion and misinterpretation. Talk about your goals as a partner in the community, share your achievements as a major employer and taxpayer, and explain your reclamation and wildlife habitat programs until you’re blue in the face.

 Only you can dispel the stereotype of the Big, Bad Mining Company (or, rancher, logger, farmer, recreationist, etc.).



 Deborah Dasch is a writer based in Baltimore, Md.

Her book, Find Your Calling, Love Your Life, can be found on