David Freddoso: Big green machine feeds off you
By: David Freddoso Commentary Staff Writer
October 1, 2009
Lawmakers have made it abundantly clear to bailed-out banks and automakers that federal money comes with strings attached. New rules on executive compensation are only the tip of the iceberg for TARP-funded banks. For bailed out automakers, Congress has inserted itself into decisions about plant closings and dealerships. The President of the United States even fired GM's CEO.
But environmental groups face few such restrictions, which is how they can victimize
the taxpayer two- or even three-fold. They freely sue dozens of federal government agencies even as they take federal money. Sometimes they take the money and spend equivalent amounts lobbying Congress to restrict consumers' freedom. Some of them even pay their executives large six-figure salaries.
The taxpayer finds himself in triple jeopardy. He funds these groups with grants and contracts, he can be on the hook for both sides' legal costs, and he risks the loss of freedoms to new laws and lawsuits -- his property rights, and his ability to buy affordable appliances, or even his livelihood.
Defenders of Wildlife, whose president makes more than $300,000 a year, has taken about $190,000 in federal grants since 2004. They are now suing the government to
protect aggressive wolves that were recently introduced into the Mountain West and have since ravaged game and impoverished shepherds and ranchers. The group also spent nearly $150,000 in the first half of 2009 lobbying Congress -- among other things, to fight against a law allowing for wolf control. They have also received more than $80,000 in web development work since 2006 from the Agriculture and Interior Departments.
Not all of the groups cause so much damage with your money, but they take it anyway. The Nature Conservancy (CEO compensation: $349,000), best known for purchasing land to prevent its development, is a billion-dollar organization. That hasn't stopped it from taking $14.4 million in grants from the Department of the Interior and received $50 million in federal contracts.
The more radical Forest Guardians are true green believers who certainly do not overpay themselves - their top employee makes only $46,000 per year. During the western forest fires of 2002, they steadfastly opposed the reopening of fire roads and the thinning of at-risk forests unless "solar powered chainsaws" were used. Even a small group like this can find itself a piece of the pie. Government grants accounted for 10 percent of their revenues in 2006, according to the IRS.
And just this year, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has put a leg aboard the federal gravy train. The famous public interest group, whose president made a modest $433,000 in 2007, has received a $750,000 government grant from the State Department to encourage the Chinese to use less energy. In addition to suing at least seven government agencies, including recently the Navy, the group also spent more than $400,000 in the first six months of 2009 lobbying Congress to require higher efficiency standards - and thus higher prices - for all appliances.
There's nothing wrong with a gadfly - someone has to hold government accountable. But should you be forced to pay for it, especially when it comes from an ideology
that could hurt your livelihood or even your life?
Gadflies might be parasites in nature, but the human ones don't usually double as leeches.
David Freddoso is a Commentary staff writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org