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Profile: Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

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Quotes

December 11, 2002

“The science is open and shut that this kind of logging in the back country poses great risks, and can even make fires worse. These are the projects where environmental review is most needed and where informed public input and oversight is most critical.” [CBS News, 11/27/2002]

Associated Events

December 16, 2002

“The final rule puts polluters first. The Bush EPA gave agribusiness increased protection from liability for polluting our waterways. It’s a sweet deal for factory farm polluters, but it stinks for the rest of us.” [Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/16/2002]

Associated Events

January 2003

“The Bush administration is painting this new proposal as an inconsequential change that won’t harm the environment. But it’s part of a systematic effort to weaken environmental protections so that timber companies can cut more and larger trees in our national forests without the public even knowing what’s going on. While the agency has in the past had some ability to exempt small projects, the proposal would greatly expand their use and, added to other proposed exemptions, would mean that most of the logging projects the Forest Service conducts would be authorized in a head-in-the-sand, don’t-tell-the-public fashion.” [Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/16/2002]

Associated Events

March 10, 2003

“Everybody recognizes these kinds of construction activities cause serious water pollution, but the Bush administration is excusing one sector of industry—their friends in the oil and gas industry. You not only have the problems of erosion, but you have the potential for toxic pollution.” [Associated Press, 1/28/2003]

Associated Events

July 11, 2003

“If the administration gets its way, thousands of streams, wetlands and other waters would no longer be protected by the law, allowing industry to dredge, fill or dump waste into them without a permit and without notifying the public.” [Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/11/2003]

Associated Events

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) was a participant or observer in the following events:

The number of beach closings and health safety advisories increases 51 percent over the year 2002 at US oceans and Great Lakes, according to an annual survey conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). In fact, 2003 is the worst year ever recorded by the organization since it began monitoring US shorelines fourteen years ago. Eighty-eight percent of the closings are due to high levels of bacteria indicative of human and animal waste. “We know that the high bacteria levels that cause most closings and advisories come from two sources—inadequately treated sewage and contaminated stormwater,” says Nancy Stoner, director of NRDC’s Clean Water Project. “We have a major water system breakdown across the country, and local, state and federal authorities need to wake up and fix it.” (Pegg 8/6/2004 Sources: NRDC Annual Report - Testing the Waters 2004)

Map of Iraqi oil fields included in released documents.Map of Iraqi oil fields included in released documents. [Source: Judicial Watch]The conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch releases documents recently turned over by the US Commerce Department through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The documents show some of the activities of the secretive energy task force chaired by Vice President Dick Cheney (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). Cheney and the White House successfully blocked Congress from learning even the most basic information about the task force’s activities (see February 22, 2002). The Commerce Department documents include maps of Iraqi oil fields and oil infrastructure, and other charts showing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and a document entitled “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.” Other maps and documents show detailed information about oil fields and infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. All of the documents are dated March 2001. Judicial Watch has sought these documents under FOIA since April 2001, and only secured them after a federal judge ordered their release in March 2002. (The Judicial Watch lawsuit was consolidated with a similar suit from the Natural Resources Defense Council.) Why the government waited over a year to release the documents, even after a court order compelling them to do so, is unclear. “These documents show the importance of the Energy Task Force and why its operations should be open to the public,” says Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton. “This was not about national security. This was about an undersecretary talking to a lobbyist.” (Judicial Watch 7/17/2003; Judicial Watch 7/17/2003; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 14-15) Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein call the Iraqi oil field documents “stunning,” and ask: “Why were the vice president and a group of oilmen poring over maps of Iraq long before there was any pretext to invade the country? Iraq’s oil was technically embargoed and under UN control—why make plans for divvying up oil reserves?” Dubose and Bernstein believe that Cheney may have been planning for US control of Iraq long before the Bush administration’s public push for war with that nation. Fitton is not so sure, but says worriedly: “We don’t know because we weren’t given the context. We have no way of knowing what they were deliberating.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 14-15) Judicial Watch, with other public interest groups such as the Sierra Club, will continue to seek information about the Cheney task force (see December 15, 2003 and April 27, 2004).

The Environmental Protection Agency posts a notice in the Federal Register announcing that it will continue studying the 51 drinking water contaminants included in its 1998 Contaminant Candidate List. (Environmental Protection Agency 4/2/2004) But the announcement seems to suggest that the EPA is continuing to ignore recommendations embodied in three National Research Council reports—Setting Priorities for Drinking Water Contaminants (1999), Identifying Future Drinking Water Contaminants (1999), and Classifying Drinking Water Contaminants for Regulatory Consideration (2001)—which suggested, among other things, that the agency use the latest gene-mapping technology to screen for a more comprehensive list of contaminants, including waterborne pathogens, chemical agents, disinfection byproducts, radioactive substances and biological compounds. The Natural Resources Defense Council and other health and environmental groups have urged the agency to follow the Council’s recommendations in order to protect the public against the numerous contaminants that have been shown to be detrimental to human health but which are not currently regulated. (Vaux 5/2001 pdf file; Natural Resources Defense Council 12/31/2005)

Four leading environmental groups—the NRDC, the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, and the National Wildlife Federation—conduct a joint expert study. The report, largely based on Army Corps of Engineers documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, shows that the Bush administration’s policies have allowed developers to drain thousands of acres of wetlands. The loss of wetlands on the Gulf Coast could have a catastophic effect since coastal wetlands weaken hurricanes before they make landfall thereby lessening the impact of such storms on populated inland regions. The report also says the policies have opened America’s waterways to massive amounts of industrial discharge. (Natural Resource Defense Council et al. 8/12/2004 pdf file) “There’s no way to describe how mindless a policy that is when it comes to wetlands protection,” one of the report’s authors says. The study is dismissed by the chairman of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, who describes it as “highly questionable,” and claims, “Everybody loves what we’re doing.” (Eilperin 8/12/2004; Blumenthal 9/1/2005; Ivins 9/1/2005)

The White House finally releases a list of officials and organizations who met with Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001) in 2001. Cheney and the White House have successfully battled for six years to keep virtually all details of the task force secret (see May 10, 2005), and many other documents and files pertaining to the task force remain secret. The list of participants confirms what many have always suspected—that oil, gas, and energy executives and lobbyists were virtually the only ones to have any input in the task force’s policy deliberations. Many of the participants were also heavy donors to the Bush-Cheney campaign, and to the Republican Party in general.
Secrecy - Some participants say they were never sure why the White House fought so hard to keep the information about the task force secret. “I never knew why they fought so hard to keep it secret,” says Charles A. Samuels, a lawyer for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. “I am sure the vast majority of the meetings were very policy-oriented meetings—exactly what should take place.” Others say that their meetings with the task force were routine.
API Input - American Petroleum Institute president Red Cavaney says that when he met with the task force, he and his fellow API officials discussed position papers the organization had given to the Bush-Cheney campaign and to newly elected members of Congress. “We’re in the business of routinely providing advocacy materials,” Cavaney says. “Speaking for myself, I had zero hand in authoring or sitting with anyone from that task force and changing anything.” But Cavaney is seriously downplaying API’s influence (see March 20, 2001).
"Ridiculous" - Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who has been a driving force behind the effort to reveal the inner workings of the task force to the public, says it is it is “ridiculous” that it has taken six years to see who attended the meetings. He describes the energy task force as an early indicator of “how secretively Vice President Cheney wanted to act.” As to the makeup of the participants, Waxman is not surprised to see the dominance of energy industry groups in the meetings. “Six years later, we see we lost an opportunity to become less dependent on importing oil, on using fossil fuels, which have been a threat to our national security and the well-being of the planet,” he says. Climate expert David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council says: “Cheney had his finger on a critical issue. He just pushed it in the wrong direction.” (Abramowitz and Mufson 7/18/2007)

The Los Angeles Times publishes a long analysis of the environmental impact solar power projects are expected to have on the southwestern US desert (see August 13, 2013). Written by Julie Cart, the analysis focuses on the Ivanpah solar power project in the Mojave (see September 22, 2013), which is projected to expand to some 3,500 acres of public land when finished. The plant “will soon be a humming city with 24-hour lighting, a wastewater processing facility, and a gas-fired power plant. To make room, BrightSource [the firm building the plant] has mowed down a swath of desert plants, displaced dozens of animal species, and relocated scores of imperiled desert tortoises, a move that some experts say could kill up to a third of them.” Environmental attorney Johanna Wald, who was involved in the negotiations to build the plant, says: “I have spent my entire career thinking of myself as an advocate on behalf of public lands and acting for their protection. I am now helping facilitate an activity on public lands that will have very significant environmental impacts. We are doing it because of the threat of climate change. It’s not an accommodation; it’s a change I had to make to respond to climate.” Cart says that plants like the Ivanpah facility will result in “a wholesale remodeling of the American desert” in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. “[H]undreds of square miles of wild land will be scraped clear,” Cart writes. “Several thousand miles of power transmission corridors will be created. The desert will be scarred well beyond a human life span, and no amount of mitigation will repair it, according to scores of federal and state environmental reviews.” Dennis Schramm, the former superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve, warns: “The scale of impacts that we are facing, collectively across the desert, is phenomenal. The reality of the Ivanpah project is that what it will look like on the ground is worse than any of the analyses predicted.” Cart writes that at the moment, solar energy is “three times more expensive than natural gas or coal” because of “capital costs and other market factors,” and ratepayers will pay “as much as 50 percent higher for renewable energy, according to an analysis from the consumer advocate branch of the [California] state Public Utilities Commission.” The impact on the environment will be dramatic in some places, with birds and other wildlife abandoning some areas entirely, and the possible “massive losses of pollinators because you have all these insects getting burned in the mirrors,” according to government biologist Larry LaPre. Desert tortoise expert Jeffrey Lovich says no one really knows the impact the plants will have on the desert. “This is an experiment on a grand scale,” he says. “Science is racing to catch up.” Most large environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have chosen not to protest the development, instead agreeing to become part of the negotiation process and winning some environmental concessions from the developers. Wald, who works with the NRDC, says of the projects: “We didn’t make them perfect. We didn’t eliminate their environmental impact because you can’t eliminate the environmental impact. But we made them better.” (Cart 2/5/2012)
Refutation of Land Use Requirements - In 2003, the US Department of Energy concluded that most of the land needed for renewable energy sites could be supplied by abandoned industrial sites. Moreover, “with today’s commercial systems, the solar energy resource in a 100-by-100-mile area of Nevada could supply the United States with all of its electricity. If these systems were distributed to the 50 states, the land required from each state would be an area of about 17 by 17 miles. This area is available now from parking lots, rooftops, and vacant land. In fact, 90 percent of America’s current electricity needs could be supplied with solar electric systems built on the estimated 5 million acres of abandoned industrial sites in our nation’s cities.” The federal government is expanding its efforts to find “disturbed and abandoned lands that are suitable for renewable energy development.” Groups concerned with minimizing the impacts of energy development on wildlife prefer prioritizing these areas for development. The Energy Information Administration says: “Covering 4 percent of the world’s desert area with photovoltaics could supply the equivalent of all of the world’s electricity. The Gobi Desert alone could supply almost all of the world’s total electricity demand.” And a 2009 study found that “in most cases” solar arrays in areas with plenty of sunlight use “less land than the coal-fuel cycle coupled with surface mining.” (National Renewable Energy Laboratory 1/2003 pdf file; US Energy Information Administration 12/19/2011; Defenders of Wildlife 1/14/2013 pdf file; Theel 1/24/2013)


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