Sierra Club Accepts Millions in Fossil Fuel Money

Published March 6, 2012

The Sierra Club, an environmental activist group leading the charge against affordable coal power, is in trouble with donors and activist allies for accepting more than $25 million in funding from a natural gas company to promote the Sierra Club’s anti-coal campaign.

A Common Opponent

The company, Chesapeake Energy, gave the Sierra Club the secret donations between 2007 and 2010, the Sierra Club has acknowledged. Fellow environmental activist groups are criticizing the Sierra Club for hypocrisy in their battle against the fossil fuel. The Sierra Club claims it is promoting natural gas as merely a “bridge fuel” on the way to a future without fossil fuels.

The money flowing just from Chesapeake Energy to the Sierra Club was approximately the same as The Heartland Institute’s entire budget during that same time period.

The partnership between the Sierra Club and Chesapeake Energy began in 2007 with funding for Sierra’s Beyond Coal campaign. The campaign focuses on impeding proposed coal-fired power plants and helping phase out existing plants to make way for renewable energy sources. 

“Back in 2007, Chesapeake and the Sierra Club had a shared interest in moving our nation toward a clean energy future based on the expanded use of natural gas, especially in the power sector,” said Chesapeake Energy spokesperson Jim Gipson. 

“Over the years, Chesapeake has been proud to support a number of organizations that share our interest in clean air and agree that America’s abundant supplies of clean natural gas represent the most affordable, available, and scalable fuel to power a more prosperous and environmentally responsible future for our country,” said Gipson. 

Gipson said the partnership ended by mutual agreement in 2010. 

Times Have Changed?

The Sierra Club says many environmental groups recently considered natural gas a cleaner alternative to coal. Now that natural gas production is booming and natural gas is becoming more affordable, however, Sierra and other environmental activist groups are vociferously opposing the fuel.

“Now that we know more about the dangers of drilling and fracking, and have no confidence that the current gas regulating system will protect our health and the environment, we must end our use of gas as quickly as possible and move to clean energy and energy efficiency,” said Maggie Kao, Sierra Club’s national press secretary.

Members Were Unaware

Much of the controversy regarding the Sierra Club’s relationship with Chesapeake Energy stems from club members having been largely unaware the group was accepting such large amounts of fossil fuel money. Sierra Club members have joined other environmental activist groups in criticizing Sierra for the Chesapeake Energy partnership. 

“It is not out of ordinary in the nonprofit world for some donors to remain anonymous, due to privacy or security concerns. In this case, a few [Sierra Club] directors were given partial information about the nature of these gifts, but no director was given clear and timely information about the source or amounts of the gifts,” Kao confirmed. 

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.