The Sierra Club Exposed

Published June 9, 2013

In a news cycle where the lack of transparency is revealed daily, it is refreshing when something previously opaque exposes its true motives. Such is the case for the Sierra Club and its desire to block oil and gas drilling.

I’ve written many times on environmental groups’ influence over use of public lands and how they often use claims of some endangered flora or fauna as cover for their efforts to block any beneficial economic development, such as mineral extraction or agricultural activity. They cry about some critter when in fact it is really about control—control of public lands. It is this very tactic that was the impetus for my “Smash the Watermelons” initiative. Everywhere I speak, I give out bumper stickers with the slogan and pens with a green barrel, but that write with red ink. Imprinted on the pen is: “Green on the outside, red on the inside.” When people ask about the bumper sticker’s meaning, I explain: “When you spend every day, as I do, on energy issues, you quickly realize that the environmental zealots are really about blocking development in America. While they appear green on the outside, they are red on the inside.”

But now, in a season of cover-ups, the Sierra Club has come clean.

This month they’ve launched a new campaign: Our Wild America—which will call for new national monument designations.

The Hill’s E2 Wire heralds the news: “Green groups to Obama: Designate public lands to stop oil and gas drilling.” No longer hiding behind the protection of a critter, the environmental groups have come out of the shadows and boldly proclaimed their intentions. The article starts with: “Environmental lobbyists are pressing President Obama to turn more western lands into national monuments to prevent oil-and-gas companies from drilling there. The Sierra Club is leading the charge…”

Apparently the gang green is frustrated with the lack of Congressional action in locking up lands and is now resorting to pressuring the president to take executive action. Bentley Johnson, legislative representative for the National Wildlife Federation’s public lands campaign, said his group prefers to work at the local level to build momentum with congressional delegations. But that has proven relatively fruitless in recent years. “The standstill on getting lands protected through the legislative route might have pushed the White House to go it alone in recent months.”

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is mandated to manage the public lands for “multiple use.” The BLM Terminology & Actions document defines it this way: “‘multiple uses’ include recreation, range/grazing, timber, minerals/oil & gas, watershed, fish & wildlife, wilderness, and natural, scenic, scientific and historical values.” But, the “century-old” Antiquities Act gives President Obama the authority to designate national monument status even if there’s no actual monument erected. A national monument designation makes the locale off limits to development. President Obama has used this “emergency” designation nine times—six times in the past year.

The Sierra Club wants it used more.

Dan Chu, the director of the Sierra Club’s Wild America campaign, explained: “Recreation, wildlife and scenic values would have much more priority in management planning if it was designated as a national monument.”

As a part of the Wild America campaign, Michael Brune, executive director for the Sierra Club, is currently on a “road trip” to “educate the public and excite Sierra Club members about getting some of these proposed areas as national monuments.”

One of Brune’s stops is Moab, Utah. Marc Thomas, a member of the executive committee of the Sierra Club’s Utah Chapter’s Glen Canyon Group, is in support of the proposed Greater Canyonlands National Monument—1.4 million acres near Moab—that he describes as “a whole swath of land that is not protected from impacts like mineral extraction or privatization.” Thomas exclaims: “That’s what I’m concerned about.”

Chu agrees. Addressing the campaign he says: “We, along with our partners, are concerned about imminent threats from tar sand development, oil and gas leasing and the increase in illegal trails from off-road vehicle use.”

The Wild America campaign is described as “a grassroots movement to secure permanent protection for significant landscapes and advocating for responsible wildlife and lands management”—which is spearheaded by “the largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization in the country.” But how grassroots is the Sierra Club really? It is not the hiking and nature club that it used to be—or that the leadership wants you to think it is. The Sierra Club is now a true political organization flexing its muscle to move its agenda with nearly a hundred million dollars in annual revenues.

In its announcement about the Wild America campaign, the United Press International said the following: “The Sierra Club, a leading environmental lobbying group in Washington…” The Sierra Club endorses candidates and policies—recently voting to support comprehensive immigration reform. In an interesting post on the website Progressives for Immigration Reform, life-long Sierra Club member and environmental activist, Philip Carfaro, bemoans the club’s reversal in its position on immigration that had been held for four decades, saying the shift “looks to have been driven by short-term politics.” Carfaro posits that Brune ignored “both the grave environmental costs of immigration-driven US population growth and the organization’s own organizational history” in exchange for La Raza’s support at the big DC rally against the Keystone pipeline and calls the leadership “short-sighted, politically correct pygmies.”

Carfaro’s point rings true. Immigration reform, specifically amnesty, is a Democratic dream come true and a presidential promise. I suspect back room deals were made for the Sierra Club’s support in exchange for executive-order national monument status to prevent oil and gas drilling. In the call for Obama to “designate public lands to stop oil and gas drilling,” Chu adds a political sweetener, suggesting Obama could help Democrats win House and Senate seats in the midterm election year: “We think there’s real opportunities for them to do additional monument designations by the midterm elections and that it’s a positive political thing for the administration and for senators and congressmen.”

There’s a La Raza connection. E2 Wire reports: “Chu argues the West is becoming ‘less purple and more blue’ because of an influx of Latino and younger voters. The Sierra Club aims to marshal those voting blocs to get new national monuments in New Mexico and Colorado. Chu said Latino and young voters care more about conservation than about energy drilling, citing a poll for the Sierra Club and National Council of La Raza that said 69 percent of Latino voters support increasing the number of national monuments.”

Yet, polling done by the Western Energy Alliance (WEA) shows otherwise. Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government affairs reports: “Our polling (conducted by the Tarrance group) shows that Latinos favor increased oil and natural gas in the US by 74%. I think they, along with a majority of Americans, realize that development creates jobs and economic opportunity throughout the US.”

Jessica Kershaw, a spokeswoman for the Department of Interior (DOI), said the administration wants to see grassroots support for monument designations before acting: “DOI, as part of the Obama administration, is certainly committed to the conservation of these designations. But it’s rooted in the partnership of these local communities,” she said. So, Brune is out trying to get Sierra Club members excited about the proposed national monuments. I believe, as the WEA poll confirms, the average American understands that more drilling means more jobs, lower-priced fuels, energy security, and a balancing  of the trade deficit—which is why, as Johnson said, working “with congressional delegations” to lock up lands has been “fruitless.”

Why has the Sierra Club—a 501(c)4 public charity with the same designation as the beleaguered Tea Party groups that were “blamed” for the excessive scrutiny due to political activities—suddenly gotten transparent about their politically aggressive actions? Perhaps now that Sally Jewell, former Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) CEO, is Secretary of the Interior, the Sierra Club feels emboldened. It has a friend in the Administration. REI is a Sierra Club “benefactor.”

Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, doesn’t want decisions on monuments imposed by Obama. In an email, Mallory Micetich, a committee spokeswoman, told me: “Chairman Hastings firmly believes that additions to the National Park System and major land-use decisions that impact local communities and economies should be the result of careful public review and a vote by Congress. It should not be a unilateral decision imposed by the President under a century-old, outdated law.”

Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM), Chairman of the Western Caucus, agrees. “Monument designations, like any other laws, should come up from the people, not down by executive decree. Conservation is at its best when it is carried out by the people: through elected representatives in a transparent, public process.  When designations are instead handed down through executive order, valid concerns are silenced, the minority cannot express its concerns, and both conservation and democracy suffer.”

Remember “the administration wants to see grassroots support for monument designations before acting”—which implies grassroots opposition could prevent the designations. Call the DOI (202-208-6416) and ask Jessica Kershaw to tell Secretary Jewell that you are “grassroots” and that you oppose the designation of national monuments by executive order. Public land-use decisions that block public access to recreation and other job-creating economic activities should not be made unilaterally, behind closed-doors, and without local input.

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