Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Exclusive: How the Sierra Club Took Millions From the Natural Gas Industry—and Why They Stopped [UPDATE]

By Bryan Walsh @bryanwalsh
Feb 2, 2012

Mainstream environmental groups have struggled to find the right line on shale natural gas and the hydraulic fracturing or fracking process. Gas has a much smaller carbon footprint than coal—according to most scientists—and produces far fewer air pollutants. That was enough for many major green groups to give support to gas as a “bridge fuel” to a cleaner energy future—the next best domestic alternative to coal as an electricity source while alternatives like wind and solar scaled up. But for grassroots members of those groups—especially in parts of the country where fracking was already underway—the risk of local pollution wasn’t worth the national and global climate benefits of greater gas consumption, especially as media and scientific attention on the potential threats to water supplies grew. It was a major challenge for environmental leaders: how to balance local concerns about traditional pollution with planet-sized worries over climate change, and how to work with corporate America without being seen as selling out.

Now the biggest and oldest environmental group in the U.S. finds itself caught on the horns of that dilemma. TIME has learned that between 2007 and 2010 the Sierra Club accepted over $25 million in donations from the gas industry, mostly from Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy—one of the biggest gas drilling companies in the U.S. and a firm heavily involved in fracking—to help fund the Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. Though the group ended its relationship with Chesapeake in 2010—and the Club says it turned its back on an additional $30 million in promised donations—the news raises concerns about influence industry may have had on the Sierra Club’s independence and its support of natural gas in the past. It’s also sure to anger ordinary members who’ve been uneasy about the Club’s relationship with corporations. “The chapter groups and volunteers depend on the Club to have their back as they fight pollution from any industry, and we need to be unrestrained in our advocacy,” Michael Brune, the Sierra Club’s executive director since 2010, told me. “The first rule of advocacy is that you shouldn’t take money from industries and companies you’re trying to change.”

MORE: Could Shale Gas Power the World?

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  1. It's crazy that the industry still wanted to bribe the Sierra Club!

  2. Disappointing, but not totally surprising. Sierra Club is an "inside the beltway" org and they are too big. They have a sell out culture. The fact that they kept it a secret is offensive and if I had given them money I would ask for it back.
    i don't see what the struggle is, "bridge fuel" is a crock of shet. Enviro's should support the cleanest tech and that's it. They exist to push the envelop. The gas industry does not need any help from enviros.
    CforSE, by the way, will not take any contribution over 3% of our annual budget. Our average trib is $20, but if you want to give $3,900.00, feel free to check out But we will not compromise on our values or our promise to our members for you, so if that's your game - go frack the Sierra Club! ;-)

  3. I must amend my comment. The new president of the Sierra Club refunded the $20 mill and they are now not in the pocket of industry, according to a local SC rep. That does not excuse the offense and it must be guarded against future transgression, but it does show potential.

    ReplyDelete is a medium for concerned citizens to express their opinions in regards to 'Fracking.' We are Representatives of Democracy. We are Fractivists. We are you.