NRDC’s Greatest (Environmental) Hits

From the Mobilization for Climate Justice Organization

NRDC – Undermining sound environmental campaigns through deal-making and betrayals

Here below are a few examples of this corporate-friendly “environmental” group’s greatest betrayals of sound, uncompromised environmental positions. At the end of this post, we offer some background on NRDC’s role in shaping current US climate policy and conclusions about US Climate Policy moving forward in an equitable, sound manner.

Our actions on Nov 30 sent a warning shot across the bows of corporate ‘greens’ who distort climate science on behalf of major polluters and are obstructing and undermining grassroots campaigns for a prompt transition to a just, low carbon economy.

The MCJ proposes a range of solutions (including leaving hydrocarbons in the ground and more).

Table of Contents

1. NRDC played a key role in the formation and promotion of the United States Climate Action Partnership (2007- present):
2. NRDC is promoting methane gas drilling despite absence of scientific studies (2007)
3. NRDC supports New Coal Plants
4. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the N.R.D.C.
5. Oil Giant Conoco and NRDC vs. the Ecuadorean Amazon and Huaorani – forest-dependent peoples (1991)
6. NRDC and Enron: Role in Utility Deregulation
7. A Kinder Gentler Alberta Tar Sands
8. Utility Shill NRDC attacks Prop. 7
Background on NRDC and Current Climate Policy

NRDC’s Greatest (Environmental) Hits

1. NRDC played a key role in the formation and promotion of the United States Climate Action Partnership (2007- present): The USCAP is an alliance of major polluting industries, businesses promoting and profiting from carbon trading and corporate friendly “environmental” groups that are calling on the federal government to enact legislation which would result in dangerously inadequate reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, carbon markets with offsets, and the economic longevity of the hydrocarbon- and nuclear-dependent economy.

See their Blueprint for Legislative Action.

While NRDC and polluting industry push for 450-550 ppm as targets, the  grassroots environmental movement continues to demand that the 350 ppm (outer limit) which the best science has found necessary be supported.

The financial mechanism they promote, carbon marketing including massive offset provisions, has historically failed to reduce emissions, is cumbersome and easily manipulated to avoid real reductions and can easily result in profiteering by Wall Street traders in pollution permits. The results of passage of legislation based on the US CAP Blueprint, which the N.R.D.C. supports, would be a delay of effective climate policy for at least a decade. That’s a decade we don’t have.


Dr. Hansen’s reports and essays, especially “Temple of Doom” and “Never-Give-Up Fighting Spirit”:

Best Hansen reference: “Storms of My Grandchildren”, Bloomsbury, to be published 8 December, 2009.

Charles Komanoff and James Handley’s essays at, especially their substantive blog entries.

Larry Lohman’s Carbon Trading – A Critical Conversation on Climate Change, Privatisation and Power

The climate justice movement has provided 350 reasons for opposing carbon trading here:

FOE reports including “Dangerous Obsession”

Gar Lipow article on carbon markets:

International Rivers on offsets:

2. NRDC is promoting methane gas drilling despite absence of scientific studies (2007): The Natural Resources Defense Council promotes so-called ‘natural gas’ as a transitional fuel. But they are unable to point to any scientific life-cycle analysis of gas comparing it to other hydrocarbon fuels. A particularly energy- and water-intensive form of gas extraction (“hydrofracking”) is used in 90% of US wells as easy-to-get-to sources of gas have been exhausted. Despite widespread grassroots opposition to any gas drilling in New York State using these methods, the NRDC continues to promote gas drilling in Upstate New York, despite the massive contamination threat it presents to water and food supplies for millions of the region’s inhabitants.

Read (and sign) the petition to ban gas drilling in New York State here.

For more information go to this great site.

3. NRDC played a role in the TXU buyout, which betrayed a local environmental coalition seeking a more comprehensive result, instead providing cover for a massive new coal power producer to complete three new plants.   N.R.D.C.’s Board Member, Ruben Kraiem, a partner at Covington and Burling (2007), profited from this outcome.


4. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the N.R.D.C.(1993): The NAFTA debate saw essentially the same argument made: free trade is inevitable, so environmentalists have to go along and get what they can. NAFTA’s “It’s a win-win-win situation” argument was accepted by the NRDC. But it should be clear to any environmental thinker that free trade can only lead to the globalization of massive, consumer- based economies that are, in the long run, whatever the legislated safeguards, ecologically destructive. But NRDC advocates of neo-liberal trade evidently don’t think a lot about the distant future. Like the corporations they have come to resemble, they are occupied with the day-to-day imperatives of deal-making and fundraising.

“We [environmentalists] were one of the 2 big prongs the administration had to fight,” said John Adams, leader of NRDC. “The other was labor. We broke the back of the environmental opposition to NAFTA. After we established our position, Clinton only had labor to fight. We did him a big favor.” [1] Mark Dowie, “The Selling (out) of the Greens; Friends of Earth–or Bill?” THE NATION Vol. 258 (April 18, 1994), pgs. 514-517.


Big-picture Organizing, Part 5; A ‘Movement’ in Disarray in Rachel’s Environment & Health Weekly, News and resources for environmental justice (#425), (January 19, 1995) at

Mr. Clinton returned the favor by giving the big the NRDC “access.” But getting friendly with the White House staff and drinking orange juice out of silver cups never produced any tangible environmental benefits. After all, what changes can occur if everyone is committed to maintaining lock-step with whatever the President proposes? In May, 1993, in the presence of two dozen national environmental leaders, journalist Peter Montague heard John Adams of NRDC say to Carol Browner, head of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “You are our general. We are your troops. We await your orders.”

But, at that point clear-eyed environmentalists with principles already knew this administration’s environmentalism was hollow; for example, in February, 1993, Ms. Browner had announced her plan to kill the Delaney clause, the only existing federal law based on the public health principle of prevention. The Delaney clause prohibits known cancer-causing chemicals from being intentionally added to processed foods. It doesn’t allow a small amount of poison or a “negligible” amount. It allows zero. Ms. Browner’s idea –which she adopted directly from the food chemical industry –was to replace the Delaney Clause with a “one-in-a-million” risk assessment, which would allow “small” or “negligible” amounts of cancer-causing chemicals to be added to the American food supply. This was an idea that George Bush and Dan Quayle had been talking up, but it was Bill Clinton who actually proposed it in legislation. The Washington enviros supported the President’s anti-prevention agenda because such support would continue their “access.”

5. Oil Giant Conoco and the NRDC vs. the Ecuadorean Amazon and Huaorani – forest-dependent peoples (1991): In early 1990, the major oil corporation Conoco proposed expanding oil operations into the Oriente, a biological treasure the size of Alabama deep in Ecuador’s pristine rainforest, and home to an estimated 8 to 12 thousand species of plants (up to 5% of all plant species on earth!). The N.R.D.C. were, according to New Yorker essayist who uncovered the secret machinations of the ‘environmental’ organization, “operating without a portfolio”; the N.R.D.C. was completely unknown to the Huaorani living in the targeted territory when they decided to negotiate on their behalf with Conoco. Conoco would have been the first company ever to produce oil inside the Huaorani homeland and the project they proposed would have been key to opening up huge tracts of the Oriente to further oil exploitation, mining, and ranching.

Judith Kimerling, the N.R.D.C. attorney whom they fired for opposing their betrayal of Amazonian indigenous groups, made clear to Joe Kane of the New Yorker:

“We (the NRDC) had clear instructions from the people we were working with in Ecuador that they did not want Conoco to go forward.” In fact, the Conoco proposal was so staunchly opposed by activist groups in the U.S, Ecuador, and Europe that, before NRDC held their meeting with the oil company, Conoco’s CEO Edgar Woolard indicated that unless a public sign of support from opponents were made, they would pull out of Ecuador.

So NRDC undermined clear grassroots opposition to timber extraction, road building and oil operations of indigenous peoples of the Ecuadorean Amazon by holding negotiations with Conoco and heralding a ‘deal’. The extraction of enough oil to meet thirteen days of U.S. energy consumption threatened, according to Joe Kane writing in the New Yorker, environmental devastation and ‘ethnocide’.


Joe Kane’s book, ‘Savages’  (New York: Vintage, 1995), ch. 6. (an elaboration of his excellent expose, “Letter from the Amazon – With Spears from All Sides” New Yorker, September 27, 1993 (subscription required) at

Quotes from Sell-Out, The Multinational Monitor, (May, 1991) at

Before and after the meeting, several Ecuadoran groups asked NRDC not to make agreements concerning the region. A coalition called Amazon Campaign: For Life wrote a letter to NRDC before the February 8 meeting asking the organization not to negotiate with Conoco. The Amazon Campaign is calling for a 10-year moratorium on development in Yasuni to give the Huaorani time to mount their own defense or arrange for development of their lands in a manner which would allow their survival. Since the meeting, 25 Latin American environmental groups have issued a joint statement supporting CORDAVI’s efforts to block petroleum production in Yasuni and rejecting “the interference in this problem by North American organizations that seek to give their support to companies that are destroying nature.”


The Huaorani people are used to fighting against foreign oil companies and hostile national government agencies for control of their land in the Ecuadoran Amazon [seeOf Oil and Exploitation in Ecuador“, Multinational Monitor, January/February 1991]. But now there are new contenders for control of their destiny. Negotiations are being conducted between the Natural Resources Defense Council, Cultural Survival (an indigenous culture research and advocacy center) and Conoco Oil, a subsidiary of the DuPont Corporation, about petroleum production in the Yasuni National Park, according to CORDAVI, an Ecuadoran environmental organization.

Conoco, however, seems to be less sure of the inevitability of oil development than NRDC. Max Pitcher, the company’s executive vice president for exploration and production, stated in a meeting with NRDC that the company would not proceed with the project unless it had a public agreement with the “environmental community.”

More examples of betrayals of grassroots environmentalists and environmentalism by the N.R.D.C.:

6. From: Enron and the Green Seal by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair (December 21, 2001).

“The fall of Enron sounds the death knell for one of the great rackets of the past decade: green seals of approval, whereby some outfit like the Natural Resources Defense Council or the Environmental Defense Fund would issue testimonials to the enviro-conscience and selfless devotion to the public weal of corporations like Enron.”

“In 1997 high-flying Enron found itself in a pitched battle in Oregon, where it planned to acquire Portland General Electric, Oregon’s largest public utility. Warning that Enron’s motives were of a highly predatory nature, the staff of the state’s Public Utility Commission (PUC) opposed the merger. They warned that an Enron takeover would mean less ability to protect the environment, increased insecurity for PGE’s workers and, in all likelihood, soaring prices. Other critics argued that Enron’s actual plan was to cannibalize PGE, in particular its hydropower, which Enron would sell into California’s energy market.”

“With a warble in his throat, Cavanagh (NRDC’s top energy commissar, Ralph Cavanagh) moved into rhetorical high gear: “The Oregonian asks the question, ‘Can you trust Enron?’ On stewardship issues and public benefit issues I’ve dealt with this company for a decade, often in the most contentious circumstances, and the answer is, yes.”

Cavanagh won the day for the Houston-based energy giant. The PUC approved the merger, and it wasn’t long before the darkest suspicions of Enron’s plans were vindicated. The company raised rates, tried to soak the ratepayers with the cost of its failed Trojan nuclear reactor and moved to put some of PGE’s most valuable assets on the block. Enron’s motive had indeed been to get access to the hydropower of the Northwest, the cheapest in the country, and sell it into the California market, the priciest and-in part because of Cavanagh’s campaigning for deregulation-a ripe energy prize awaiting exploitation.”

See the following articles and books that credit Ralph Cavanagh and NRDC with the 2001 energy crisis in CA:

“How Environmentalists Sold Out California to Help Enron,” Center for Media and Democracy, Third Quarter Volume 3 2003;

A Dime’s Worth of Difference,” Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, (Counterpunch 2004);

“American Foundations: An Investigative History,” Mark Dowie, (MIT Press 2001) available at;

“Power Play: A California Ballot Drive Tries to Short Circuit a Utility Industry Bailout,” Harvey Wasserman, 10/27/1998, available at to name only a few.

7. Read the actual position of the NRDC on the worst hydrocarbon extraction project in North America, the Alberta Tar Sands in Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on “stemming” the tar sands at

Instead of joining the widespread call for the closing of the Tar Sands, the NRDC provides cover for Shell and BP, their climate criminal partners in US CAP who are major investors in the destruction. The NRDC suggests that the Tar Sands can continue by suggesting mitigation for the intense damage of the project to our climate and the region’s forests is possible through CCS and ‘efficiency improvements’.

8. Utility Shill NRDC attacks Prop. 7 (Wednesday, August 20, 2008) at

“The utilities, vis a vis NRDC, want voters to forget that it was the NRDC that made deregulation of the electricity market in CA possible, and then spearheaded the opposition campaign to kill a voter-initiated proposition (prop 9) to mitigate what would ultimately be the devastating effects of rolling blackouts and an energy crisis.”

Background on NRDC and Climate Policy

In the late 1980s, the N.R.D.C. and a few other large environmental organizations turned away from cultivating and rallying an informed grassroots and instead towards accommodating and deal-making with polluting industry. This shift signaled a radical demobilization of the U.S. environmental movement in which the N.R.D.C. took on a leading and damaging role. Over the last two decades, the N.R.D.C. became the arbiters of (their version of) the “politically possible” at the cost of the scientifically and environmentally necessary, by negotiating deals, from which they or their Board Members would directly benefit.  They often declared those deals ‘the best we can get” undercutting the positions of grassroots environmental justice organizations determined to fight the destruction of the environment in the process.

We took part in the international Mobilization for Climate Justice event in NYC to demand effective, fair, and science-based US climate policy. Our choice to target the offices of NRDC on this occasion was based on the fact that NRDC, along with other corporate-friendly environmental organizations, has promoted blatantly ineffective and scientifically inadequate climate proposals, including the Waxman-Markey and Kerry-Boxer climate bills. In so doing, the Natural Resources Defense Council has been complicit in the disastrous deal-making and accommodation of corporate polluters which is leading us to disaster. Top climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, the Director of the Goddard Space Center, Charles Komanoff, co-director of the Carbon Tax Center and Laura Sheinkopf co-founder of the Safe Water Movement (fighting gas drilling in New York State) stood with us in calling out NRDC for their failure to honestly represent the interests of a livable future for our planet.

NRDC’s “Blueprint for Climate Legislation”, drafted in collaboration with the world’s most polluting industries, (including Dow Chemicals, Shell, AES, and General Electric) recommended the US Congress base legislation on emission targets which would utterly fail to meet the requirements that science has shown would be necessary in order to have a chance to stabilize the climate.  They further recommended a loophole-ridden carbon trading approach that has already proven insufficient, promotes fossil fuel “business as usual”, is economically and environmentally risky, and has been soundly rejected by the environmental justice movement because of its impacts on poor, marginalized, and indigenous communities.

Given that USCAP’s blueprint provided a framework for the disastrous US climate legislation under consideration as of November 30, it has wielded considerable influence on climate policy even at the international level, setting a tone for an inadequate global response to climate change. It is therefore inexcusable that NRDC uses its influence to peddle scientifically unsound and dangerous government climate policy, while the grassroots environmental community has little access and influence in shaping policy.


As climate legislation is redrafted in the US Congress in early Spring 2010, it is critical that the leadership of the NRDC and similar groups are challenged to demand what is necessary. It is up to dedicated environmentalists to monitor and expose not only the false solutions but also the ‘environmental’ groups, which have traded their integrity for seats at the table, who are pushing them together with their polluting industry partners.

The new climate bill must have science-based targets that give our planet and its species a fighting chance and don’t peg our survival on carbon markets, pie-in-the-sky techno-fixes, or ’solutions’ that guarantee the long-term viability of oil, gas, or coal industries.

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