Tagged ‘Nature Conservancy‘

NY gave environmental org. absurd $3.7M profit for forest | Nature Conservancy


Last Updated: 11:08 AM, April 5, 2010


ALBANY — Gov. Paterson’s administration handed an enormously wealthy environmental group a staggering 57 percent profit on a large tract of wilderness land — even as property values collapsed across New York, a probe by The Post has found.

The little-noticed green giveaway of taxpayer cash occurred in October 2008, as the state Department of Environmental Conservation paid The Nature Conservancy nearly $10 million for 20,000 acres of Adirondack wilderness that the group purchased for $6.3 million just a few years earlier.

Official state records examined by The Post and statements by local officials show the purchase price was heavily inflated and relied on outdated appraisals from a year earlier, when real-estate values in New York and other parts of the nation were still skyrocketing.

GREEN FEES: Adirondack Park official Frederick Monroe said the state “grossly overpaid” The Nature Conservancy for 20,000 acres of upstate wilderness.

Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board Executive Director Frederick Monroe said the state “grossly overpaid” for the property.

“I’ve suspected there’s some sort of close relationship between the state and TNC that resulted in this price, because it didn’t reflect the true market value,” Monroe said.

The price paid for the land was also out of line with property values recorded at the state Office of Real Property Services. Records for Clinton County show a mere 14.4 percent increase in value for forest land from the time The Nature Conservancy bought the property in January 2005 to when it sold it to the state, for inclusion in the park, in October 2008.

Several county and town officials insisted the state paid far too high a price for the land.

“This price was not indicative of property values in the area generally,” said James Gonyo, Clinton County’s director of real property tax services.

“The price paid was higher than we would have assessed it at and, as a result, we will not use it as a valid sale on which to base assessments in the future.”

Saranac Councilman Jerry Delaney, in whose town the bulk of the land is located, called the sale “a horrible deal all the way around.

“Ten percent a year is a good return on land, but 57 percent in three years? I think it’s clear the state has a cozy relationship with The Nature Conservancy.”

Sources told The Post that Paterson — and former governors George Pataki and Eliot Spitzer, in office when the appraisals were conducted — viewed the conservancy as an influential organization whose support they wanted.

“Paterson, Spitzer and Pataki saw the ‘enviros’ as the good guys with lots of influential friends, and their view was, ‘If they can give them a few extra million dollars of public money, why not?’ ” said a prominent New York official, who has had contact with The Nature Conservancy.

Pataki selected prominent Manhattan lawyer Ira Millstein in 2004 — a year after he was named to a special Nature Conservancy advisory panel — to draft governance principles for state authorities.

The price paid to the preservation group also appears to contradict a pledge made by TNC when it acquired the heavily wooded land from Domtar, an international lumber and paper company.

A press release issued at the time said TNC promised to “hold the land on behalf of New York state” and quoted Pataki referring to the environmental group as a “partner” with the state.

The statement suggested to many that New York intended to reimburse TNC for the cost of acquisition, plus any expenses, once it had the funds to complete the purchase.

TNC, which has $6 billion in assets and employs 3,500 people, has an extremely close working relationship with the DEC and even has members of its staff working in the agency’s Albany headquarters as part of a natural heritage program.

Connie Prickett, a spokeswoman for TNC, said, “The question of why the state paid that much is a question that needs to be directed to the state.”

The practice appears to be continuing.

The Post has learned that a Paterson-administration plan to buy a large tract of land near the state-owned Belleayre Mountain in the Catskills is being blocked by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli out of concern that Albany is preparing to spend “millions more” than the property is worth, said a source.

DEC spokesman Yancy Roy conceded the 2008 crash of the national economy is a legitimate question,” but he insisted the wheels of state government just turn too slowly for the falling property values of the Adirondack land to have been addressed.

“Key elements of the transaction had occurred before then,” said Roy.

“The state process is much slower than, say, a private home sale. It takes months,” continued Roy. “The notion that the state wanted to ‘reward’ TNC is absurd.”
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Noel Kempff project is ‘saving the forest’ by forcing destruction elsewhere

Forest conservation project in Bolivia proves that unless a nation as a whole cuts deforestation, individual carbon offset schemes are worthless.

REDD and the rainforest in the Noel Kempff Mercado National Park,  in the Amazon Basin, BoliviaThe rainforest in the Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, Bolivia. Photograph: Pablo Corral Vega/Corbis

It is the ultimate greenwash nightmare. A tough international deal to curb emissions of greenhouse gases is passed in Mexico later this year. Companies then meet their targets not by cutting their own pollution but by buying into hundreds of forest “conservation” projects round the world. But those projects then fail to deliver real benefits for forests or staunch the flow of carbon into the atmosphere.

Some big-time green groups prosper but the planet burns.

Exhibit A in this doomsday scenario is a 14-year-old forest conservation project in Bolivia called the Noel Kempff Climate Action Project, one of the world’s largest schemes to fix carbon in protected forests. It is the brainchild of the US green group The Nature Conservancy and industrial partners, including the oil company BP and America’s largest burner of coal, American Electric Power.

The Noel Kempff project is hailed by The Nature Conservancy as a model for the operation of Redd (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) – the international plan to allow countries and companies to offset their carbon emissions by investing in preventing the destruction of forests.

Like much else, negotiations on Redd stalled in Copenhagen last December. But it is still on the agenda for agreement when talks resume in Cancun next December.

Some think such projects could scupper Redd though. Last autumn Greenpeace dubbed the Neol Kempff project a “carbon scam”.

The $10m project, launched back in 1996, doubled the size of an existing national park and sought to project more than 800,000 hectares of forest, while testing the idea of running a forest as a verifiable carbon sink. It currently employs 27 rangers. With deforestation thought responsible for an estimate 17% of carbon emissions, the stakes are high.

The problem, however, is summed up in one word: leakage. That is jargon for what happens when the loggers put their chainsaws in the back of a pickup, drive down the road to the next forest, and resume activities. In other words, can protecting one place prevent the forces of forest destruction from simply moving elsewhere?

This is hard to do. Since the start of the Noel Kempff project, deforestation rates in Bolivia have gone up. So the argument is that one-off carbon offsetting projects do not deliver real benefits to the atmosphere unless governments undertake much wider efforts to curb deforestation.

For this reason Greenpeace is not alone in believing that Redd should only compensate at the national level. No awarding of carbon credits for “sub-national” projects like Noel Kempff. In other words: unless a nation as a whole cuts deforestation, then nobody gets any carbon credits. Only that way can you stop leakage wrecking it.

But groups such as the Nature Conservancy strongly disagree. They have a clear institutional interest. Their main activity is buying or managing land for conservation. It says there are good reasons for backing sub-national projects and has lobbied hard to ensure they stay in the UN’s plans.

The Nature Conservancy says “national-scale accounting is the ultimate goal” of Redd. “However, a transition period should be allowed in which sub-national or project-scale activities can generate credits for sale in compliance markets.”

It adds that “this type of activity will need to be accomplished at a much larger scale to make a significant difference to greenhouse gas emissions”. And that is where the difference arises. The Nature Conservancy thinks sub-national projects will result in “learning by doing“; its critics think they will fatally undermine the whole enterprise.

While hailed as a model, the Noel Kempff project does not augur well for being able to measure carbon in forests. By 2004, the corporate partners in the project had reported offsets of 7.4m tonnes of CO2. But in 2005 a new evaluation cut that figure to just over 1m.

But even this could turn out to be an over-estimate. The 2005 audit shaved 16% off claimed offsets to account for leakage. Greenpeace cites a report from Winrock International, a non-profit consultancy, saying the long-term leakage figure could be much higher.

How would this play out in the carbon markets? Under the Noel Kempff plan, 51% of the emissions reductions achieved by the project can be claimed as offsets by corporate partners like AEP and BP. The remaining 49% goes to the Bolivian government. The original plan was to sell the emissions reductions on the Chicago Climate Exchange, which trades in voluntary carbon offsets.

Both AEP and BP told the Guardian this week that they had not offset any of their emissions as a result of the Noel Kempff project. BP said: “The project has not yet generated any carbon credits and BP has received no credits from it.”

AEP, which burns 77m tonnes of coal annually in the US, uses the project to burnish its environmental image. It advertises its support for the Noel Kempff project on its website as part of its corporate citizenship activities.

It says that the company is “committed to combating tropical deforestation and putting in place criteria to ensure that forest offsets can be part of the toolkit for addressing global climate change”. Both BP and AEP referred questions about the progress of the project to The Nature Conservancy.

It says Greenpeace’s description of the Noel Kempff project as a scam was “an attempt to discredit emissions offsets that businesses might claim by supporting such efforts in the future”. Rather, it says, the project was a pioneering activity from which much has been learned. AEP agrees. It says: “The reduction in the offsets from the project should be viewed as a validation, not criticism, of the project as it demonstrates that [The Nature Conservancy] and the project funders were willing to adjust the offset amounts based on improved science.”

But have the right lessons been learned? Better carbon accounting is of course a good thing. But if the Noel Kempff project is truly a model for a future world of carbon markets rooting in rainforest conservation projects, it suggests real problems ahead. If companies with environmental reputations to defend can become bogged down in charges of greenwash, what about the bad guys?

Grass-Roots Organizer Jumps From Nature Conservancy to American Petroleum Institute – API

Spooner, 42, doesn’t see the move from Nature Conservancy to API as that big of a jump…. “At the end of the day, I don’t necessarily believe that the views of [the Nature Conservancy] and API are incompatible,” Spooner added.

February 26, 2010

Grass-Roots Organizer Jumps From Nature Conservancy to API

By ANNE C. MULKERN of Greenwire

The oil industry’s biggest trade group has nabbed one of the environmental community’s top grass-roots organizers as it ramps up efforts to build a network of citizen lobbyists.

Deryck Spooner, who ran Nature Conservancy’s push to spur legislative action on climate change, will now head American Petroleum Institute’s grass-roots activism arm. The hiring move sends a nervous flutter through environmental groups. By recruiting Spooner, green groups said, API adds someone with both credibility and deep knowledge of grass-roots strategy. Spooner previously ran campaigns for labor group AFL-CIO and abortion rights organization NARAL.

“He’s a big dog,” said Tyson Slocum, energy program director at watchdog group Public Citizen. “It gives API somebody with enormous grass-roots experience running major campaigns. This indicates that API is taking their grass-roots strategy in a very serious direction.”

The move comes two months after the trade group cut 15 percent of its staff and President Jack Gerard said API had “not been as effective as we could be in educating public officials or the public about the critical role of oil and gas in our economy. … You will see us evolve into a more nimble, more aggressive” organization. “We’re going to be aggressive in our outreach to educate the public,” he said (E&ENews PM, Dec. 11, 2009).

Hiring Spooner is part of Gerard’s strategy to expand grass-roots activism, API spokeswoman Cathy Landry said, adding, “Jack’s vision is to mobilize the 9.2 million people whose jobs rely on the oil and gas industry. We do plan to step that up.”

API’s community activism last year sparked controversy, as environmental critics accused the trade group of steering employees to rallies aimed at killing climate legislation. API said the rallies allowed both employees and other citizens to voice concerns that climate legislation would raise energy prices and affect jobs.

Spooner, 42, doesn’t see the move from Nature Conservancy to API as that big of a jump.

“I have worked for vastly different organizations throughout my career,” Spooner said. “The bottom line is it’s all about advocacy, that’s what I’m passionate about. Mobilizing and organizing people to influence the public process and public policy is what I truly love to do.”

“At the end of the day, I don’t necessarily believe that the views of [the Nature Conservancy] and API are incompatible,” Spooner added. API members use technology “to ensure that the places that they drill are not impacted,” Spooner said, while the Nature Conservancy uses a scientific approach in deciding where to protect land and water. API members, he said, “don’t just want to drill anywhere for drilling’s sake. There’s a lot of science going into where they drill.”

The Nature Conservancy’s director of U.S. climate policy, Eric Haxthausen, said in an e-mail that Spooner “left the Nature Conservancy on good terms and we wish him well.” Haxthausen did not respond to a question about whether the goals of the Nature Conservancy conflict with those of API. Nature Conservancy, which in terms of assets is the biggest environmental group in the United States, is considered one of the more politically conservative green groups. It allows corporate sponsorships and has permitted oil and gas drilling on some of the land it holds in trust.

Other environmental activists, however, characterized the missions of API and most green groups as far apart.

“There’s no useful contribution that the American Petroleum Institute is making to forwarding our energy economy,” said Kert Davies, research director for Greenpeace. “They’ve been at the center of campaigns to derail climate progress for 20 years.”

Ramping up grass-roots efforts with Spooner shows API believes that’s what’s necessary to achieve its goals, he said.

“They know that ultimately it’s going to come down to a grass-roots toe-to-toe battle on energy policy,” Davies said. And having Spooner at API gives the oil trade group new advantages, he said, including information about environmental group strategies.

“That’s a little unnerving,” Davis said. “That’s not something that we really want to take place.”

Spooner isn’t saying what he has planned for API just yet, but in an e-mailed biography, he described his role as coordinating API’s “efforts to develop, mobilize and sustain a political infrastructure of individuals, groups, and coalitions to advance API’s priority advocacy issues with elected officials.” He also said he knows “how to build relationships with influential individuals, and what it takes to win the support of policy makers and opinion leaders of public policy goals.”

He jumped to API in part, Spooner said, because Gerard is committed to political advocacy. Because Nature Conservancy is a nonprofit organization, Spooner said, he was limited in how much he could engage political activism. He worked mostly with local chapters and guided trustees to seek legislative action. At API, he said, he can create a grass-roots network of employees, contractors and the public.

With his campaign experience, Slocum said, Spooner is likely to help API prioritize members of Congress the group wants to influence, and then mobilize activism in those lawmakers’ districts and states.

“I would imagine with everything that’s at stake, they’re going to have a multiyear strategy,” Slocum said. “It’s a much more surgical strike than just running ads on TV.”

Oil worker’s son

Spooner learned activism early, growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, where as a child he attended many rallies with his parents and grandfather.

“It takes the process of voting and engagement to another level,” Spooner said. “That’s where I got a lot of my passion.”

He’s also the son of an engineer who worked for Amoco, an oil company that later became part of BP PLC. Spooner went out to oil rigs with his father.

“It’s part of who I am, too,” Spooner said.

Spooner worked for NARAL and then AFL-CIO, where he ran the campaigns for candidates the groups had decided to back, as well as helped mobilize voters who would support those candidates. While in his role at NARAL in 2002, Spooner made $500 in campaign contributions to the Friends of Al Gore’s political action committee.

He moved to Nature Conservancy in 2007 and focused on global warming, which Spooner described as “one of the most important issues of our time.”

He doesn’t see his position at API as abandoning that principle.

“Engaging many voices in the solution to climate change is the only way to guarantee success,” Spooner said. “Coming to API gives me the opportunity to further that conversation.”

Spooner pointed to U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a coalition pushing for congressional action on climate change, as an example of a group that united environmental groups and oil companies including BP and ConocoPhillips. BP and ConocoPhillips left U.S. CAP last week, however, saying that climate legislation has failed to recognize the importance of natural gas and disadvantaged oil and gas companies compared with coal interests.

“What you had was a really good conversation there because you had both businesses and environmental groups working together,” Spooner said. “What happened is that the issue got politicized. But I think again once you bring as many voices into the solution and everyone has opportunity to be equal in the discussion … then you’ll have the opportunity to take the issue to another level.”

While Davies with Greenpeace called API a roadblock to good climate policy, Spooner rejected that the trade group worked to keep climate legislation from moving forward.

“How is that possible when you have members of API being on U.S. CAP?” Spooner said. “The principles U.S. CAP came up with [were] the principles that were adopted by Congress at some level.” (The House-passed climate bill largely used a blueprint from U.S. CAP.)

When asked about API’s opposition to major elements of climate legislation, Spooner said that “what you have is a very diverse organization here with multiple different issues. API is an association that … sort of helps wade through those multiple different issues. What API wants is a really good climate bill at the end of the day,” Spooner added.

More ‘Energy Citizens’?

While Spooner is still evaluating the best ways to motivate grass-roots action on API’s goals, he said that his central principle is education.

“You’ve got to make people feel they are part of something,” Spooner said. “When you look at what’s going on right now in America, energy security is one of the biggest things.” He cited API’s statistics that oil and gas companies are tied to 7.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and 9.2 million American jobs.

“It’s a real good opportunity to have a conversation, a dialogue with Americans and move them to the next level to decide to put pressure on public policy,” Spooner said, adding “How do I do it? Have a conversation.”

API last summer belonged to a coalition that organized and ran a grass-roots effort called Energy Citizens. It followed passage of the House climate bill and featured those rallies where oil company workers and other people came to talk about their concerns. FreedomWorks, the American Conservative Union and Americans for Tax Reform also belonged to the coalition behind the campaign.

“That will be something Deryck will be looking at in the future,” Landry said, adding, “that will be one of the things in his portfolio.”

Environmental groups criticized Energy Citizens as fake grass roots, or “AstroTurf.” Most of the rallies were organized by registered lobbyists working on behalf of API and other energy interests (E&ENews PM, Aug. 21, 2009). API has said that the rallies represented the views of much of the public regardless of who served as organizers.

The mission of Energy Citizens last summer was to stop momentum on the climate bill that passed the House in June, Greenpeace’s Davies said.

Spooner sees the goal of such rallies differently.

“When you look at Energy Citizens, it’s a coalition of Americans. We have real voices that really care about the energy issue,” Spooner said. “To call it AstroTurf, that’s again, politicizing it. These are real people; these are real Americans who really care about the issue.”

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