Campaign against Canadian Keystone XL pipeline driven by US foundation millions

David Martosko Executive Editor
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A Powerpoint presentation obtained by The Daily Caller shows that during a July 2008 meeting, the $789 million Rockefeller Brothers Fund proposed to coordinate and fund a dozen environmental and anti-corporate activist groups’ efforts to scuttle pipelines carrying tar sands oil from Canada to the United States.

The most recent incarnation of that pipeline plan, the Keystone XL project, was the subject of intense public controversy until the Obama administration rejected it in January.

The 2008 meeting consisted of presentations from Rockefeller Brothers Fund program officer Michael Northrop, Corporate Ethics International Executive Director Michael Marx, Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Susan Casey-Lefkowitz and the director of a Canadian activist group called the Pembina Institute.

(RELATED: See the 2008 Powerpoint slideshow)

Northrop’s presentation described the extraction of oil from Canada’s vast tar sands oil deposits as a threat to environmentalists’ efforts to curb global warming. He outlined a “globally significant response” consisting of a “network of leading US and Canadian NGOs” engaged in a “coordinated campaign structure.”

TheDC made repeated requests for comments from Northrup, Marx and Casey-Lefkowitz. None of them responded.

The subject of U.S. interests raining money on environmental organizations north of the border is a front-burner issue in Canada.

On Jan. 15, Alison Redford, the premier of the Canadian province of Alberta, told a Global News television host that she resents some Americans’ use of hidden money and secretive agendas to affect Canadian energy policy. “I don’t like the fact that there are people that would try to hijack this process for their own political ends,” Redford said.

“It’s not about the money. It’s about the transparency of the process.”

Concerns about that lack of transparency found their vent on Feb. 9 when Brian Jean, a Conservative member of the Canadian Parliament, called for legislation to ban deep-pocketed foreigners from bankrolling what he called Canada’s “radical” green movement.

In retrospect, Northrop’s proposal and others like it appear to be squarely in Jean’s crosshairs. Northrop’s presentation promised funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation in the amount of $7 million per year. Named in the presentation were 12 participating environmental pressure groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund and the Sierra Club.

According to Canadian writer and researcher Vivian Krause, U.S. foundations have poured more than $300 million into Canadian environmental groups since 2000. One foundation, endowed by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, has been single-handedly responsible for $92 million of that total, Krause wrote Jan. 17 in Canada’s Financial Post. Foundations flush with the wealth of computer pioneers William Hewlett and David Packard, she added, sent another $90 million to wage green-politics wars in the Great White North.

“Canadians can take care of Canada,” Krause told TheDC. “The Rockefellers and other billionaire philanthropists should spend their money reducing poverty in the U.S. and around the world, not on manipulating markets, swaying investment capital and protecting trade interests.”

Krause argued in the Financial Post that one outgrowth of demonizing oil development in Canada is an atmosphere in America that favors green-energy subsidies like the now-infamous Solyndra debacle. That company, a solar panel manufacturer, declared bankruptcy in 2011 after receiving $535 million in loan guarantees — funds that U.S. taxpayers ultimately had to pay the company’s creditors.

“The campaign against Canadian oil, put on steroids by U.S. foundations, has created a negative foil,” Krause wrote, “a background of bad press and fear without which it would have been more difficult to push through the billions in U.S. government grants, loans and subsidies that were made in the U.S. in order to develop renewable energy.”

Mississippi Republican Rep. Alan Nunnelee told TheDC that “Solyndra-style boondoggles” provide a strong argument against stalling the Keystone XL pipeline, and that President Obama has had longstanding alliances with environmental groups opposed to oil and gas development.

“It speaks volumes about the president’s priorities that he would side with big, radical environmentalist groups like these over American jobs and energy security,” Nunnelee told TheDC through a spokesman. “They are committed to regulating and taxing reliable energy supplies out of the market to make way for more Solyndra-style boondoggles.”

“If the president is re-elected, this type of activity will just be the tip of the iceberg.”

Nunnelee noted in a Nov. 4, 2011 House floor speech that Keystone ultimately won’t determine whether or not oil is extracted from Alberta’s tar sands.

“Canada is going to develop their resources,” he said. “And if we do not want their oil, that supply will go elsewhere, to our competitors such as China.”

In the face of all that supply and demand, $7 million per year in foundation largesse may seem small. But green groups have proven their ability to squeeze value from a dollar when they have an organized, specific campaign to spend it on — and foot-soldiers to carry green spears into battle.

Speaking for the anti-corporate campaign group Corporate Ethics International at the July 2008 meeting, Michael Marx outlined such a campaign. His idea was an unambiguous plan designed to “raise the costs” of pursuing pipeline projects, increase the public-opinion “negatives” of extracting oil from the Canadian tar sands fields and “slow down and stop infrastructure” before it could be built.

Canada’s tar sands, among the world’s largest, consist of concentrated bitumen deposits mixed with sand, clay and water. Unlike free-flowing crude oil, bitumen is a thick, paste-like form of petroleum that must be heated by steam injection and refined to remove the surrounding sand and clay before it can be used as an energy source.

The strategic plan Marx described in his presentation took the form of five separate “tracks,” to be implemented simultaneously in a carefully coordinated effort to prevent energy development and extraction. While one set of tracks was to “stop/limit pipelines and refinery expansions,” another would “force tar sands water, toxics, and land reforms,” presumably working to erect regulatory hurdles that would hamper approvals and practical infrastructure work.

Meanwhile, additional funding was to be directed to groups that would “significantly reduce future demand for tar sands oil.” Marx’s slide describing this strategic plank featured a photograph of a Greenpeace “Stop The Tar Sands” poster.

Other tracks involved funding organizations to “leverage the tar sands debate for policy victories in the US and Canada,” and to “generate unity” around the future of renewable energy sources and “sell it to decision-makers.”

Overlaid on this campaign structure, Marx’s presentation called for a “steering committee” comprised of coordinators, funding organizations, representative from activist campaign groups, and the Tides [Foundation] Tar Sands Fund.

The $7 million per year price tag, according to the presentation he delivered, was to be allocated to lawsuits, organization efforts, education campaigns and legislative lobbying.

Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, told TheDC that Marx’s strategy mirrors the Obama administration’s approach to fossil-fuel development.

“Sadly, at a time when our economy continues to struggle and unemployment remains sky high,” Inhofe said, “the president is working closely with radical green groups with the goal to ‘raise the costs’ of our energy and ‘slow down and stop infrastructure’ through legal suits and regulations.”

“This is further proof that President Obama’s decision to deny the Keystone XL Pipeline was to advance his radical global warming agenda,” Inhofe said.

During the July 2008 meeting, Susan Casey-Lefkowitz described specific steps the Natural Resources Defense Council was prepared to take in support of the larger campaign to hamper development of petroleum reserves in Canada’s tar sands. Among them was a campaign to “fight infrastructure subsidies” to pipeline companies and an effort to persuade local governments to adopt procurement resolutions eliminating tar-sands oil from their municipal energy plans, reducing demand for the product.

“The Midwest and Western regions of the United States,” Casey-Lefkowitz’s presentation said, “are ripe for regional campaigns focused on tar sands oil.”

She also described an ambitious anti-corporate campaign aimed at “rais[ing] the financial risks” for banks and investors dealing with energy issues involving oil from tar sands sources.

Her plan’s goals, according to her presentation, were to “raise [the] investment risk profile of toxics, health liability, water limitations, infrastructure limitations and global warming pollution” and “[p]revent the proposed modification of [Securities Exchange Commission] reserves reporting rules that would reward and encourage further tar sands exploitation.”

In the end, the money Northrop proposed for fighting Canadian tar sands development materialized — and then some.

Tax records from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund indicate that it sent $1.25 million to Michael Marx’s organization, Corporate Ethics International, between December 2007 and November 2010. The money was earmarked “to coordinate the initial steps of a markets campaign to stem demand for tar sands derived fuels in the United States.” The Fund has not yet filed its tax return for 2011.

Among other initiatives, Corporate Ethics International launched a campaign in July 2010 to persuade American and British travelers to avoid visiting Alberta while tar sands exploration was underway. Tourism brings $5 billion to Alberta, making it one of the Canadian province’s biggest industries.

“Alberta can’t destroy an area the size of England by producing the world’s most polluting oil and still be known for Banff [National Park],” Marx said in a press release.

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the second philanthropy Northrop mentioned in 2008 as a partner in the concerted effort to stop tar sands oil development, contributed far more.

Its tax returns indicate expenditures of more than $17.5 million targeted at tar sands oil development, including more than $15.4 million to the left-wing Tides Foundation and the affiliated Tides Canada Foundation. At the time, Tides was led by progressive millionaire Drummond Pike, and by ACORN co-founder and AFL-CIO organizer Wade Rathke.

A newer philanthropy, the Sea Change Foundation, also sent Tides $2 million in 2009, all of it to “promote awareness of an opposition to tar sands.” Another $3.75 million to Tides followed in 2010.

Funded by Renaissance Technologies hedge fund founder James Simons and his son, Nathaniel, Sea Change gave away $120 million between 2008 and 2010 in connection with energy-related issue activism. More than $18 million more of the Simons’ philanthropic funding in 2009 and 2010 went to organizations named in Northrop’s 2008 presentations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the World Wildlife Fund and Ceres, Inc., although Sea Change did not disclose the specific purpose of those grants.

Smaller tar sands-related contributions to Tides came from the Oak Foundation, endowed by Duty Free Shoppers tycoon Alan Parker; the New York Community Trust; and the Schmidt Family Foundation, whose millions come from Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife Wendy.

Tides, in turn, made at least $8.6 million in grants to 44 different organizations, each time specifically mentioning its “tar sands campaign.” Funds went to Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, Forest Ethics, the Rainforest Action Network and dozens of others. Fully $2.2 million of that total went to Michael Marx’s Corporate Ethics International.

“We’re not surprised they were funded,” American Petroleum Institute spokeswoman Sabrina Fang told TheDC. “Really, this isn’t about the pipeline. These people don’t want fossil fuels to be used at all.”

Fang, like Rep. Nunnelee and Sen. Inhofe, quickly shifted the topic back to President Obama.

“The president has been getting help from his allies on this,” she said. “These are President Obama’s friends and it’s an election-year issue.”

“Obama approved the [Alberta] Clipper pipeline” in 2009,” she recalled. “The only difference was that he wasn’t running for re-election.”

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