Bush brings more green into the green movement

by Ray Ring

"Bush has been good to us," says Kevin Lind, director of the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a small Wyoming environmental group that pressures coalbed-methane drillers to behave responsibly.

Lind doesn't mean that President George W. Bush has suddenly become benevolent or relaxed his hard-line anti-green stance. Rather, he means that during Bush's reign in the White House, the Powder River Basin Resource Council has prospered. Donors and foundations, concerned about the administration's support of drilling, have upped their contributions, and the council's annual revenue has doubled since 2000.

With the additional money, the council has doubled its staff to six full-timers and one part-timer. They've upgraded their computers and bought two used cars for staff use (nothing fancy: a 10-year-old Toyota and a 12-year-old Pontiac). It's a widespread trend. Many environmental groups, from the behemoth Nature Conservancy down to tiny local groups, have shown impressive growth during the Bush era. Revenues are the basic indicator. The increased funding comes from many sources, including grants for restoration projects, and lawsuit victories, when groups win sizable reimbursements for their lawyers' time.

Clearly, when it comes to money, the environmental movement is doing well. But progress on the ground remains iffy. In the Powder River Basin, for instance, drillers have installed about 40,000 methane wells and aim to do another 12,000 or more. The Powder River Basin Resource Council has helped push the Wyoming Legislature to pass a couple of laws to mitigate the impact, including a reform of "split-estate" regulations, giving landowners more leverage in wrestling with drillers who own mineral rights. Lately the council has focused on restoring damaged habitats in gasfields and managing the industry's wastewater, and it's branching out to work on coalfield and uranium-mining issues. "Making headway is difficult in Wyoming," Lind says, because the extractive industries run the state.

Some groups have increased their capacity for battle by merging. "We wanted to get out of the box of being perceived as a local or New Mexico group," says John Horning, director of WildEarth Guardians. The Santa Fe-based group, which used to be called Forest Guardians, just merged with the Colorado pro-carnivore group Sinapu to form WildEarth. Now, WildEarth has full-scale offices in New Mexico and Colorado, with 15 full-time staffers and three part-times, and it expects total revenues of roughly $1.5 million this year - more than double the total for both groups in 2000. "We're now a full-service organization," Horning says, able to devote more effort to community politicking and lawsuits, such as the two it just filed on wolf issues in both states.

There is one cloud looming on the money horizon, though: the nationwide economic downturn. Donors and foundations might choose to trim their contributions. "This year will be interesting," Horning says. But he and other leaders believe that in the long term, as the public becomes more aware of global warming and other environmental crises, the movement will continue to thrive.

Here's a sampling of environmental groups that are active in the West, showing their annual revenue for the 2000 and 2006 fiscal years (the numbers for 2007 are not readily available in many cases). Keep in mind that inflation from 2000 to 2006 totaled 17 percent, so the groups had to grow that much just to keep even. Doing particularly well, we notice, are the private-land conservation groups, groups focusing on energy issues, and those representing endangered species.

The author is the magazine's senior editor. Evelyn Schlatter contributed to this report.

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