The Sierra Club, a 120 year old environmental watchdog group, secretly took $26 million dollars from the Natural Gas Industry. The money was used primarily to fund their "Beyond Coal" Campaign, according to an article published in Politico on Tuesday. Sierra's Executive Director, Michael Brune, admitted that the Club accepted the $26 million dollars between 2007 and 2010 to promote the use of cleaner Natural Gas as a bridge fuel to replace coal to generate electricity. According to the article, much of the money came from the Gas Industry Giant Chesapeake Energy Corp. A similar story also ran in the New York Times.
The Sierra Club is hardly unique among the big green groups in expressing a preference for natural gas over coal, although the spread of fracking has punctured holes in that consensus, according to the Politico stroy.
Many Sierra Club members were angered and felt betrayed by the news, including Lisa Wright, a former Sierra Club member from New York who resigned last year because of the Clubs "high-level association with the gas industry", said Politico. The news cut especially deep for activists who have spent years fighting the spread of shale gas drilling in states like New York and Pennsylvania. On the other side of the controversy, criticism came from a United Mine Workers spokesperson, who said: "Now we know why this so-called independent organization has been such an advocate for another form of fossil fuel and against using cutting-edge technology that would make using coal to generate electricity just as clean as Natural Gas.
Brune, discovered the Gas Industry contributions when he took over as Executive Director in 2010 from Carl Pope. Brune urged the Board to stop accepting donations, but did not recommend returning any of the money already received. He did however keep the contributions secret, saying last week (after the admission resulting from reporters questions) that it gives the organization the ability to "have our hands clean" as the nation engages in a critical debate about gas production. Others proclaimed that the Sierra Club, now unburdened of its secrets, will be liberated to become a full-throated ally in the fight against fracking.
"This represents an important and seismic shift at the big greens in general", said Josh Fox, the director of the Oscar-nominated documentary "Gasland". I think this means the Sierra Club is saying we cannot go down the road of a gas-powered future", Fox said. He added, "It would be great if our government followed suit and our politicians stopped taking money from the gas industry as well", quoted Politico.
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