Environmental organizations are biting the hand that feeds them

Lawmakers have made it abundantly clear to bailed-out banks and automakers that federal money comes with strings attached. New rules on executive compensation are only the tip of the iceberg for TARP-funded banks. For bailed-out automakers, Congress has inserted itself into decisions about plant closings and dealerships. The president even fired GM’s CEO.

But environmental groups face few such restrictions, which is how they can victimize the taxpayer two- or even three-fold. They freely sue dozens of federal government agencies even as they take federal money. Sometimes they take the money and spend equivalent amounts lobbying Congress to restrict consumers’ freedoms. Some of them even pay their executives six-figure salaries.

Defenders of Wildlife, whose president makes more than $300,000 a year, has taken about $190,000 in federal grants since 2004. It’s now suing the government to protect aggressive wolves that were recently introduced to a mountainous region and have since ravaged game and impoverished shepherds and ranchers. The group spent nearly $150,000 in the first half of 2009 lobbying Congress to fight against a law allowing for wolf control, among other things. It also has received more than $80,000 in Web development work since 2006 from the Agriculture and Interior departments.

Not all the groups cause so much damage with your money, but they take it anyway. The Nature Conservancy — whose CEO makes $349,000 and is best known for purchasing land to prevent development — is a billion-dollar organization. That hasn’t stopped it from taking $14.4 million in grants from the Interior Department and receiving $50 million in federal contracts.

The more radical Forest Guardians is a true green believer which certainly doesn’t overpay: Its top employee makes only $46,000 per year. During the devastating forest fires in the West in 2002, it steadfastly opposed the reopening of fire roads and the thinning of at-risk forests unless “solar-powered chain saws” were used. Government grants accounted for 10 percent of its revenue in 2006, according to the IRS.

And just this year, the Natural Resources Defense Council put a leg aboard the federal gravy train. The famous public interest group, whose president made a modest $433,000 in 2007, has received a $750,000 government grant from the State Department to encourage the Chinese to use less energy. In addition to suing at least seven government agencies, including the Navy recently, the group also spent more than $400,000 in the first six months of 2009 lobbying Congress to require higher efficiency standards — and thus higher prices — for all appliances.

There’s nothing wrong with a gadfly — someone has to hold government accountable. But should you be forced to pay for it, especially when it comes from an ideology that could hurt your livelihood or even your life?

Gadflies might be parasites in nature, but the human ones don’t usually double as leeches.

David Freddoso is author of “The Case Against Barack Obama: The Unlikely Rise and Unexamined Agenda of the Media’s Favorite Candidate.”

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