May 17, 2017
Best known for promoting private-school vouchers and welfare reform, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation is also using its financial muscle to undo Obama-era environmental regulations and support the work of global warming skeptics.
Internal documents show the Milwaukee-based foundation is funding think tanks and public relations campaigns to attack the credibility of what it describes as “radical” organizations that have raised worries about climate change and called for stronger regulation of oil and coal.
The funding is detailed in internal documents that were hacked last fall by a group calling itself Anonymous Poland. Hundreds of thousands of pages of records were temporarily posted online, downloaded and brought to the attention of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The documents show the foundation is using the same tactics as environmental groups, albeit with the opposite aim:
Bradley dollars have been used to fight federal regulations that limit emissions of carbon dioxide from power plants, challenge scientists who warn of the threat of rising levels of greenhouse gas and to tout the economic benefits of fossil fuels.
One example is the Washington, D.C.-based Competitive Enterprise Institute.
A November 2015 Bradley memo describing a $100,000 grant notes the conservative think tank “continues to aggressively use the federal Freedom of Information Act process to expose the collusion between (Environmental Protection Agency) officials and global warming alarmist groups.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a federal agency, says that “97% of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.”
Nevertheless, the debate over global warming policy has persisted, with critics — including many funded by Bradley — arguing the concerns are overblown.
They have also raised objections over the cost of making changes, such as those tied to the Obama administration’s plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants by about one-third by 2030.
Michael Grebe, president and chief executive officer of the Bradley Foundation from 2002 to July 2016, said the foundation under his leadership did not hold a formal position on man-made global warming.
“The foundation has supported some organizations that are skeptical — that the science actually bears out what’s been predicted or projected,” he said.
Bradley’s current CEO, Rick Graber, declined an interview on the foundation’s spending on energy and environmental issues. In an email, Graber said the expenditures are not a major focus of the organization and would not be in the future.
The internal records show the foundation issued at least $2.1 million in grants involving energy and environmental issues between 2013 and 2015, a period in which Bradley gave out about $112 million.
The money spent on energy and the environment is likely higher, but totals for some groups with multiple grants were often lumped together in the documents.
Taking on environmental groups
Bradley’s donations over the years have challenged the activities and claims of environmental groups.
In one instance, it provided $150,000 to Washington, D.C., public relations executive Rick Berman to launch a campaign starting in 2014 known as “Big Green Radicals,” which takes aim at national environmental organizations and some of their affluent supporters.
The money, according to a Bradley memo, went to the Center for Consumer Freedom — one of the several organizations Berman runs. The center has targeted labor unions, food activists and environmentalists.
According to the memo, Berman’s group conducted research profiles of the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the group Food and Water Watch. It also seeded “several thousand fans” on Facebook and posted videos disparaging — and sometimes poking fun — at the environmental left.
In one video, Big Green Radicals portrayed actor Robert Redford, a member of NRDC’s board of directors, as a hypocrite for opposing development of an eco-friendly housing development because of how close it was to his own Napa Valley home in California.
After the Beverly Hills City Council voted in 2014 to ban fracking, an oil-drilling technique, the group created a video deriding opponents as out of touch. In it, a woman standing on upscale Rodeo Drive said she agreed with the ban and tries to be energy conscious.
“When we go out on the weekends, we see no point in paying the valet three times when three of us get together,” she said. “(We) either drive the same car or Uber it.”
In 2014, Bradley donated $100,000 to the Madison-based Sand County Foundation to oppose “radical environmental groups” seeking to place the greater sage-grouse on the federal endangered species list in 11 western states, according to a memo.
Bradley officials were interested in protecting the bird, but through private efforts, not government ones.
The documents show the foundation’s view that environmentalists are using the Endangered Species Act to “curtail economic activities related to energy development through the use of fracking in the western part of the United States.”
The Sand County Foundation initiative was successful. In September 2015, the U.S. Interior Department announced it would not put the grouse on the endangered list.
A Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman said last week that the population of the grouse swings in 10- or 15-year cycles. Biologists are expected to conduct a review of its status in 2020, she said.
“The idea behind the project was to bring together energy developers and ranchers, both of whom were being blamed for the decline of the sage-grouse and have them develop proactive and positive conservation solutions,” said Kevin McAleese, president of the Sand County Foundation. “The idea was to reverse the role of being on the defensive to being on the offensive.”
Sand County has received $14.3 million from Bradley since 1992 to support voluntary efforts for soil and water conservation and to improve wildlife habitat.
“The principles that we shared were respect for property rights, liberty and voluntary local solutions to environmental problems,” McAleese said
Questioning climate change
In a 2013 ranking of energy and environmental recipients, Bradley named the Heartland Institute of Arlington Heights, Ill., the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research of New York as the best.
The organizations have expressed skepticism at times over the role humans play in climate change and have emphasized instead the economic costs of shifting away from fossil fuels.
In 2014 and 2015, Bradley gave a total of $175,000 to the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s energy and environment program, which is led by Myron Ebell who was in charge of President Donald Trump’s transition team at the EPA.
Ebell has been critical of what he calls “alarmism” of climate scientists who contend that increasing levels of greenhouse gas and warmer global temperatures are a cause of rising oceans and vanishing arctic ice.
Another recipient has been the Virginia-based CO2 Coalition, a group that has downplayed the harm of rising carbon dioxide levels — and cited what it describes as potential benefits of global warming, such as plants that grow faster and are more resistant to drought.
Formerly known as the George C. Marshall Institute, the organization has received more than $4 million from Bradley since 1986 for its work on a variety of issues, including environmental ones, according to the internal documents.
William Happer, a Princeton University professor emeritus of physics, heads the coalition. Happer was among those who were invited to meet with the president-elect at Trump Tower before the inauguration.
In 2015, Happer told a U.S. Senate subcommittee in 2015 that “few realize that the world has been in a CO2 famine for millions of years,” adding that “increased agricultural yields and modest warming far outweigh any harm” from rising levels of greenhouse gas.
Nick Surgey, director of research at the left-leaning Center for Media and Democracy, which tracks Bradley’s philanthropic activities, said science has already settled the question of human impact on the changing climate.
“The alarmists and their supporters’ whole purpose for existing are to try to suggest that there is a debate,” he said. “It is trying to create an idea in people’s minds that there is some debate about the fact that the climate is changing.”
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