Already scrambling to shield oyster beds along the Gulf Coast from the massive oil spill caused when the Deepwater Horizon rig caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20 and sank to the bottom two days later, the Nature Conservancy faces another challenge: a potential backlash from supporters angered by the revelation that BP, the giant oil company that was leasing the rig when it exploded and sank, is a major sponsor of the environmental organization, the Washington Post reports.
Indeed, the Nature Conservancy is not the only environmental group whose ties to BP threaten to undermine its relationship with donors — especially those who believe environmental groups should keep a healthy distance from corporations whose core mission poses risks to the environment. At least one environmental group, Conservation International, acknowledges that it is reassessing its ties to the oil giant, whose CEO, John Browne, sat on the CI board from 2000 to 2006.
TNC and other environmental groups argue that partnering with large companies in the resource-extraction business enables the companies to be part of the solution to the environmental problems they create. And the conservancy has made no secret of its relationship with BP, which has a seat on the organization' International Leadership Council and which, over the years, has donated more than $10 million in cash and land to the conservancy.
In the aftermath of the spill, however, some conservancy donors have expressed concerns that the organization has struck a deal with the devil, and whether the relationship between the conservancy and its donors suffers irreparable harm remains to be seen. "This is going to be a real test for charities such as the Nature Conservancy," said Dean Zerbe, a lawyer who investigated the conservancy's relations with its donors when he worked for the Senate Finance Committee. "This not only stains BP, but, if they don't respond properly, it also stains those who have been benefiting from their money and their support."