Sierra Club Accepted 'Natural Gas Cash', Putting Reputation on the Line

As a result of an article in TIME magazine which reported that between 2007 and 2010 the Sierra Club accepted $26 million in donations from Chesapeake Energy while advocating against coal-fired power plants, many of the environmental group's supporters are feeling betrayed and misled, Politico reports.

Under the leadership of longtime executive director Carl Pope, the San Francisco-based organization received donations from "individuals or subsidiaries" of the Oklahoma-based natural gas company in support of the club's Beyond Coal campaign, which it claimed had helped stop the creation of more than a hundred and sixty new coal plants. The club's current executive director, Michael Brune, told Politico that the funds will not be returned to the company.

In response to the TIME article, Brune wrote a blog post in which he explained that the club believed at the time that "natural gas, while far from ideal as a fuel source, might play a necessary role in helping the United States reach the clean energy future "our children deserve." In 2010, after Brune took over the leadership reins at the organization, he convinced his board not to accept any more funds from Chesapeake and helped launch a campaign aimed at reforming the natural gas industry.

Although the Sierra Club now argues that it "opposes any natural gas development that poses unacceptable toxic risks," many environmentalists told Politico they feel betrayed by the organization for not disclosing its ties to the industry sooner, while others applaud the group for its honesty. "This represents an important and seismic shift at the big greens in general," said Josh Fox, 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."

Bob King. "Sierra Club Faces Gas-Cash Fallout." Politico 02/07/2012. Dan Berman. "Sierra Club Took $26M From Natural Gas." Politico 02/02/2012.