Mountains, controversy and philanthropy in Wyoming


Cross-Posted: http://philanthropynews.alliancemagazine.org/

The Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA )held its 24th annual fall retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, USA on 24-28 September in glorious autumn sunshine; I joined about 350 green philanthropists convened at Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park.

I want to give a shout out to fellow EGA board member Jon Cracknell of the UK-based JMG Foundation – a stalwart transatlantic EGA member who can be counted on to remind US environmental donors that the environment doesn’t end at the shores of the Atlantic and the Pacific. Jon diligently shepherds EGA’s ‘Tracking the Field’ research of environmental grantmaking, and is a founder of the UK Environmental Funders Network.

Grand Teton National Park is a spectacular 39,000-hectare park in the Rocky Mountain Range established by the US government in 1929 – amidst considerable controversy. Much of the surrounding valley was then owned by John D Rockefeller Jr, who planned to eventually donate his land to the National Park to prevent commercial development of the spectacular landscape. But Rockefeller’s plan was not popular with locals, who prevented the National Park Service from accepting the Rockefeller donation until the 1940s when President Franklin D. Roosevelt finally accepted Rockefeller’s donation and incorporated the land into the newly established Grand Teton National Monument, invoking the rarely used Antiquities Act, which enabled the president to set aside land for protection without the consent of Congress – which then made Congress unhappy. Congress then tried repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, to abolish Grand Tetons National Monument. The National Monument eventually became a National Park and the land has been protected ever since.

Such heated environmental controversies have become common in the US since the 1940s, but today very few people regret that permanent protection of the Grand Tetons and the Jackson Hole Valley. So, it was an auspicious location for the EGA retreat in 2011.

Ironically, my first association with the EGA was 22 years ago, in 1989, when I was the regional director of Greenpeace in San Francisco. The EGA was holding its second annual retreat in a downtown hotel when Greenpeace got word of the EGA’s plan to consider a new corporate member – the environmental bad-boy Waste Management Inc. The internal politics of EGA were already brewing with angst over the debate, since Waste Management was responsible for creating toxic waste sites around the country and was the defendant in pollution lawsuits. So, Greenpeace being Greenpeace, we decided to show up at the hotel with picket signs protesting the incongruent ethics of environmental philanthropy. Many EGA members took note and tried to block the admission of Waste Management into the environmental donors’ affinity group.

To complicate things further, the EGA was one of the first issue-specific donor affinity groups formally associated with the much larger and more indiscriminate Council on Foundations (CoF) – which meant that EGA was obliged to accept any CoF member into the membership of EGA. But many members of EGA were deeply uncomfortable with the CoF criteria, because it constituted a conflict of environmental ethics in forcing EGA to admit Waste Management Inc. – a convicted corporate polluter – as a member.

The creative minds of EGA’s leadership got engaged to solve the unusual ethical dilemma for environmental philanthropists. They realized that CoF’s standard for membership could have prevented them from blocking Waste Management’s membership in EGA so that they had three viable options; 1. Accept Waste Management Inc. as an EGA member and risk losing other members; 2. Block membership in EGA and then get kicked out of CoF; or 3. Adopt an EGA membership standard that forbids new members who had been convicted of an environmental crime.

What do you suppose they did?

Chet Tchozewski is the founder and a board member of Global Greengrants Fund