A Trump Backlash Is Turning The Environmental Movement Even Greener

Dec 18, 2016
Originally published on December 16, 2016 12:50 pm

Even before President-elect Donald Trump named Rex Tillerson, Rick Perry and Scott Pruitt for coveted Cabinet posts, the men topped the environmental movement’s 10 most wanted list.

Now some of the nation’s biggest green groups are turning the Exxon Mobil CEO, former Texas Governor and Oklahoma attorney general into poster children for one of the most successful environmental fundraising campaigns in modern history.

In the past four weeks, donations to San Francisco-based EarthJustice are skyrocketing, says vice president of development Mollie Fager.

“In terms of major giving, and we would qualify that for our purposes, for gifts that are greater than 10 thousand dollars a year, we’ve seen about a 300 percent increase, and in the last four weeks, over 11 million dollars raised for our work and in response to the President-elect Trump and his Administration.”

In the past year, contributions have quadrupled and the number of first time online donors increased sevenfold, Fager says. That’s significant because in the environmental movement, EarthJustice is the tip of the spear.

Other environmental groups rely on EarthJustice’s 120 attorneys when they head to court. EarthJustice is currently embroiled in more than 300 lawsuits and most noticeably represents the Standing Rock Sioux in its fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. In Florida, EarthJustice is challenging the way the Legislature spent millions of Amendment 1 dollars voters wanted for land conservation.

EarthJustice Florida managing attorney Tania Galloni says Florida has much to lose from a Trump Administration dominated by climate change skeptics and deniers.

“In Florida you can see the effects of climate change just about everywhere and it’s not something hypothetical, it’s not something to speculate about, it’s happening here and now. And the notion that we would be putting people at the highest level of government who don’t even acknowledge that this is happening is frightening.”

Tillerson’s Exxon Mobil has been linked to a secret campaign to cloud public perception about climate change. The former Texas Governor has strong ties to the oil industry and promised to eliminate the Department of Energy that Trump now wants him to head. The Oklahoma attorney general is a climate change denier who has sued the Environmental Protection Agency, which he frequently accuses of overreach.

Trump’s controversial lineup is causing a surge in online newsletter subscriptions and web page traffic, says Aubudon of Florida executive director Eric Draper. Draper is especially concerned about a Pruitt-led EPA.

Oklahoma is already being called the “earthquake state,” because of the seismic activity resulting from widespread hydraulic fracturing, Draper says.

“The person that’s been the biggest champion of all that fracking activity is now going to be the head of the EPA. It really is outrageous. I think that we’re very, very concerned.”

The Sierra Club, another environmental icon, registered 9 thousand new monthly donors since Election Day, more than it logged in the previous 11 months combined. Sierra Club Florida lobbyist David Cullen says in a sense, Trump is making it easier to sell the environmental message.

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“The election campaign is over, but you still have the base on either side and you have persuadables. And I think that it will probably make things easier to talk to persuadables, particularly given the obvious implications of the Cabinet selections.”

The backlash is bleeding over into other progressive groups as well. The American Civil Liberties Union raked in 940 thousand dollars from 14 thousand donors on November 9 alone, a record for the 94-year-old group.

Meanwhile, EarthJustice is gearing up for a busy four years, Fager says.

“This looks by far much worse than the Bush administration in terms of reasonableness and rationale around the environment so we’re preparing as much as we possibly can, financially, and strategically, to be ready.”

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