A federal judge recently rejected a lawsuit filed by environmental groups to prevent the U.S. Bureau of Land Management from issuing oil and gas leases for parts of central Nevada. The case represents a small battle in protracted war to de-industrialize the West.
The activists employ a familiar battle plan: Scope out an economic project, sue the government to block its approval, and sit back as legal costs mount. Recently, these groups have grown more litigious — “sue and settle” cases, where activists sue the government to negotiate settlements with often-friendly bureaucrats behind closed doors, more than doubled over the last few years.
But now a new tactic has emerged among some activists. In addition to filing more suits, more of them are using camouflage to disguise their true intentions.
Take Trout Unlimited, a group founded as an association of fly fishermen. While TU’s local chapters promote angling and conservation, its national office peddles a radical left-wing agenda. In the last two years alone, Trout Unlimited has protested BLM oil and gas lease sales in Wyoming and Utah. Most recently, BLM deferred development on several parcels in Colorado after Trout Unlimited and other groups filed protest letters.
You might ask: What interest do anglers have in blocking responsible energy development? To answer that question, follow the money.
Over the last five years, Trout Unlimited has hooked several wealthy liberal backers. For instance, Trout Unlimited has received millions of dollars from the Hewlett and Packard foundations, both based near San Francisco and both of which want to shut down affordable energy in the U.S., including coal and natural gas. Trout Unlimited has also received funds from the Pew Charitable Trusts, a left-wing environmental group that pushes expensive green energy.
All this camouflaged activism comes at the expense of Western jobs and economic growth. BLM is already notorious for slow-walking drilling permits: In 2012, it took the feds 228 days to approve the average permit to drill on federal lands, compared to just 27 days for Colorado's state government. Regulatory roadblocks erected by left-wing activists only exacerbate the delays, slowing energy development on federal lands to just a trickle.
A recent study by University of Wyoming professor Timothy Considine highlights the extent of the damage. He finds that seven Western states would have gained as much as $26 billion in gross regional product, up to 208,000 regional jobs, and as much as $5.1 billion in annual tax revenue — were it not for BLM delays and activist litigation.
Trout Unlimited is hardly the only green decoy fighting against jobs and economic growth. Last year, three other groups that claim to represent “sportsmen” joined Trout Unlimited to protest a scheduled BLM lease sale in western Colorado. These groups — Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, the Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership — also receive funding from liberal foundations to advance activist causes.
A look behind the veil and into the finances exposes the hidden agendas of groups that claim to support conservation and other worthwhile causes. In fact, many of these groups are backed by out-of-state radicals who simply oppose economic development.
Westerners would do well to watch out for these camouflaged activists. If the West was won with the blood and sweat of dreamers, it might be lost with the dark money and deep pockets of radical activists.Will Coggin is a senior research analyst at the Environmental Policy Alliance, a project of the non-profit Center for Organizational Research and Education. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions for editorials, available at this link.