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Bush officials, Environmental Defense Fund join in appeal to conservatives

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Jim Connaughton, above, was widely expected to play a prominent role in a Romney administration's environmental policy. He was director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality under President George W. Bush. (AP Photo)

Former environmental officials from President George W. Bush's administration gather today on Capitol Hill in an effort financed by the Environmental Defense Fund to cultivate support for "conservation programs, practices and policies centered on conservative and libertarian philosophic perspectives."

Heading the initiative known as the Conservation Leadership Council are former Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, former Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer and Jim Connaughton, former director of the White House Council on Environmental Policy.

‘The CLC is one of several attempts by the environmental movement to create front groups to move the Republican Party and the conservative movement in a green direction. Perhaps we could call them the Light Greens. --- Myron Ebell, Competitive Enterprise Institute’

Others from the Bush administration working with the CLC include Ambassador Paula Dobrianski, who was Under-Secretary of State for Global Affairs, former Associate White House Political Director Coddy Johnson, and Lynn Scarlett, former Deputy Secretary of Interior.

The council is hosting a panel and luncheon conference today at the Reserve Officers Association's Top of the Hill Conference Center Tuesday where it is expected to make public six academic papers selected from more than two dozen submitted that "are likely to spark the kind of conversation we're looking for," said Toni Kriendler, an EDF spokesman.

One of the papers - authored by Leonard Gilroy, Harris Kenny and Julian Morris of the libertarian Reason Foundation - advocates greater use of public-private partnerships to operate state parks.

"Many states already successfully use private concessionaires to provide piecemeal services within parks--including food, retail, lodging, marinas, and other commercial activities--so a shift to more extensive involvement can build on that," the Reason trio wrote.

"Such a whole park operation PPP would transfer the responsibility of maintaining the park to a private operator, while enabling that operator to raise revenue through entrance and other fees," they said.

Kiendler declined to say how much EDF has budgeted for the project, saying only that "EDF was fortunate to raise an initial investment in the six-figure range from donors committed to establishing CLC as an independent entity."

The EDF received more than $94 million in contributions and grants in 2010, including $2.4 million in government grants, according to its most recently available IRS Form 990. The group has assets totaling in excess of $137 million.

The EDF employs 480 people and spent nearly $1 million on lobbying last year.

Despite its avowed purpose of cultivating support on the political right, the CLC/EDF combine is drawing fire from some Washington conservatives involved in environmental policy struggles.

Myron Ebell, who directs the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Center for Energy and Environment, dismissed the council as "one of several attempts by the environmental movement to create front groups to move the Republican Party and the conservative movement in a green direction. Perhaps we could call them the Light Greens."

Ebell said Norton was often criticized by environmental groups during her tenure as Interior Secretary, but pursued "federal-private partnerships with the Nature Conservancy, other land trusts, and big landowners to lock up private land and take it out of production and off the tax rolls."

Similarly, R.J. Smith, an adjunct environmental scholar at CEI, compared the CLC to an earlier effort to generate support among Republicans, the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy that was active during the Clinton administration.

Smith said CREA "championed radically green Republicans" and CLC similar appears to him as an effort "to serve as a Pied Piper to lead conservatives and congressional staffers down a green brick path."

One of the council's top leaders, Connaughton, had been expected to be a front runner to head EPA if former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney defeated President Obama last November.

But his support of some aspects of Obama's policies, including for a cap-and-trade program to combat global warming, likely would have sparked opposition among conservatives.

Connaughton told National Review in October 2009 that "overall, I am encouraged by the Obama administration's approach to energy policy."

And, according to Energy & Environment News, a trade publication, "Connaughton has said he also favors a cap-and-trade system, noting that such a program has previously worked in reducing sulfur dioxide emissions that cause acid rain and nitrogen oxide emissions that cause smog."

Mark Tapscott is executive editor of The Washington Examiner.