7:22 p.m. September 13, 2013

Sierra Club Endorses Booker: "A Hero for Clean Air and Water"

On Monday, during a press event staged on Pier A in Hoboken, New Jersey, the Sierra Club announced its support for Cory Booker's run for the U.S. Senate.

The director of the Sierra Club’s New Jersey chapter, Jeff Tittel, praised Booker as "a hero for clean air and water," and, standing on a podium with Booker at his side, declared,

"Mayor Booker has shown strong leadership and a real commitment to protecting our environment, and the Sierra Club is proud to endorse him for the US Senate. There, he will be an environmental champion."

A hero for clean air and water? Damn, Booker must'a done a hell of a lot for the environment to earn that kind of unadulterated praise from America's oldest and biggest enviro group — the Sierra Club, which was founded way back in 1890s by the legendary John Muir himself.

So what exactly are some of Cory Booker's green achievements?

Sadly, Sierra Club's press release announcing the Booker endorsement was thin on specifics, filling the space instead with green-tinted platitudes about the candidate's supposed dedication to the environment. Stuff like: "advocated for climate action to cut carbon pollution"…"promoted clean energy"…"recycling rates were increased"…"the city incorporated energy efficient upgrades and increased green affordable housing"…and apparently even "called for an end to tax giveaways for big oil companies."

Really, he wants to end tax subsidies to oil companies? I tried cross-checking those claims with Booker’s actual record on those issues, but all I could come up with was this tweet from a few months back:

Way to stand up the evil oil companies Cory Booker! That tweet must have taken a lot of courage…too bad his courage didn't last. About six minutes after tweeting it out, Booker walked his statement back. The reason? Booker got a tweet from @protectaxpayers — a shady pro-business organization run by a longtime Republican operative — that told him to stop demonizing oil companies and (falsely charged) that the oil industry pays some of the highest corporate taxes in the country.

Even though @protectaxpayers was repeating a false oil industry talking point (Exxon Mobil paid a 13 percent income tax in 2011, while Chevron paid about 19 percent), Booker folded his position with no argument, apologetically tweeting back:

Wow, what a hero! Way to stand up for green rights!

After looking around, the only sensible reason I could come up with for why Sierra Club endorsed Cory Booker is because of his tentative support for market-based "cap and trade" legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—a questionable big business-friendly scheme that the Sierra Club and other big establishment green outfits have made a central plank of their political agenda. And of course at least Cory Booker has said that he believes that man-made climate change is real, unlike his Republican opponent Steve Lonegan, a toupee'd Koch toady who previously served as New Jersey's director of Americans for Prosperity, a freemarket advocacy group founded by Charles and David Koch.

On these meager credentials, Sierra Club endorsed Cory Booker and gave him its "Grade-A Green Progressive" seal of approval… But as regular NSFWCORP readers know, Cory Booker is not a progressive, unless by "progressive" you mean "an anti-government Wall Street groupie who wants to gut social services, privatize pensions and turn over public infrastructure to corporations."

Cory Booker's politics come out of the Koch-Walton-Bradley freemarket-thinktank industrial complex—a politics he put to work during his tenure as Newark Mayor, privatizing garbage and sanitation services, attempting to deregulate Newark's water supply, pushing public school privatization schemes, handing out corporate tax breaks and battling against the city's public sector unions. I wrote about these ties in this month's NSFWCORP Print Edition feature

But the bottom line is: It's not clear how effectively Booker can protect the environment, when he's so enamored with "free-markets" and distrustful of government planning and oversight. After all, Booker's shock therapy reign over Newark was praised by all sorts of rightwing newspapers and thinktanks — from Zukerman's News & World Report to the Koch-funded Reason Foundation. And these people are not what'd you'd call "friends of the environment"…

And yet, the Sierra Club endorsed Cory Booker without qualifying their support or being honest about Booker's ideological shortcomings, instead telling its 1.4 million+ members to support Cory Booker unquestioningly. Which gets to a bigger problem here — the corruption of what remains of liberal politics, the Democratic Party, and establishment enviro groups like the Sierra Club.

Sierra Club was founded by naturalist and explorer John Muir way back in late 19th century, and it has done a lot of great work for us. It pushed for national parks, and fought to protect California's forests and ancient Redwoods from the lumber industry. In the 1960s, the Sierra Club was a major player in an environmental movement that helped usher legislation protecting the environment. But over the past few decades, the outfit has been party to all sorts of putrid deals and strategic partnerships with the very same toxic corporations and political interests it should be fighting, betraying its mandate by signing onto bullshit market-based solutions to "protect" the environment.

The biggest and most recent Sierra Club sell-out shocker came just last year, when it was revealed that the green group took an incredible sum of money — $25 million just between 2007 and 2010 — from the oil and natural gas fracking industry, with most of that sum coming from Aubrey McClendon, founder of Chesapeake Energy, the second-largest natural gas producer in the country and a longtime rightwing Republican Party donor. The Sierra Club was poised to receive additional fracking industry funds — until they were busted by Corporate Crime Reporter, and forced to publicly renounce the funding.

Chesapeake Energy is a major proponent of fracking, an expensive and highly toxic process that involves injecting water laced with industrial chemicals and solvents to break up the soil and release small pockets of natural gas. The infusion of water diluted with toxic compounds makes the practice deadly, and includes, but is not limited to, such destructive effects as cancer, skin lesions, asthma, liver damage, brain damage, poisoned underground water supplies, general organ failure, combustible tap water and even earthquakes.

Despite fierce resistance to fracking from the Sierra Club’s regional chapters, the national leadership of the Sierra Club was aggressively pro-fracking and pro-natural gas, which it endorsed as a "bridge fuel" that could be used to transition out of oil on the dubious theory that natural gas supposedly burned cleaner and was better for the environment. The Wall Street Journal reported the close relationship between Sierra Club's executive director Carl Pope and Aubrey McClendon, with the two even traveling together to promote the green benefits of natural gas, reporting back in 2009:

National groups such as the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council have backed natural gas as a so-called bridge fuel that can help the country move away from coal and oil without waiting for renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar power, to catch up.

The support of environmental groups has helped the industry win key backers in Congress, where a bipartisan "Congressional Natural Gas Caucus" formed this year."

Aubrey McClendon isn't just a fracker. He's also a known huckster who's pillaged his workers' retirement plans, poured millions into gay-bashing campaigns, helped elect President George W. Bush and even played a role in stealing waterfront land that had been donated to a poor, mostly black township in Michigan in order to expand a nearby golf course that caters to one of Michigan’s richest enclaves. Yep, that's the kind of strategic partner Sierra Club's national leadership thinks can help the environment…

Sierra Club was forced to modify its policy on natural gas and fracking after it faced a grassroots revolt in the wake of the corruption scandal and it made a big show of how principled it was by rejecting another $30 million it was due to receive from oil and gas companies. The Sierra Club may have stopped taking money from Chesapeake Energy, but it still engages in all sorts of questionable "partnerships" with oil and gas companies. For instance: one of them is called the American Wind and Wildlife Institute, backed by BP, GE Energy, energy giant NRG… And of course, there's Sierra Club's oil-friendly support of "cap and trade" policies that are supposed to be one of those corporate-friendly "win-win" solution that would reduce greenhouse emissions, help the environment and not require any fundamental regulatory pollution changes. Cap-and-trade is just a ruse, nothing but a confuse-and-delay tactic that in the end only serves the interests of mega-polluters.

The Sierra Club hasn’t confined its selling out of its principles to the environment; it also boosted for Bush-era neocons and the Iraq War. Yep, in 2002 Sierra Club's national leadership voted to support President George Bush and the impending invasion of Iraq— because they claimed to be concerned about the "global dangers presented by possible Iraq aggression," whatever the fuck that means — and then threatened dissenting rank and file members with expulsion if they voiced their opposition to the war in public.

Don't believe me? Well, here's an excerpt from an AP that proves it:

Sierra Club angered by Utah branch's war stance

December 04, 2002 12:00 am • Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY - The Sierra Club is threatening to disband its southern Utah chapter for speaking out against the Bush administration's push toward war with Iraq.

The San Francisco-based 700,000-member environmental organization said its 175-member Glen Canyon group violated Sierra Club policy in publicly taking its own stand on the issue.

In November, the national organization's board of directors approved a resolution supporting efforts to strip Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. It said: "The Sierra Club is concerned about the global dangers presented by possible Iraqi aggression and about the dire environmental consequences of war."

At the same time, the national organization warned that Sierra Club policy "does not authorize individual members, leaders or club entities to take public positions on military conflicts as they arise."

The Glen Canyon chapter's leaders decried that as a "gag order" and issued a news release Nov. 26 asserting their right to speak out.

"We decided to fight rather than just resign," Glen Canyon vice chairman Patrick Diehl said. "We specifically challenged as what we view as the gag order. This was pretty much throwing down the gauntlet."

Sure, Sierra Club continues to do a lot of great work. But I could go on and on about various Sierra Clubs sellouts — from its greenwashing partnership with Clorox that helped the company sell its toxic cleaning products, to its praise of Obama's handling of the BP Gulf oil clusterfuck, to its capitulation to real estate developers in California's Oligarch Valley… But instead, I'll just quote from a recent interview with Naomi Klein, in which she talks about the sad sell-out state of America's Big Green outfits:

As the Cold War dwindled, environmentalism became the next target, the next Communism. Now, the movement at that stage could have responded in one of the two ways. It could have fought back and defended the values it stood for at that point, and tried to resist the steamroller that was neoliberalism in its early days. Or it could have adapted itself to this new reality, and changed itself to fit the rise of corporatist government. And it did the latter. Very consciously if you read what [Environmental Defense Fund president] Fred Krupp was saying at the time…. We now understand it’s about corporate partnerships. It’s not, "sue the bastards;" it’s, "work through corporate partnerships with the bastards." There is no enemy anymore.

There's no enemy anymore. There is no fight for or against. There’s just strategic partners, and potential strategic partners. That explains how the Sierra Club could endorse a free-market tool like Cory Booker. The Sierra Club cuts a deal, lends its support, and delivers its gullible members' votes. And maybe Cory Booker will return the favor some day — or maybe not. Personally, I'd bet on not.