That’s why we figured it was only a matter of time before Berman moved into the anti-environment arena. With large corporations and foundations plowing over $1 billion in untraceable dark money each year into front groups that deny climate change, we knew Berman would want a piece of that pie.
Last week our suspicions were confirmed with the appearance of a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal targeting three environmental nonprofits: Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and Food and Water Watch.
Just who was behind the ad? The ad itself pointed readers to a new website: BigGreenRadicals.com, a project of the “Environmental Policy Alliance” – not to be confused with the Environmental Protection Agency even though it had a similar name with the same initials, a classic Berman ploy.
The website of Environmental Policy Alliance held another clue: its address of 1090 Vermont Ave., NW Suite 800, Washington, DC 20005. If that address sounds familiar, it’s likely you have seen the tax returns for Center for Consumer Freedom, which list the exact same address.
Berman’s fingerprintsSo what exactly is the Environmental Policy Alliance? This new Berman front group has four campaigns:
- Big Green Radicals, which bashes the three environmental organizations listed above;
- Green Decoys, which targets hunting and fishing groups that certain powers think are too environmentalist;
- LEED Exposed, which goes after sustainable certification in buildings;
- EPA Facts, which targets the actual Environmental Protection Agency.
For example, where environmentalists have charged that the oil-friendly Bush White House muzzled science to fit its politics, Berman’s EPA Facts claims the EPA uses “agenda-driven science.”
Where critics have pointed to right-wing foundation funding for climate-denial front groups like the Heartland Institute, Berman’s Green Decoys claims conservation groups like Trout Unlimited receive funding from what it calls “environmentalist foundations.”
And just as HumaneWatch paints the Humane Society of the United States as having a gigantic budget – never mind that the HSUS’s net worth is 4.6 percent that of Cargill – so Big Green Radicals paints Food and Water Watch as “among the most powerful … voices pushing the green agenda” – despite the fact its budget is 0.0026 percent of Exxon’s.
Who’s footing the bill?Obviously someone has hired Berman to go after these environmental organizations. The question is, who? Berman does not list who funds his smear campaigns on any of his websites, but it’s not hard to figure out which industries are footing the bill, even if we don’t know specifically which corporations.
Green Decoys, for example, seems particularly offended that Trout Unlimited has come out in favor of regulations on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. TU isn’t against fracking altogether, just against unregulated fracking – but that’s enough to merit a smear campaign from Berman.
Big Green Radicals attacks not just Food and Water Watch’s opposition to fracking, but its campaign to label genetically modified food. The Sierra Club is also attacked for its campaigns against fossil fuels and GMO foods, as well as its defense of the Endangered Species Act.
And LEED Exposed turns what ought to be a no-brainer – energy efficient construction of new buildings – into a political issue. Who could possibly be against energy efficient buildings? As it turns out, plastics, vinyl, and chemical companies that supply inefficient and sometimes toxic building materials don’t like LEED very much — they are behind a push for federal agencies and state governments to ban use of LEED certification.
Just this month, LEED Exposed released a new report claiming that LEED-certified buildings are not as energy efficient as traditional buildings. That report was covered by Berman’s old friend the Daily Caller in a story made available for free to other outlets, and by the National Review, which is currently being sued for defamation after comparing climate scientist Michael Mann to child molester Jerry Sandusky.
While both outlets happily quoted Berman employee Anastasia Swearingen, neither bothered to mention who her boss is, nor that the Environmental Policy Alliance occupies the same Washington, D.C., offices as the Center for Consumer Freedom. Fortunately these facts did not escape the U.S. Green Building Council, which refuted the report and linked it back to Berman.
RebrandingAmidst all of our questions about the new territory Berman is venturing into, one thing caught our eye. While Big Green Radicals, LEED Exposed and the other new smear campaigns are all projects of the Environmental Policy Alliance, which lists the same address as Center for Consumer Freedom, the Environmental Policy Alliance is itself a project of something we had never heard of called the Center for Organizational Research and Education.
The Center for Organizational Research and Education has no web footprint whatsoever. Google it, and you will not find a website, or even a mention of it on a parent company site.
That’s because, as noted by Architect Magazine, Center for Organizational Research and Education is the new name of Center for Consumer Freedom. CCF formally changed its name in a filing with the West Virginia secretary of state on January 30.
Why has Rick Berman taken the extreme step of changing the name of Center for Consumer Freedom? A couple of possibilities come to mind.
First, Center for Consumer Freedom has been thoroughly exposed as a front group for Big Food and Big Ag by Stop HumaneWatch and others, including pretty much every major media outlet in the country.
When companies’ reputations are damaged beyond repair, they often respond by simply changing their name, such as when tobacco company Philip Morris changed its name to Altria shortly after settling the landmark case over health care costs related to smoking with a group of state attorneys general.
A new direction?Perhaps Berman plans to take his Center for Organizational Research and Education in a new direction, making the attacks on environmental organizations front and center while pushing the attacks on animal welfare groups to one side. After all, most major food producers including Smithfield and McDonald’s have already agreed to adopt more humane practices such as phasing out gestation crates.
The National Pork Producers Council may still hate HSUS, but let’s face it: Their budget pales in comparison to Big Oil, Big Coal, and Big Gas, who have a lot of money and a lot of reason to spend it with all the climate change regulations likely to start coming down the pike.
Still, we don’t think HumaneWatch is going anywhere. As long as someone is paying Berman, he will keep running it, even as he creates new campaigns and hires more Washington operatives willing to sell their souls for profit. And some players in the Big Ag community seem happy to keep throwing their money at Berman, even though not a single one of his campaigns against the HSUS has had an effect.
Despite all of Berman’s efforts, HSUS donations continue to grow and its programs continue to expand. The fact is, most people support policies to treat animals with kindness, and the HSUS is the most effective organization in the country at getting these policies put into place.
People also generally like clean air and clean water. So if Berman truly is changing his emphasis from anti-animal campaigns to anti-environment, we don’t expect him to be any more successful there either.