By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Some Americans think of the environmental community as a fractious bunch of free thinkers, that if you put two of them together they would generate at least three different opinions. But now two groups -- the Pew Charitable Trusts environmental program and the National Environmental Trust -- are trying to buck that reputation by combining to form the Pew Environment Group.
The merger, to be announced today, highlights a shift among green groups toward campaign-oriented advocacy. Rather than having staffers who work on general environmental issues over time, Pew Environment Group will aim to accomplish a few high-profile goals -- such as overhauling the 1872 Mining Law and creating several major overseas marine reserves -- within the next few years.
"We're integrating a set of skills and talents into a unified campaign," said Joshua S. Reichert, who has directed Pew's Environment Program since 1990 and will serve as managing director of the Pew Environment Group. "It's a way of putting together a coordinated strategy."
Pew's funding will make the new organization influential overnight: By the time it starts up in December, the group will have an annual operating budget of about $70 million and 80 employees in the United States and overseas. It will be one of the world's biggest marine conservation groups, as well as a major U.S. science and advocacy organization.
In addition to its operations here, the Pew Environment Group will have offices in Australia, Europe, Latin America, and the Western Pacific and Indian oceans. The National Environmental Trust, which was founded in 1994 and has received roughly one-third of its funding from Pew since its inception, already boasts a sizable D.C. office and organizers from swing states in the Midwest and elsewhere.
Both Reichert and Environmental Trust President Philip Clapp, who will become the group's deputy managing director, have plenty of inside-the-Beltway street cred to bring to the merger. Reichert served as executive director of the D.C.-based National Security Archive and as vice president for conservation at Conservation International before moving to Philadelphia to join Pew. Clapp worked on Capitol Hill for more than a decade, serving as legislative director for then-Rep. Tim Wirth (D-Colo.) during the Clean Air Act debate.
The two groups have already worked together on several environmental campaigns, pressing for greenhouse gas emission reductions and protection of roadless areas in national forests. Clapp said their shift in strategy is driven by the urgency of climate change and other key environmental questions that probably will be decided within the next decade.
"The challenges are so enormous and we have such a short window of time to solve the problem, we decided we had to change the way we operate," Clapp said.
Environmental advocates hailed the prospect of a merger as a boost to their cause, while opponents warned that it could undermine sound public-policy decisions.
William O'Keefe, who sits on the board of the George C. Marshall Institute and used to work for the American Petroleum Institute, said he has debated climate-change questions with Clapp and his allies several times. "There's nothing you can say that causes them to rethink their beliefs. It hinders the policy process in terms of reaching consensus," O'Keefe said.
He noted that since one of the founders of the Pew Charitable Trusts was an oilman, it's safe to say that with this news, "J. Howard Pew, the former chairman of Sun Oil, continues to spin over in his grave."
Several prominent environmentalists, however, said the two groups could be more effective operating under one roof. Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the move highlighted how Pew had shifted from primarily giving grants to other environmental organizations to directing policy campaigns itself.
"Josh Reichert and Phil Clapp make for a very powerful team in terms of what they bring in decades-long policymaking experience and advocacy," Knobloch said. "This decision reflects the great urgency that many of us feel, to literally move within the next five years to get the policies in place to deeply reduce global warming pollution."
And former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Carol Browner said the new group shows how much has changed since environmental activists began organizing decades ago.
"This is a movement that is fully immersed in its adulthood," Browner said.