These are the times when the greens should be manning the barricades. When enviro-enemy Ronald Reagan was President, environmental groups attracted record contributions and mobilized a national crusade to stave off plunderers and polluters. Now, with House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) leading Congress on a search-and-destroy mission against regulations, the greens have an easy target.
But ecolobbyists wandering Washington seem lost in the wilderness. Gingrich & Co. haven't spurred a spike in membership or fund-raising. Green groups' '70s-vintage mantra--that government must remain ever vigilant in protecting the environment--isn't playing well in the devolutionary '90s.
Just as damaging: the groups' own tribulations. Plagued by poor management, many organizations during the 1980s diversified too quickly and stretched themselves too thin. Now, many are so preoccupied with internal management and financial woes that they can barely challenge the GOP assault on everything from clean-air programs to protections for endangered species (table). "They're shell-shocked," says one Senate staffer.
While the greens try to regroup, the GOP is taking a machete to many environmental programs. The House, led by Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), a former Houston bug exterminator, passed a bold deregulatory agenda on Mar. 3. The Senate is expected to follow in mid-July with a regulatory reform bill that would impose cost-benefit tests on environmental rules. Even President Clinton has proved disappointing, signing a budget-cutting bill that encourages logging. "There's no other word for it: We're losing," says James D. Maddy, president of the League of Conservation Voters.
BAD HAIR STYLE? Some groups have themselves to blame. Take the National Wildlife Federation. On July 3, longtime Chief Executive Jay D. Hair resigned amid sagging employee morale and a weakened balance sheet. Hair cited personal reasons for the decision, but current and former employees say he was forced out by staffers frustrated with his autocratic management style. Hair was notorious for his $257,000 salary and for being chauffeured to meetings.
For two years, moreover, NWF has had an operating deficit of about $800,000, and employees expect more red ink. "It's a sad story," says one former staffer. "And a sign of the mismanagement." Although fund-raising remains steady, NWF will take a hit from its weakening catalog business in 1995, which usually pulls in $4 million a year. Soaring paper and postage costs have added to production costs. NWF has laid off 58 workers in 1995, with more cuts possible.
Other groups have been on shaky financial footing, too. Greenpeace International made a splash by persuading Royal Dutch/Shell Group not to sink an oil rig in the North Sea and by confronting the French government over nuclear testing. Still, the blitz isn't likely to offset losses. Greenpeace International slashed 10% of its workforce last November, and the U.S. affiliate laid off 30 people in June. Barbara Dudley, executive director of Greenpeace U.S.A., says public support has dropped from $60 million in 1990 to $32 million in 1994. The group ended the year $5 million in the hole, excluding money in its tax-exempt foundation. "That affects our ability to do our jobs," says Dudley.
Dudley blames a soft economy. But enviros' woes also stem from a blubbery message. After expanding throughout the 1980s, many groups now are struggling to reorder their agenda. Last year, the Sierra Club scaled back efforts to focus on the basics--clean air and water. The National Audubon Society went to a management-consulting firm for retooling, and on July 5, it replaced veteran CEO Peter A.A. Berle.
Not all the greens are suffering the blues. The Nature Conservancy, which preserves land by buying it, is popular among conservatives and expects donations to increase 20% this year. The Environmental Defense Fund, an advocate of market-based solutions, expects membership to peak at 250,000 this year.
Still, most enviros would be well-served to face facts: Until they get their own acts together, they'll be hard-pressed to win new battles.
It's Not Easy Being Green
The problems dogging big environmental groups
Donations to many groups remain flat; the World Wildlife Fund and the Wilderness Society have reported decreases in contributions.
INTERNAL DISSENT Several groups have suffered management turnover. On July 3, the National Wildlife Federation ousted longtime President and CEO Jay D. Hair.
POOR MARKETING Nearly all the groups have struggled to present a relevant 1990s message that sells both to the public and to a GOP-led Congress.
FEWER SOLDIERS Some groups have been forced to slash staff. The Sierra Club, facing declining revenues, laid off 10% of its workforce last November.