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1962 YellowSubmarine
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Charity Is New Force in Environmental Fight


HILADELPHIA — From a suite of offices in a high-rise here, a $4.8 billion foundation called the Pew Charitable Trusts has quietly become not only the largest grant maker to environmental causes, but also one that controls much more than the purse strings.

Unlike many philanthropies that give to conservationist groups, Pew has been anything but hands-off, serving as the behind-the-scenes architect of highly visible recent campaigns to preserve national forests and combat global warming. Though some of its money goes to long-established groups, Pew has also created its own organizations, with names like the National Environmental Trust and the Heritage Forest Campaign.

Over the last decade, financing by wealthy foundations has swollen the budgets of environmental groups that depend heavily on donations for things like land acquisition and scientific research. But with its deep pockets and focus on aggressive political advocacy, Pew is not only the most important new player but also the most controversial, among fellow environmentalists and its opponents in industry.

"I don't think you make social change happen on the basis of paid staff in Washington and paid ads anywhere," Carl Pope, the executive director of the Sierra Club, said, referring to the Pew groups' reputation for top-down management.

The Sierra Club, still the largest environmental organization, has applied for Pew grants but has never been successful and has stopped trying, Mr. Pope said.

The reason has less to do with substance — the groups are more or less united on the issues — than with style. With 700,000 members, the Sierra Club has many grass-roots constituents to please, while Pew's approach is focused on the issues that the managers in Philadelphia deem ripe for intervention.

For example, while forest protection remains one of many areas of concern for the Sierra Club, with most efforts waged by local organizers, the issue has been among just three areas identified by Pew for intensive attention. The others are global warming and marine conservation.

Pew's executives and their supporters dismiss the griping as sour grapes, saying that traditional organizations fear being eclipsed by Pew and that the other foundations that contribute to conservationist causes feel threatened by its willingness to jump into the political fray.

"If you ride the ridges, you get shot at more often than if you stay in the valleys," Joshua W. Reichert, Pew's powerful director of environmental programs, said.

With $52 million to spend on environmental causes this year, Pew tries to articulate a single voice — that of the trust and, in particular, Mr. Reichert.

Until a decade ago, the Pew Trusts, established by descendants of Joseph N. Pew, the founder of the Sun Oil Company, made more conventional environmental grants, financing things like research and land acquisition. Today, its other main areas of attention include culture, education, journalism programs, health, public policy and religion.

But under Mr. Reichert, 51, a social anthropologist with a broad background in environmental protection, the organization has shifted its attention to trying to advance a particular policy and has quintupled its spending on environmental programs since 1990.

It was the force behind the effort that generated more than a million public comments last year in favor of the Clinton administration's forest-protection plan.

Mr. Reichert, who keeps a low profile, has been so dominant in overseeing Pew-backed campaigns that the officials of the groups it finances typically refer to the foundation as "he."

"We are extremely results-oriented and hold ourselves and our partners accountable for our performance," Mr. Reichert said in an interview here.

Pew, as a nonprofit organization, stops short of lobbying and supporting candidates for office, something that some other environmental groups, like the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, which do not have nonprofit status, are permitted to do.

But Pew is free to advocate specific causes, and its organizations have done so in many ways, including buying full-page advertisements in newspapers.

Doug Crandall, staff director of the Republican-controlled House subcommittee on forests, called the Pew groups "the 800-pound gorilla" on environmental issues "because they focus and target these issues quite effectively."

At a Congressional hearing last year, Helen Chenoweth-Hage, then a Republican representative from Idaho, singled out the foundation and its campaign to prevent development of the national forests as an example of how communities "are being crushed by an inaccessible and faceless movement wielding great power and influence."

Like most foundations, Pew saw its endowment soar in the surging stock market of the 1990's, and to maintain its tax-exempt status, it increased its grants proportionately, to nearly $236 million last year from $147 million in 1990. Environmental programs grew fastest, to $52 million last year from $11 million in 1990.

Its smaller beneficiaries include some long-established groups, like American Rivers Inc., Ducks Unlimited and the Wilderness Society, though only when their work closely fits Pew's agenda. But the largest recipients are a closely linked network of new groups, like the National Environmental Trust, which was created in 1995 and received $6 million last year as the Washington voice for Pew's message.

Mr. Reichert said the environmental trust was "born amidst a climate of criticism from many of the national environmental groups." Some environmentalists argue that the group's advocacy mostly overlaps that done by other organizations, like the Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense, and that Pew's money would be better spent supporting those organizations. But Mr. Reichert said the trust was determined "to look for opportunities where we can make a difference."

Other big recipients include the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, which was founded in 1998 and includes some industry representatives.

It received more than $5 million last year. The Heritage Forests Campaign, a coalition of about a dozen environmental groups, also established by Pew in 1998, has received about $10 million from the foundation.

With Pew money, the groups helped solicit the overwhelming public support for the Clinton plan to put a third of the national forests off limits to road construction.

The Clinton administration used that support to justify bypassing opposition from Congress and several Western states. (A federal court in Idaho blocked the plan this year, and the Bush administration is drafting an alternative it says will be less sweeping.)

The most recent ranking of donation trends, by the Foundation Center of New York, puts the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, with $82.5 million, at the top of a 1999 list of sources for grants related to the environment and animals.

Other top donors included the Ford Foundation, at $31 million; the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, at $27.9 million; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation, at $23.9 million. In all, private foundations spend more than $700 million a year on grants related to the environment and animals, a 350 percent increase since 1990, the Foundation Center estimates.

But many of the other top environmental grant makers devote most of their budgets to research rather than advocacy.

Traditional groups, like the Sierra Club, whose annual budget of about $75 million is the largest among environmental organizations, must devote a substantial part of their spending to raising money and providing services to members.

Without such burdens and with such a narrow focus on particular policy areas, environmentalists say, Pew's relative effect has been greater than its spending alone would suggest.

Some of Pew's main campaigns, including one on global warming, have put the foundation at odds with the Bush administration.

But in an interview, Rebecca M. Rimel, the foundation's president, said she was confident that Pew's efforts would have a great effect on the national debate.

"Let's wait and see what the outcome is," Ms. Rimel said. "Let's see who has been able to win the hearts and minds of the public."
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