When news broke this week that a Tallahassee appeals court reversed a decision by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that would have banned drilling for oil and natural gas at a site in the eastern Everglades, environmental groups issued harsh condemnations of the court’s decision.
But there was one environmental group noticeably absent from news stories about the looming drilling project: the Everglades Foundation.
Groups like the South Florida Wildlands Association and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida made it a priority to voice opposition to the drilling plan, along with prominent local politicians like Mirimar Mayor Wayne Messam, the desperation in his tone obvious:
“I’m very, very disappointed in the ruling that was rendered today,” Messam said. “I think it’s terrible for the Everglades to even think of the prospect of oil drilling just outside of our city. The city of Miramar is analyzing all of our legal options to stop the drilling, which is a threat to our water supply and a threat to the Everglades, and we’ll continue to work with DEP and the county, who all oppose this.”
But the Everglades Foundation, which positions itself as the premiere activist group when it comes to “protecting” the Everglades, is noticeably silent on drilling.
Critics suggest the group is distracted by money: glitzy events, celebrities like Jimmy Buffett, and fat-cat fundraisers like Paul Tudor Jones typically show up in Everglades Foundation press releases. This year is no different. On February 16th, they’ll host rocker Jon Bon Jovi at their annual fundraising gala, where wealthy supporters will pony up thousands of dollars apiece to wash the guilt from their excessive carbon-generating lifestyles with expensive champaign, while bidding on celebrity memorabilia, guitars and other items donated by Hollywood’s environmental elites. The group is even willing to risk the ire of other environmental groups to raise money: last year they cut a deal to sell Everglades-themed cashmere sweaters, drawing sharp criticism from PETA for the way in which the cashmere industry treats animals.
As long as there have been environmental activists, some corporations have long found many of of the groups willing to “greenwash” their activities. Greenwashing comes in many forms, from simply pushing out the corporation’s own “environmentally friendly” marketing to paying environmental groups to do it for them. That is, some corporations pay environmental groups large sums of money in exchange for receiving the environmentalist group’s “blessing” to continue doing business in whatever manner the corporation wants. Corporations that don’t pay to be greenwashed might ultimately pay the price in bad public relations at the hands of environmental activists.
The Everglades Foundation appears to be at the forefront of exactly this activity in South Florida. While most environmental groups oppose drilling for oil and natural gas in the Everglades, the Foundation has taken a completely different approach, and doesn’t bother to list drilling or even exploration of the Everglades for natural resources as a primary threat. A quick check of their website lists four primary threats to the Everglades ecosystem:
- Urban development (the growth of cities and towns)
- Nutrient pollution (fertilizers from lawn runoff, leaky septic tanks, etc.)
- Invasive species (exotic animals like Burmese pythons and exotic plants like the Australian pine that displace the native species and disrupt the natural balance of the swamp)
- Rising sea levels
Not a single mention of the alleged dangers of oil and gas drilling on the Everglades Foundation’s top threats page. Even the Natural Resources Defense Council, another environmental group with a national focus, has a full page on their website dedicated to the supposed dangers.
Regardless of what environmental groups say, drilling in Florida has thus far been safe with no major environmental incidents. Florida has already produced 604 million barrels of oil and 808 billion cubic feet of natural gas, according to statistics from the Florida Petroleum Council.
But there is one environmental group that definitely knows all about drilling in the Everglades: the Everglades Foundation. In 2010, the group accepted money from Collier Resources Company in exchange for the Everglades Foundation’s blessing on a drilling project planned for the Big Cypress area in Southwest Florida.
Collier Resources Company owns the mineral rights to oil and gas extracted from private property held in the Big Cypress area, and in 2010 the company paid the Everglades Foundation a sum of cash to produce an “analysis of impacts associated with proposed activities in the Nobles Grade area.”
The Everglades Foundation used the money to produce an exhaustive 247-page document that provided Collier Resources Company with the political cover they needed to move forward with drilling. The disclosure, which can be found on page “iv” of the index of the document, reads:
Collier Resources Company funded this independent study through a contract to the Everglades Foundation
The Everglades Foundation CEO at that time, Kirk Fordham, even issued a statement to the Fort Myers News-Press in 2011 saying, “Our goal will be to work with the Colliers to direct them in their exploration efforts, to minimize impacts on wildlife habitats and the people’s water supply.”
Is drilling in the Everglades actually safe? Or did the Everglades Foundation “greenwash” Collier Resources Company? Perhaps the group just decided back in 2010 and 2011 that there was no stopping the coming oil boom in the Everglades, adopting the “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality. Either explanation would explain the silence, along with the scrubbing of nearly all references to the alleged dangers of drilling from the group’s website.