TO a ZEPHYR READER, from the GRAND CANYON TRUST
EDITOR'S NOTE: I recently received a copy of the following letter, sent to a Zephyr reader by the Associate Director of the Grand Canyon Trust. He refers to a 10,000 word essay that appeared in the August/September 2008 issue, "The Greening of Wilderness, pt 2: How the Mega-Rich are Co-Opting Environmentalism."
As the story pertained to the GCT, it noted: 1) GCT's assets as reported to the IRS, 2) the bios of its board members, as published on GCT's web site. 3) It particularly featured GCT board member David Bonderman, a multi-billionaire who the GCT calls "One of the great conservationists in America today."
The story spent barely a paragraph on his extravagant lifestyle and dealt instead with some of Bonderman's many business dealings, some of which seem to conflict with his environmentalist credentials.
For example, while his private equity powerhouse TPG recently bought the largest utility in Texas and promised to reduce the number of proposed coal-fired generating stations, it is still building one of the dirtiest coal plants in America. AND while it worked with two of the nation's largest green groups, EDF and NRDC, to cut the deal, Bonderman later changed the agreement, proposing to also build nuclear power plants. Previously both EDF and NRDC opposed nuclear power.
Bonderman/TPG also owns the British discount airline Ryanair. The UK environment minister, Ian Pearson said in 2007, "When it comes to climate change, Ryanair are not just the unacceptable face of capitalism, they are the irresponsible face of capitalism."
4) The story noted that former GCT and SUWA board member Bert Fingerhut had been convicted of securities fraud and sent to prison. he resigned his position with both groups.
These were the kinds of fact-based criticisms that appeared in the story.
The story did question whether mainstream environmentalists could avoid being compromised by so much money. Even grassroots groups like GCT have assets in the millions now, thanks in part to the mega-contributions of donors like Bonderman.
(To read the entire story, go to our web site to the archives...aug/sep 2008)
In October the Executive Director of GCT, Bill Hedden, sent a "Corrections" letter to the Zephyr, published here in the last issue. Out of 10,000 words, he found three minor items to complain about. I responded to his complaints in that same issue and never heard another word from Mr. Hedden.
Now, the Grand Canyon Trust is using words like, "malicious" and "disgruntled" and "mean-spirited" and "last ditch effort" to describe the story that even its ED could find little to discredit.
Once again, a very disappointing response from people who should know better....here is Mr. Pearl's letter......JS
Grand Canyon Trust
September 16, 2008
Our membership staff passed on your note to me regarding David Bonderman and your request that you be removed from our mailing list. I assume your information came from the Jim Stiles' Zephyr article which, while I agree made for interesting reading, contained many misrepresentations of fact and was unnecessarily malicious in intent. Nonetheless, I am sorry to loose (sic) you as a supporter of Trust and would be happy to speak with you further about your concerns.
Mr. Bonderman is indeed on the Trust board. His love of the Colorado Plateau began in his college days when he worked on archeology sites in Glen Canyon and Grand Canyon National Park. He went on to be a very successful entrepreneur purchasing undervalued companies and restoring them as successful businesses. Throughout his career he has been a major contributor to many of the most important conservation initiatives and organizations in the United States.
This being said, Mr. Bonderman is one of the Trust's twenty-two board members who advise the executive director and staff on organizational governance and basic policy, but do not get involved in the day to day operations or programmatic decisions of the organization. More specifically, the policy decisions made by the board are not influenced by individual board members—as the Stiles article suggests in a very misleading and malicious way.
My sense is that Mr. Stiles is a disgruntled conservationist who watched his small town of Moab be transformed in the unfortunate way that so many western towns are changing. As you may know, he is now in the process of moving to Australia. His article in the Zephyr reflected a mean spirited last-ditch effort directed at a group of people who care passionately and give generously to support the work he once believed in.
If you are so inclined, I am more than happy to discuss this with you in greater detail. Meanwhile, I appreciate the time you took to share your concerns.