Minnesota Non-Profits Receive $440,000 to Oppose Keystone Pipeline

Three Minnesota environmental non-profit advocacy groups have received nearly half a million dollars in out-of-state foundation funding to oppose the Keystone oil pipeline project, according to a Freedom Foundation of Minnesota analysis. The California funding to state groups comes as a surprise, since Keystone’s proposed route does not include Minnesota.

The $5 billion pipeline proposal to extract and refine oil from Canada’s tar sands has become a lightning rod as soaring $4 a gallon gas focuses consumers’ attention on ways to increase petroleum supplies closer to home and ease prices at the pump. A new Gallup poll shows that Americans overwhelmingly support building the Keystone pipeline by a two to one margin.

Industry and other proponents point out that the 1,170 mile pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast in Texas would create an estimated 20,000 jobs and billions in related economic activity. Yet environmental activists have drawn a line in the tar sands over Keystone, culminating in the administration’s controversial decision in January to deny Keystone’s permit to cross the international border. Opponents claim the project will harm the tar sands environment and further exacerbate global warming.

The Tides Foundation, based in San Francisco, has distributed nine grants totaling $439,500 to three Minnesota  non-profits through 2010, according to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and grant disclosures listed online.  No records were immediately available for 2011, when the campaign targeting the pipeline picked up momentum.

Five grants totaling $269,500 were allotted to the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) in Bemidji. The group’s “pipeline organizer” was recently in Cushing, Oklahoma leading a group of Native American protesters during President Obama’s appearance to announce his support for the southern leg of the pipeline. “Tar sands is devastating First Nations communities in Canada already, and now they want to bring that environmental health and social devastation to U.S. tribes,” said Marty Cobenais of the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) in the Oklahoman newspaper. IEN posted a critical comment of its treatment by Oklahoma authorities on its website.

Tides Foundation also disbursed three grants totaling $60,000 to the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA), a St. Paul  nonprofit.  On its website, MCEA highlights “being the first environmental organization to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline through litigation in state and district courts.”

Fresh Energy, a nonprofit that plays a key role in green energy advocacy at the state capitol, received a $110,000 grant from the Tides Foundation for tar sands efforts, as well.  Fresh Energy regularly posts on-line comments opposing Keystone, including stories from its media arm, Midwest Energy News.  Michael Noble, the group’s long time executive director, participated in an anti-Keystone rally in Minneapolis last September that was designed to put pressure on the Administration to oppose the pipeline.

The Tides Foundation has also disbursed millions of dollars to green advocacy groups in Canada to support pipeline opponents on the other side of the border.

National foundations have played a generous role in financing Minnesota non-profits that seek to influence Minnesota policy makers, media, and public opinion.  Their well-financed efforts were the subject of a recent FFM series of investigative reports titled Trust Fund Environmentalism. The series documented how the influx of $48 million of special interest “engaged philanthropy” funding to more than 40 Minnesota green advocacy groups since 2003 has helped pay the way for an effort to racially rewrite Minnesota environmental and energy policy.  Fresh Energy was the biggest recipient of foundation grants, receiving some $9.4 million.


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