New York environmental group honors Trump-supporting, anti-regulation billionaire

New York environmental group honors Trump-supporting, anti-regulation billionaire

At its 2018 spring gala in New York City, the New York League of Conservation Voters (LCV) selected a billionaire supporter of Donald Trump as the recipient of its “Environmental Leader Honoree.”

Andrew Sabin, who owns Sabin Metal Corp., received the honor Monday night despite donating $100,000 to Trump Victory, President Trump’s fundraising Super PAC. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Sabin also described Hillary Clinton as unfit for office and planted “Hillary for Prison” yard signs in front of his mansion in the Hamptons on Long Island.

Even though Sabin is a friend of climate science-denying Donald Trump, certain environmental groups are attracted to him because he is a billionaire who believes climate change is real and caused by human activities.  And he has a history of contributing millions of dollars to advance climate education.

It’s this type of charitable giving that grabbed the New York LCV’s attention. Sabin’s philanthropic foundation has endowed the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, funded climate change prizes and professors at Yale and the University of California, Los Angeles, and is a major donor to the Global Wildlife Conservation.

“More than just a funder of conservation efforts, Andy continues to actively work on educating individuals about the relationship between climate change and health, hoping that they will ultimately become advocates for the cause,” the New York LCV said in an announcement explaining why it chose Sabin for the award.

Andrew Sabin (middle) is joined by April Gornick (left) and and Scarlett Magda at the Perfect Earth Project Family Picnic and Concert on August 30, 2014 in East Hampton, New York. CREDIT: Sonia Moskowitz/Getty Images

But Sabin’s history of supporting anti-environment Republicans and pushing an anti-regulatory agenda, plus his investments in fossil fuel companies, has created concerns about his role in the climate movement.

He generally opposes new regulations and a carbon tax and believes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is guilty of overreach, according to a 2016 New York Times profile of the billionaire. Corporate investments, according to Sabin, in so-called clean coal technology, natural gas production, new nuclear power, and renewable energy will reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to reverse global warming, the New York Times reported.

“All told Sabin makes a strange selection for the NY LCV’s ‘Environmental Leader Honoree,’” given his charitable organization’s fossil fuel investments and his financing of Trump’s fossil fuel agenda, the Public Accountability Initiative, a watchdog group, says in a new report released this week.

The New York LCV is incorporated separately from the national League of Conservation Voters, which is headquartered in Washington, D.C. The LCV is active in more than 30 states, although not every group is branded in the same way. The Ohio Environmental Council, for example, serves as the state affiliate of the LCV.

The national LCV pushes lawmakers to take meaningful action on the environment and climate change. The group is well known for its annual environmental scorecard that judges the voting records of all members of Congress on important environmental issues.

The New York LCV, founded in 1989, describes itself as “the only statewide environmental organization in New York that fights for clean water, clean air, renewable energy and open space through political action. We’re non-partisan, pragmatic and effective.”

The group had not responded to requests for comment from ThinkProgress at the time this article was published.

According to the Public Accountability Initiative, the New York LCV is partly funded by at least nine oil and gas companies, some with controversial business in the state. Furthermore, a number of fossil fuel-tied executives, lawyers, and lobbyists sit on the boards of the New York LCV and New York LCV Education Fund.

“The New York League of Conservation Voters is filled with conflicts of interest,” Derek Seidman, a research analyst at the Public Accountability Initiative and author of the report, said Monday in a statement. “One really has to wonder: Is it an environmental advocacy group, or just cover for the fossil fuel industry to push its agenda?”

For years, Sabin has funded the political campaigns of lawmakers with mixed or outright dismal environmental records. In 2015, for example, Sabin donated $1,000 to Trump Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who at the time was Montana’s representative in the U.S. House. Zinke has emerged as a key opponent of environmentalists.

So far in 2018, Sabin has given $320,400, all to Republicans. This money goes to a range of candidates who support the fossil fuel industry. The current second biggest recipient of Sabin money, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), is a major supporter of oil and gas land leasing and drilling.

Sabin had not responded to requests for comment from ThinkProgress at the time this article was published.

In its report, the Public Accountability Initiative highlighted the long list of fossil fuel investments made by Sabin’s philanthropic arm, the Andrew Sabin Family Foundation. The foundation’s schedule of investments as of December 31, 2016, shows that Sabin invested nearly a million dollars through his foundation in stocks and corporate bonds of major oil and gas and offshore drilling companies, including Chevron Corp., ExxonMobil Corp., Transocean Ltd., and Chesapeake Energy Corp.

“Today, real climate leadership means standing up to the fossil fuel industry, plain and simple. We can’t afford any new fossil fuel development if we’re going to meet our climate goals, so that means not only reducing our demand for these fossil fuels but also ramping down the supply,” David Turnbull, strategic communications director for Oil Change International, said Tuesday in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress. Oil Change International is a research and advocacy group working to reduce the use of fossil fuels.

The Public Accountability Initiative’s report also notes that Ed Cox, board chairman of the New York LCV Education Fund, has been a member of the board of directors of Noble Energy, an oil and gas company, since 1984, and that he was paid $320,152 by Noble Energy in 2017 even as he served with the New York LCV. Cox is also chairman of the New York State Republican Party.

Three New York LCV board members are connected to Millennium Pipeline Co., which is building a pipeline to serve a controversial natural gas-powered plant in the state. According to the report, the board members are Scott Wigger, a long-time Millennium Pipeline lobbyist whose firm has been paid at least $454,000 by the pipeline company since 2012; Michelle Hook, a former administration official to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and who now serves as Millennium Pipeline’s director of public relations and community outreach; and Robert M. Rosenthal, an attorney who has represented Millennium Pipeline against New York State.

“It’s a sad state of affairs when organizations widely seen as leading the fight for a clean environment are in bed with fossil fuel interests,” Alex Beauchamp, Northeast region director for Food & Water Watch, said Tuesday in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress. “This is one of the major reasons we’re in the mess we’re in.”

Beauchamp said real environmental progress will come from the grassroots, “not from individuals whose philanthropic goals are compromised by their business interests.”

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