This post comes from Caitlin Johnson, 2011-2013 Fellow at the George Gund Foundation in Ohio. There she has worked across program areas and with HEFN members on the issue of fracking. She will end her fellowship and enter world of advocacy and organizing in summer 2013.
Two years ago, I would have thought “fracking” was some sort of new curse word, or that maybe it had something to do with the Fraggles (yes, I am a child of the ‘80s). I never would have fathomed that my fellowship with the George Gund Foundation would lead to a new passion and professional focus. When people ask me what I do, I try to explain that I work for a foundation where we give money away to important causes – like how to help make fracking safer and more transparent. First, people usually want to know if I can give them money (I cannot). Then they ask why I am so concerned and passionate about fracking and why exactly does it matter to the Gund Foundation. Here is how I respond.
The George Gund Foundation is a place-based funder that focuses mostly on Greater Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. We have five program areas: education, the arts, economic and community development, the environment and health and human services. A considerable portion of our funding supports state policy work, especially regarding the environment and health and human services. Our economic development grant making is based in the 16 county region of Northeast Ohio, containing Cleveland, Youngstown, Akron and Canton. Because of its transformative effect on communities and its potential to impact the natural environment and human health, we see fracking as an issue that cuts across the latter three program areas.
In many ways, the natural gas boom seems like déjà vu all over again. Ohio funders can merely look to our neighbor West Virginia to see that an economy based around an extractive resource – coal mining in that state’s case – is not a pretty thing once the boom is over. In Ohio, too, we have pockets of rural poverty in former coal mining communities. It seems to me that natural resource extraction is more of a curse than a blessing in the long run. Many economists agree.
Most economic development experts eschew the practice of “smokestack chasing,” or pursuing big industries through tax breaks in favor of investments in human capital and innovation. Despite this, Ohio has some of the nation’s lowest oil and gas severance tax rates. The industry says Ohio cannot raise taxes or else they will drill elsewhere. Although the governor proposes an increase in the severance tax rate, he plans to return that revenue to all Ohioans through an income tax cut.
As the largest funder of the Fund for our Economic Future, a collaboration of funders throughout Northeast Ohio, the Gund Foundation is deeply committed to responding to our region’s deindustrialization and the economic havoc it wrought. The Fund invests in organizations that assist innovative startups, strengthens the region’s cluster of technologies, and promote our robust manufacturing sector. While the foundation understands fracking may create jobs, we also worry that a lack of planning and adequate taxation could produce a boom-bust cycle, and ultimately leave Northeast Ohio in a weaker position economically.
Secondly, the foundation worries that Ohioans do not have a say in this matter. A 2004 law stripped municipalities of local control over oil and gas drilling. Ohio also allows “mandatory pooling,” which allows drilling companies to go through a landowner’s property to drill if a landowner refuses to sign a gas lease, but most of his neighbors have. There are also provisions in Ohio law, which prohibits citizens from appealing the issuance of a drilling permit. Meanwhile, a gas company denied a permit is able to appeal. Moreover, under Ohio law, gas companies are not required to disclose all the chemicals used in fracking fluid—the mixture of water, sand and chemicals injected deep underground to open natural gas deposits—despite the disastrous potential for contamination when the fluid is being transported.
In order to promote transparency and engagement, the Gund Foundation has made grants to FracTracker to expand public access to fracking-related data and maps in Ohio, as well as to the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, which empowers the myriad of citizens groups that have responded to the issue. We have also enlisted environmental public interest law firms Earthjustice and Natural Resource Defense Council to survey Ohio’s existing regulatory structure and determine what, if any, legal avenues might be pursued.
Many people in Ohio want to see fracking stopped completely. Many others say the economic possibilities are too good to miss. We at the Gund Foundation believe a balance can be struck through sensible regulations and improved disclosure. Despite its many downsides, fracking presents a great opportunity for environmental funders. Citizens of all stripes are concerned about the issue. Some worry about private property rights protection, or about the lack of local control. Others fear contamination of local water supplies or that jobs will not go to Ohioans.
Fracking touches everything – and everyone. If funders want to build a robust coalition around environmental issues, fracking can show us the way. This is an opportunity to change how we frame environmentalism as a movement for health equity, democracy and social and economic justice versus just hippy tree huggers out there fighting for polar bears. As I prepare to leave my fellowship at Gund and enter the world of advocacy and organizing, I hope all of us are able to seize the moment.
We caught up with our friends at the Environmental Grantmakers Association last week to discuss the preliminary findings from their latest Tracking the Field Report, which they previewed at EGA’s Fall 2012 retreat and will release as a final report later this year. EGA’s Rachel Leon and Franny Canfield shared insights on their latest data and what it tells us about environmental health philanthropy.
What is Tracking the Field?
Tracking the Field is an annual report that analyzes environmental giving trends of EGA members and overall environmental philanthropy. The project is based on data collected by our research team. The researchers analyze all of our members’ 990 tax forms, grantees and foundation websites to categorize over 10,000 grants. It also includes in-depth reports on more specific regions and issue areas. In 2012 EGA launched an interactive searchable database available to EGA members as a tool for them to utilize, and to help to enhance our community capacity to interact all year-long.
So what does the latest Tracking the Field tell us are the current trends for overall environmental giving?
The report will show a large increase in grantmaking by EGA members in 2010, after a dramatic drop in funding in 2009 in the aftermath of the Great Recession. This increase in 2010 reflects almost 2,000 more grants and over 155 million dollars in environmental giving.
What are the new totals for grants for toxics, environmental health and environmental justice?
Between 2009 and 2010 the Toxics and Environmental Justice grant categories each saw large increases in funding. Reaching $18.6 million in funding by EGA members, Toxics funding ascended above pre-recession 2007 funding in 2010, increasing 90% between 2009 and 2010. Environmental Justice saw a 50% increase in funding as a primary issue between 2009 and 2010 and a 484% increase as a secondary issue area.
While Environmental Justice funding still receives less than 2% of EGA member’s grantmaking, these increases are significant. As a primary issue area Environmental Health stayed consistent at $18 million of environmental funding by EGA members. However, because Environmental Health, like Environmental Justice, is a very cross cutting issue, looking at it as a secondary issue area is critical to get the full picture. As a secondary issue area, Environmental Health received $21.5 million dollars, up from $14.5 million in 2009.
Environmental Grantmakers Association’s Member Giving 2007-2010
Environmental Health, Environmental Justice, and Toxics
You mention a secondary issue area. What does that mean and what other changes has EGA made to coding?
Between Tracking the Field Volume 2 and 3 EGA added two new categories: grantmaking strategy and secondary issue area. The secondary issue area is second most relevant issue area of a grant. Including a secondary issue area is imperative to have a better understanding of how issue areas connect, because of how crosscutting environmental issue areas are. It also helps us get a better grasp on grantmaking to broader issue areas that are affected by a very diverse spectrum of environmental grants.
This is especially evident in looking at issue areas that HEFN members fund. When categorizing a grant to toxic agriculture run-off researchers were forced to pick between Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems, Toxics, Fresh Water/Inland Water Ecosystems, Environmental Health, and other relevant issue areas. Adding a secondary issue area has allowed us to begin to analyze these relationships between issues and more accurately capture issue areas that are often considered the secondary purpose for the grant.
How are EGA members using the data?
EGA members have been using Tracking the Field to find new partners, learn about trends, and make program related decisions based on gaps in funding. The Tracking the Field searchable database has allowed members to search issue areas, geographic regions, and possible grantees to connect to other EGA members with similar grantmaking interests. We have also heard from many program officers that they have used Tracking the Field as a valuable lens on the wider field of environmental philanthropy and to identify future trends and priority areas in discussions on their dockets with their boards.
What lessons has EGA learned about tracking grants in cross-cutting issue areas?
We have found that many grants that we would consider to be “environmental” were not necessarily categorized by our member foundations as being environmental because they were outside of the foundation’s environmental program area. We believe that a sustainable communities grant or environmental health grant that is funded out of a community-based program area is equally important to include in our analysis. Therefore, our research team looks at all of our members’ grants rather than focusing on environmental programs.
What does the report data tell us about grantmaking geographically?
In 2010 approximately 32% of EGA member grantmaking was international. While the amount of money foundations are giving internationally has stayed pretty consistent, there is a trend toward EGA members giving international grants to other EGA members (regranting). When looking exclusively at regranting this number jumps significantly to 73% showing that foundations are giving grants to other foundations that have expertise in international grantmaking.
Is EGA planning any upcoming releases on specific interest areas?
In 2011, EGA released a report focused on international grantmaking leading up to Rio +20 in partnership with the Ford Foundation. We are currently talking to a number of foundations about other focused research. We hope to hear from the EGA and HEFN community about what would be the most useful next steps for the health and environment focused community. We are excited by the amount of data we have collected over the years and look forward to digging in where we can add value!
We welcome ideas for collaboration, drawing on our baseline of data to help inform and strengthen environmental philanthropy.
Rachel Leon is executive director of the Environmental Grantmakers Association, a high-impact network of environmental funders working to achieve a sustainable world. EGA works with members and partners to promote effective environmental philanthropy by sharing knowledge, fostering debate, cultivating leadership, facilitating collaboration, and catalyzing action.
Franny Canfield is the knowledge and program manager at the Environmental Grantmakers Association. She has been the lead researcher on Tracking the Field Volume 2, Volume 3, and Volume 4.