Phil Radford, Greenpeace USA's new executive director, has many goals, but landing on the speed-dial list of top White House and Capitol Hill officials is not among them.
The path to his top goal – passage of climate legislation – starts far from Capitol Hill, he said.
"Our major focus is having people actually in the communities, in the districts," said Radford, whose own road to Greenpeace's top job went through grassroots organizing.
In an interview, Radford, 33, moved quickly past a question about the group's relatively modest Washington lobbying efforts, which he said will grow somewhat, and arrives at what he really wants to discuss.
"Our primary role, while being very involved in policy creation and lobbying, is really how do we create the space for everybody to win more, and how do we take it back home to the districts and mobilize people who are affected by these issues, so that Congress is hearing from more people than just the coal companies that want a giveaway in this bill," he said Tuesday.
Simply put, Radford wants to apply the Greenpeace model – applying pressure from the left flank of the environmental movement – to the biggest environment and energy battle of the Obama administration. "He understands that Greenpeace's strength is not inside the Beltway," said John Coequyt, a Sierra Club lobbyist who worked at Greenpeace for five years.
Radford, who began working for Greenpeace USA in 2003, was grassroots director before the group announced his promotion this week to executive. During his years at Greenpeace, he is credited with greatly expanding student organizing, fundraising and on-the-ground campaigning.
"It is pretty obvious why they chose Phil," Coequyt said. "He is very organized, he is very steady in his view of what Greenpeace should be doing and how it should rebuild itself, and he also has been very successful in re-establishing the field component of Greenpeace."
Radford played a major role in building Greenpeace's canvassing operation, which the group decided to bring back in-house after years of using the Fund for the Public Interest, a nonprofit that does field canvassing and campaign work for left-leaning organizations.
"He is high-energy and very intense, and he is very data-driven," Coequyt said. "He puts out these sheets that show how every canvass is doing, and sort of shows people, 'See, it is working.' And that is the way he approaches most of this stuff, making sure there is the accountability that these programs are benefiting the organizing."
'Loopholes and giveaways'
His work is cut out for him. Certainly, President Obama's victory and the expanded power of congressional Democrats have greatly increased the chances of completing legislation that caps and cuts greenhouse gas emissions this year or next.
But there is also strong pressure to include measures that Greenpeace opposes. These include funding for carbon capture and storage programs for coal-burning power plants and allowing emitting industries to meet a significant chunk of their required emission reductions using offsets – spending on projects aimed at soaking up greenhouse gases, such as tree planting or preventing deforestation.
Both measures are contained in a sweeping draft climate and energy policy bill floated by two House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats, Chairman Henry Waxman of California and Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts. The lawmakers hope to shepherd the bill through the panel by Memorial Day and onto the House floor this summer.
Radford praised the bill, which also includes measures such as a nationwide renewable electricity standard, calling it a "great step forward on clean energy and energy efficiency."
But the group plans to fight what Radford calls "loopholes and giveaways."
Programs to deploy non-emitting coal-fired power? That is a "tooth fairy fund," a "boondoggle" and a "huge corporate giveaway" to Radford. Indeed, Greenpeace issued a report last month arguing that coal, which now provides half of U.S. electricity, could be phased out of the country's energy mix by 2050.
But fighting such provisions will not be easy. Energy politics break along lines that are as regional as they are partisan, and lawmakers from coal- and manufacturing-heavy states wield considerable clout, especially in the Senate.
Calling for an end to coal "is not a politically popular view to take in Washington," said Frank O'Donnell, president of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch.
"They are willing to go out there and say things that others are reluctant to say, because some groups want to be inside players, and I think they are content to essentially tell it like it is from the outside, and I think that is useful. I think we need folks like that as part of the overall system," he said.
Offsets are particularly problematic for Greenpeace.
Fighting deforestation in the Amazon, Indonesia and elsewhere is one of Greenpeace's major campaigns aiming to slow emissions and protect biodiversity. But Radford is worried about the substantial role for offsets in the bill, alleging that this could undercut the transition to non-emitting energy sources and stall industrial emissions reductions.
"On its own we should be investing billions of dollars in protecting forests around the world. What we don't want to do is say, 'Do you want cut pollution, or do you want to prevent trees from getting cut?'" Radford said.
While environmental groups largely overlap in their push for sharp emissions cuts and faster renewable energy deployment, there are also differences.
Some major environmental groups working with segments of the utility and oil industries support considerable offsets and carbon capture and sequestration measures, as part of a unified cap-and-trade policy plank.
Indeed, the Waxman-Markey bill borrows heavily from the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, or USCAP. It includes groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund, as well as major companies like Duke Energy Corp. and Shell Oil Co.
"It is hard for me to foresee legislation passing that would not have provisions on those two issues," said Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. He is former environmental counsel to Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), playing a leading role in crafting the climate legislation that Lieberman introduced with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2003.
"If those are central planks of that [USCAP] blueprint, it indicates they are important areas of compromise between the parties on climate change," he said.
But do not expect Radford and Greenpeace to stop pushing on the climate bill and other areas – from the outside in.
Speaking in Greenpeace's office in the late afternoon on the day he was unveiled as director, Radford said he would build on the work of John Passacantando, who "really turned Greenpeace around" before he stepped down late last year.
Said Radford, "I think we will see more focus on becoming the premier organization that influences corporations and plays a more significant role in creating more space for Congress to do better."
Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500