Check Out the Foundations Targeting Dirty Energy

The Keystone Pipeline has been the subject of much debate and political wrangling over the past few years. Central to the debate is the development of Canada's oil sands. Extracting bitumen (heavy crude) from Alberta's Athabasca Oil Sands would require open-pit mining and the destruction of swaths of boreal forest. Development would also create a great deal of water pollution and more greenhouse gases. Environmentalists are dead-set against the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, and it would seem that several major U.S. foundations are as well.

Over the past few years, numerous grants have been made to reduce the impact and slow the expansion of tar sand production in Canada. These grants have come from the likes of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Oak Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and others. Each of these foundations has a strong energy and climate program focused on improving energy efficiency, increasing renewables, and educating the public on energy issues. Fighting the Keystone Pipeline, however, has been the goal of several grants made by these institutions.

In 2009 and 2010, several major grants went to the Tides Foundation, an organization that offers an array of services, including fiscal sponsorships, facilitating grantmaking, consulting, and advocacy work. In 2009, the Oak Foundation gave Tides $700,000 to slow the expansion of tar sands production and reduce future demand for tar sands oil. In 2010, the Hewlett Foundation (see Hewlett Foundation: Grants for Climate Change) gave $2 million to the Tides Foundation to "reduce the environmental impacts of oil and gas development in Northern Canada." (Read Hewlett Program Director Tom Steinbach's IP profile.)

Meanwhile, the Rockefeller Foundation (see Rockefeller Foundation: Grants for Climate Change) chose to support the anti-tar-sands work of Corporate Ethics International from 2007 to 2010. This group focuses on building the capacity of NGOs to conduct corporate campaigns and to engage in shareholder activism encouraging corporate responsibility. The Rockefeller Foundation supported their work to stem demand for tar sands derived fuel every year from 2007 to 2010, with grants ranging from $250,000 to $500,000. 

Since then, it looks as though the major foundations have moved on to new organizations while still keeping their eye on the tar sands. In 2011, the Oak Foundation gave nearly $1 million to 350.org for its work opposing dirty energy projects, including the Keystone Pipeline. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund gave $500,000 to the Sierra Club Foundation for its Beyond Coal and Tar Sands projects. Hewlett continues to fund grants that encourage moving beyond oil to new energy sources.

The Keystone Pipeline will likely remain an issue for a while yet, as will the development of the tar sands to which the pipeline is bound. Fortunately, foundations are paying attention and have proven willing to fund programs taking on the pipeline. Grantees working on tar sand issues in Canada should take heed.