Which Small Foundation is Taking on Mountaintop Removal?

Founded in 2006 and based out of Bethesda, MD, the Cornell Douglas Foundation may not be on your radar. A relative newcomer on the scene, this progressive funder makes grants in the range of $10,000-$15,000, focusing on environment health and stewardship. The foundation has also shown increased interest in the issues surrounding mountaintop mining (especially in Appalachia). Their president, Ann Cornell, recently wrote a piece addressing the issue.

Mountaintop removal has a profound impact on the environment. It reshapes the landscape, leading to deforestation, water contamination, and pollution. The residents of West Virginia recently felt the impact when a chemical used to process coal leaked into the state’s Elk River.

The Health & Environmental Funders Network (HEFN) recently published a post by Ann Cornell noting that the Cornell Douglas Foundation is “one of several HEFN members that have been funding organizations in Appalachia and/or are considering grantmaking following the West Virginia chemical spill.”

Cornell wrote, “I don’t think any issue other than mountaintop removal mining tramples so heavily on the rights of all of us.”  She has been traveling through Appalachian areas to learn from local organizations about the effects of mountaintop removal. Cornell feels strongly about the issue, concluding her piece by saying “I urge funders able to make a difference in the lives of others to bring your focus to the immediate and long-term needs of those impacted by the travesty of mountaintop removal.”

The Cornell Douglas Foundation has funded a project related to the issue in the past. In 2012, the foundation gave $10,000 to the non-profit Appalachian Voices to fight mountaintop mining. Other 2012 projects went toward issues surrounding fracking ($10,000 to the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund and $15,000 to the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition), improving river conditions, reducing the use of harmful chemicals, and general support to environmental organizations (such as $10,000 to the Coal River Mountain Watch).

In light of Cornell’s post, it seems likely that more grants will go toward mountaintop removal issues in the future. The Cornell Douglas Foundation accepts applications throughout the year and puts its president’s contact information up front and center.

It's no surprise that Cornell is fighting this battle, which has rallied many progressive environmentalists. She is the granddaughter of Henry A. Wallace, who is remembered as as FDR's Secretary of Agriculture, his vice president, and then an independent progressive candidate for president in 1948. What's less well-known is that Wallace also made a fortune in agriculture. 

That money bankrolls the Wallace Genetic Foundation, which is also a funder of environmental groups and other progressive organizations—and has been funding to stop mountaintop removal, too. Wallace Genetic used to be run by Ann's mother, Jean Wallace Douglas (who died in 2011). While Ann sits on its board, it's widely associated with her brother, David Douglas. Perhaps the Cornell Douglas Foundation was set up to provide Ann with her own philanthropic shop. Following its establishment, the foundation received contributions from Wallace Genetic, along with money from Ann's trust and from her parents (her father, W. Leslie Douglas, died in 2010).