The Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the country's most influential environmental groups, has sent at least a half-dozen former employees into prime government positions tasked with writing U.S. climate and energy policies.
Michael Goo, NRDC's legislative director on climate issues over the past 18 months, started Tuesday as special counsel for Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey's House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
"Michael brings with him an encyclopedia of knowledge on these subjects, and he will be a great resource in enabling the House to pass climate change legislation," Markey, who also chairs the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee, said today in a press release.
The "NRDC mafia," as a former employee of the organization put it, is largely centered in Democratic offices on Capitol Hill. In February, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hired the group's legislative director of six years, Karen Wayland, to serve as her top staffer on energy and environmental issues.
Other NRDC officials now working for lawmakers: Melissa Bez, a professional staffer for House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.); Eben Burnham-Snyder, spokesman for Markey's select committee; Brad Crowell, environmental aide to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.); and Chris Murray in Sen. Evan Bayh's (D-Ind.) office.
Also of note is David McIntosh, a former air pollution attorney at NRDC who until last year worked as the lead legislative author on global warming issues for Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). McIntosh last month took a job as senior legislative adviser to U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
"It may be a reflection that top-notch people want to work here, at least for a while," said David Doniger, the policy director of NRDC's climate center and himself a former Clinton EPA official for eight years on global warming policy. The New York-based NRDC employs about 375 people.
During the Bush administration, industry attorneys often came under fire for leaving their high-paying jobs to work on the same issues while in government -- only to return to those private positions again.
But a source at NRDC argued today that environmentalists like Goo and Wayland do not belong in the same category.
"We ask ourselves this a lot," the source said. "We can't equate our revolving door with industry. Theirs involves millions of dollars. Ours doesn't. And won't ever. People go from modest means in nonprofits to modest means in government. It's not about the money."
Scott Segal, a lobbyist for the electric utility and petroleum refining industry, praised Goo and the other former NRDC employees.
"NRDC is about as talented an environmental law firm as you'll find in Washington," Segal said. "So it's no surprise there's demand for the services of these individuals."
But Segal, who works in the Washington offices of Bracewell & Giuliani, also had a warning for the people now at the table for powerful members of Congress and the Obama administration.
"They also have to be mindful of conflict of interests when sitting across the negotiation table from those organizations" that they once worked for, he said.
"The best energy and environmental policies are made when all sides are represented," Segal added. "On either side, you don't want the regulated community or the public interest community to have unfair access."