It pays to be a top dog in the energy and environment business -- even in the nonprofit arena.
Big bosses at some of the most influential environmental nonprofits and energy trade associations are making comfortable salaries -- from hundreds of thousands of dollars to several million per year -- and many have racked up sizable raises recently. The steady cash flow for the groups' bigwigs comes even as they've failed to prod a reluctant Congress to pass big environmental or energy bills that many have been advocating for years and as the U.S. economy struggles to recover.
But it's all business as usual in the influence industry, where bosses' connections, resumes and ability to advance their causes can bring hefty paychecks and generous benefits.
"The money that people earn in a job is driven primarily by market forces," said Paul Belford, principal and director of the association search practice at JDG, an executive search firm. "There's nothing wrong with industrial and special-interest representation in the capital of the country representing the legitimate interests of their industries and causes. That's how it's supposed to work."
Many green group bosses have focused their efforts recently on playing defense for the Obama administration as it looks to push through an ambitious agenda of environmental regulations despite pushback from GOP lawmakers and some heavyweight sectors of the energy industry.
Several heads of environmental nonprofits made upward of $600,000 in 2012, according to a Greenwire review of the nonprofit groups' annual tax filings. The 2012 filings are the most current available for many organizations. Several groups said they expect to file their 2013 forms in the coming months this year.
In groups like environmental nonprofits, which are "cause related," Belford said, "the people running the board are responsible for establishing a range of compensation that is compatible with their interest and the job."
Among the biggest earners: Mark Tercek, president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy, and Carter Roberts, head of the World Wildlife Fund. Tercek earned $646,821 in 2012, including salary, benefits and other compensation. Roberts, meanwhile, took home a total of $638,541. Both CEOs had received raises since the previous year.
Those groups also bring in large annual revenues. The Nature Conservancy took in nearly $860 million in the filing period ending June 30, 2013, largely through contributions and grants, down from the $950 million it earned the previous year. Its net assets as of June 2013 totaled $5.4 billion.
The World Wildlife Fund's revenue during the 2012 filing period was about $230 million, an uptick from $208 million the previous year. The group had $319 million in assets in June of last year.
Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp and National Audubon Society CEO David Yarnold were also among the top earners at green groups. Krupp made $541,836 in salary and benefits in 2012; Yarnold earned $504,288.
Audubon spokeswoman Agatha Szczepaniak said, "The National Audubon Society's revenues have increased under David Yarnold's leadership as we increase our focus and conservation work."
Yarnold took the helm of Audubon in 2010 and has since been credited with slashing expenses and helping to balance the group's budget for the first time in more than a decade, according to Crain's New York Business.
Former green execs cashed in
Many bosses at green groups have headed for the exits lately as a new generation of younger -- and sometimes less expensive -- leaders has taken over.
At the Natural Resources Defense Council, outgoing boss Frances Beinecke earned $435,732 in 2012, up from $427,688 the previous year. She'll be replaced in January by Rhea Suh, the Interior Department's assistant secretary for policy, management and budget, NRDC announced earlier this month (E&ENews PM, Sept. 17).
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune earned $229,400 in 2012, a bump from the $208,066 he made in 2011. But he still wasn't earning as much as former Chairman Carl Pope, who earned $282,588 from the group in 2012. Pope stepped down as chairman in late 2011 but stayed on into 2012 as a senior strategic adviser (E&ENews PM, Nov. 18, 2011).
Pope's 2012 pay included a severance agreement and unused vacation in addition to his salary. "He had a long career here, so it was substantial," Sierra Club spokeswoman Maggie Kao said. He was a 30-year veteran of the Sierra Club, including 17 years as the group's executive director.
As chairman, Pope earned $238,757 in 2011.
Former Wilderness Society President Bill Meadows earned $308,645 from the group in 2012. He was replaced in May 2012 by Jamie Williams but stayed on as a salaried counselor to Williams and the group's governing council until April 2013. Meadows now serves as pro-bono counselor and honorary member of the group's governing council. Williams, meanwhile, earned $204,942 from May 2012 until the end of that year.
Greenpeace has been on the lower end of the pay scale among big-name environmental groups, where former Executive Director Phil Radford earned $180,789 in 2013, up from $173,673 in 2012. Radford, who stepped down in April, was replaced by Annie Leonard, a former Greenpeace organizer and the founder of the environmental group Story of Stuff Project (E&ENews PM, May 6).
At the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, Chairman John Podesta earned $244,874 in salary and benefits last year before he left his post to join the White House as President Obama's counselor. Podesta's pay took a hit when he moved to the government gig; he's now making $172,200 per year, according to White House records.
CAP President Neera Tanden, meanwhile, earned $316,346 in 2013, a boost from the $287,671 she received in 2012.
National Wildlife Federation
The National Wildlife Federation has faced some financial difficulties, according to the group's tax filings. As of August 2013, the group reported having -$8.4 million in assets, an improvement over the -$14.7 million in assets it had reported a year earlier. The group reported revenues of $82.8 million in its most recent filing, compared to $84.8 million the previous year, largely from contributions and grants.
The Internal Revenue Service Form 990 doesn't provide the full picture of NWF's finances because the group has a separate endowment that offers funding for the organization, according to a spokesman for the group. That endowment had $59.4 million in net assets in August 2013.
Earlier this year, the group's new CEO, Collin O'Mara, laid off several high-level and highly paid officials in what was seen as an effort to cut costs. Those layoffs reportedly included John Kostyack, vice president of wildlife conservation, and Felice Stadler, director of operations for global warming solutions (Greenwire, July 29).
Neither Kostyack nor Stadler was listed as part of NWF's disclosure of its highest-paid employees in 2012. The reported salaries -- including benefits and other compensation -- ranged from $152,935 to $365,908. The group's highest-paid employee, former CEO Larry Schweiger, earned $365,908 in 2012, his last full year on the job -- a slight boost from the $362,839 he received in 2011.
O'Mara's salary hasn't yet been publicly reported by the group. He stepped down as Delaware's top environmental official to replace Schweiger earlier this year (E&ENews PM, May 1).
"We're on solid financial footing thanks to a strong revitalization and restructuring effort being led by our new president and CEO, Collin O'Mara," NWF spokesman Miles Grant said. "As America's largest conservation organization, we're fortunate to have a large endowment that helped us weather a couple of lean years and come out strong here on the other side."
Trade group chiefs make bank
Most of those salaries pale in comparison to the hefty sums being earned by the heads of industry trade groups.
Take Jack Gerard of the American Petroleum Institute, who earned $5,185,345 in 2012. That was just under U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue, who raked in $5,482,697.
"When it comes to publicly traded companies in particular and the trade associations that they fund, we think that there's not enough transparency on the pay of CEOs in comparison to the workers in the different industries and that generally the pay is just outsized in comparison to the work that they are doing," said Lisa Gilbert, director of the Congress Watch division at Public Citizen. The money could be put to better use, she said, if it were "funneled back to things -- in this case like more environmental practices for these types of industries."
U.S. Chamber spokeswoman Blair Latoff Holmes said the business group receives guidance on how to best compensate its executives.
Donohue "leads the largest, most active and most influential trade organization in the world, and our board compensates him accordingly," Latoff Holmes said. "Like many other organizations, we seek input on compensation matters from leading consultants in the field, and Tom's compensation reflects his expertise and accomplishments."
Some argue that running a Washington-based nonprofit group is no easy task. As a result, high pay comes with handling the coveted yet difficult jobs.
"Raising the annual budget, managing all those employees and delivering the results is akin to running a large corporation. You have to continually make your case," said Peter Kelley, vice president of public affairs for the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).
AWEA brought on a new CEO in 2013, Tom Kieran, who has environmental experience, having run the National Parks Conservation Association for 15 years. Kelley said Kieran has bipartisan chops, having also served at U.S. EPA during the George H.W. Bush administration and "is just very knowledgeable about both energy and environment."
The wind energy group is a big organization, bringing $30.8 million in revenue for 2012. It also has to defend the wind energy tax credit, which has come under attack, with Congress in a budget-slashing mood lately.
"The job is a tough one because we are a major and fast-growing industry. We have to be active in lobbying because there are dozens of incentives out there, and we have to protect the one that serves our industry," Kelley said.
Kieran's predecessor, Denise Bode, earned $623,199 in total compensation for 2012, according to AWEA's latest form. Kelley wouldn't speculate on Kieran's pay, and the group expects to file its 2013 tax form later this year.
Several top executives at business groups active in energy policy were pulling down hefty salaries -- often in the hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars.
Hal Quinn, the National Mining Association's president and CEO, earned $1,037,647 in total compensation and benefits for 2012.
Others did even better than Quinn. Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the American Gas Association, pulled down $1,765,916 for that year.
Marvin Fertel, the Nuclear Energy Institute's (NEI) chief executive, also was making millions of dollars, having earned compensation and benefits worth $2,647,415 in 2012.
And Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), was compensated $4,083,818 for that year.
Mary Miller, EEI's chief administrative officer, said Kuhn's compensation was boosted due to the retirement benefits he will receive in the future.
"Because of the defined pension benefit that Tom has, it's reportable on the tax form, but it's not pay that he will take home that year," Miller said. "It's a representation of a pension benefit that he will see in the future."
Miller noted that EEI does "have a compensation committee of the board and a third-party consultant who provides data to that committee. They review competitive pay, and it's a very deliberate process."
The substantial salaries are not surprising, given the large budgets available to these groups. In 2012, EEI had almost $85.4 million in revenue and NEI took in $52.4 million, while NMA had nearly $49.5 million in revenue for that year.
Salaries for energy group executives often rank high in Bloomberg News' review of top pay among Washington's trade associations.
Ivan Adler, a principal at the McCormick Group who headhunts lobbyists for firms and trade groups, said Washington's biggest business groups can pay top dollar -- something that's needed when billions of dollars can be at stake with legislation and regulation.
"The crossing of the T and the dotting of the I in the regulatory world can cost you a lot of money. To hire the talent that understands that world, you need to pay beaucoup dinero," Adler said. "You get what you pay for. These guys have the ability to pay."