NRDC Co-Founder Fights Eco-Friendly Community Near His Home

June 10th, 2016 3:55 PM

The media often cite the Natural Resources Defense Council when covering environmental issues, but one of the group’s founders appears opposed to going “green”’ when it’s near his own back yard.

James Gustave “Gus” Speth recently expressed vehement opposition to a plan to build 20 self-sustaining, eco-friendly communities in Vermont. In 1970, he co-founded the NRDC, and is still listed as an honorary trustee member. Speth previously served as the dean of Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and is currently a professor of Vermont Law College.

A June 5 article written by VTDigger’s Annie Galloway quoted Speth saying that the project would “destroy this community.” Speth also declared, “It’s the biggest existential threat to this area that I can imagine, and that leads to the second mistake. You have landed in a field of warriors, and the people who live here are willing to fight every step of the way to be sure this doesn’t come to fruition.”

David R. Hall acquired property in Vermont near the towns of Royalton, Sharon, Tunbridge, and Strafford, where Speth resides. This area has special significance for Hall, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, because Sharon is the birthplace of LDS founder Joseph Smith.

According to Galloway, Hall admits that his wealth was made in the oil industry, but is now applying his engineering skills towards creating eco-friendly communities which require their members to commit to reducing their carbon footprints by 90 percent. In order to achieve this goal, houses would be designed to allow only 200 square feet per person, and include convertible communal areas that could be used as dining rooms, living rooms, and bedrooms.

Speth’s reaction is ironic considering that Hall’s vision for his communities revolve around a radical, environmentally conscious lifestyle that strives to achieve many of the same goals encouraged by the NRDC.

The NRDC website advocates building sustainable cities, relying on local food sources, and energy efficient buildings.

All three of these objectives are addressed on Hall’s NewVistas Foundation website. On the website, there are plans for “green” houses with actual greenhouses built on each roof so that families can grow their own produce. Other illustrations show houses with semi-permanent walls to eliminate “wasteful demolition,” built-in overhead storage to maximize space, and energy-efficient kitchens and bathrooms.

The NRDC opposes the use of fossil fuels such as oil and gas, which it claims “causes climate change as well as contributes to asthma, heart disease, and cancer.”

NewVistas is also opposed to fossil fuels. Its website claims that the communities will strive to eliminate dependence on fossil fuels and reduce the amount of pollution caused by vehicles. NewVistas Foundation states that the communities will be designed to eliminate the need for long distance travel, and “the primary mode of transportation is walking because it is both convenient and practical.”

Some of NewVistas other goals include providing “limited disposal facilities” to encourage recycling, which includes a sewage system that recycles “biological waste.” But apparently even these environmentally friendly measures are not enough to impress Gus Speth.

The NRDC was involved in the 1980s health scare over the chemical Daminozidem, commonly referred to as Alar. Sprayed on apples, the NRDC claimed that the chemical was a dangerous carcinogen. Later, it was revealed that the basis for this claim was a study performed on rats, and that Alar did have the potential to cause cancer, but only in those who drank 19,000 quarts of juice per day.

However, the media still cite the NRDC as a reliable source for environmental issues. On May 23, 2012, a Washington Post article described the NRDC as “an advocacy group” and failed to mention its liberal agenda. When reporting NASA and NOAA’s claim that 2014 was the hottest year on record, NBC interviewed someone from the NRDC and did not present any counter arguments.