In May 2003, when he was a 25-year veteran of the Sierra Club, Larry Fahn was elected as the fiftieth president in the history of the environmentalist group, which was founded in 1882. First joining the Sierra Club in the early 1970s as an undergraduate at the University of California at Davis, where he majored in environmental studies, Fahn cut his activist teeth in a multitude of environmentalist campaigns. Over the years, his contributions to the Sierra Club’s mission have included many varied endeavors, from lobbying for limits on nuclear power to working for a ban on off-shore oil drilling.
In addition to presiding over the Sierra Club, Fahn, an attorney who began practicing law in the late 1970s, also serves as executive director of As You Sow (AYS), a San Francisco-based environmentalist group that styles itself as “one of the most prominent enforcers of California’s Proposition 65”—a 1986 “toxic labeling” law authored by Fahn’s Sierra Club colleague Carl Pope. That is not a matter of coincidence. By stipulating that California products containing any trace of carcinogens must carry a warning (even if those carcinogens are present in doses that could not possibly pose a health risk to consumers) or face a stiff fine of up to $2,500, Proposition 65 effectively laid the groundwork for the filing of frivolous lawsuits. On this score, Fahn’s AYS has been only too obliging. Acting as a legal consulting group for organizations that intend to make Proposition 65 the centerpiece of their campaign, AYS charges its clients between $25,000 and $50,000 for its services. Though the purportedly beneficial returns for the environment and for consumers remain unproven, these campaigns have been a windfall for Larry Fahn and AYS: By some estimates, between 2002 and 2003, the self-described “consumer advocacy” group has earned more than $1.5 million for holding violators of Proposition 65 to expensive account. Fahn has used some of these proceeds to underwrite radical environmentalist groups like the Rainforest Action Network and leftwing initiatives like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s Waterkeeper Alliance.
More recently, Fahn turned his years of activist experience to the task of trying to oust President George W. Bush, lamenting to Sierra Club sympathizers that “we face the most environmentally hostile federal government in our nation’s 227-year history.” In keeping with the Sierra Club’s longstanding rhetoric, Fahn also insisted that President Bush was merely an instrument of corporate interests. While Fahn has had considerable success convincing Sierra Club activists that this is indeed the case, both his decision, in March 2004, to grant the Sierra Club’s endorsement to Democratic challenger John Kerry, and his attempt to rally voters in battleground states like New Hampshire, failed to achieve their aim.