The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) was established in 1983 as an outgrowth of the state-level PIRG groups founded by Ralph Nader in 1971. It is an umbrella organization of leftist student activist groups whose stated mission is to “advocate for the public interest.” It is one of two national student lobbies (the other is the United States Student Association). The National Association of State PIRGs operates under the aegis of U.S. PIRG, which reported total revenues of approximately $5.6 million in 2004.
Much of this money is derived from grants by the Bauman Family Foundation, the Beldon Fund, the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, the Blue Moon Fund, the Bullitt Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Compton Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America, the Energy Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, the Open Society Institute, Pew Charitable Trusts, the Public Welfare Foundation, the Scherman Foundation, the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, the Turner Foundation, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, and many others. Some of these grants are made directly to the national organization, others to the state chapters.
Additional revenues are derived from compulsory student activity fees which students are required to pay as part of enrolling in a university, and whose purpose is usually unknown to those students. Campus-based PIRG chapters in turn transfer most of these funds to a PIRG state chapter, to fuel the group’s lobbying of state legislatures. Ten percent of those (state) funds are funneled to U.S. PIRG’s national chapter.
Though characterizing itself as an “apolitical” campus organization, U.S. PIRG uses its revenues to underwrite a host of leftist and environmentalist causes, some of which it pursues through the U.S. PIRG Education Fund|utmcmd=organic|utmctr=(not%20provided)&utmv=-&utmk=47248167), the organization’s chief lobbying arm. With assets exceeding $5 million, this Fund gives U.S. PIRG a vehicle by which its researchers and attorneys can “conduct special investigations, craft public policy proposals, and conduct public education and participation drives around emerging public interest issues.” The U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Arctic Wilderness Campaign, decrying the “power and influence of the Bush administration, the oil lobby and their allies,” has repeatedly sought to scuttle any oil drilling initiatives.
Blaming human (mostly American) industrial ventures for the alleged threats to the well-being of the world’s water, air, land, and animal species, in July 2004 U.S. PIRG demanded that the Bush administration act immediately to restore ecological health to the “fragile oceans” of the world which were “in trouble.”
In 2000, U.S. PIRG produced a report about the allegedly grave threat posed by global warming. Titled Storm Warning: Global Warming and the Rising Costs of Extreme Weather, this publication claimed that during the 20th century, temperatures worldwide had risen dramatically and had sparked a host of natural disasters. “Global warming,” said U.S. PIRG, “is caused primarily by power plant, industry and automobile pollution. Scientists predict extreme weather events like heat waves, droughts, fires, downpours, and floods, to occur more often and more intensely as global temperatures rise.” U.S. PIRG used the report’s findings to justify its running campaign for the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.
U.S. PIRG identifies some of its “top accomplishments” as:
Stopping The Bad Energy Bill: “Twice in 2003 and 2004, U.S. PIRG staff … played a pivotal role in convincing enough Democrats and Republicans to vote down a harmful energy bill, despite the powerful utilities and energy industries backing the proposal.”
Cleaning Our Air: “In 2003, thanks to U.S. PIRG advocacy, the EPA issued tough rules to reduce pollution from dirty, diesel-powered farm and construction equipment.”
Fighting Toxic Mercury Pollution: “U.S. PIRG and our coalition partners collected a record number of public comments (more than 650,000) to the EPA, opposing the proposal to allow more mercury pollution from power plants for longer than the Clean Air Act allows.”
Among their accomplishments since the 1970s, U.S. PIRG and its state chapters list the following: the “passage of the Minnesota Acid Deposition Act, the nation’s first acid rain legislation” (1983); persuading the Missouri Public Utilities Commission “to stop … spending on an unbuilt nuclear power plant” (1983); helping to win reauthorization of the federal toxics waste cleanup Superfund law” (1986); helping to “win a new Safe Drinking Water Act” (1986); helping to pass “legislation protecting the ozone layer by banning many uses of ozone-depleting CFCs in Vermont” (1989); playing a “key role in passing a strong new federal Clean Air Act, with tough provisions to cut acid rain emissions … control 191 air toxics, and strengthen anti-smog standards” (1990); helping to lead “a coalition effort winning the federal ‘Motor Voter’ law, enabling citizens to register to vote when they apply for or renew their drivers’ licenses” (1990); helping prevent the paving of new roads in wilderness areas (1997); backing an initiative that prohibits oil drilling in national monuments (2001); helping to win “new federal standards that will cut pollution from diesel buses and heavy-duty trucks by more than 90 percent” (2001); and helping “reinstate tough limits on arsenic in drinking water” (2001).