OC-IE Public Interest Green Fund
One of Coastkeeper’s five program pillars is enforcement- specifically to enforce compliance with state clean water laws and the Federal Clean Water Act. Although our preferred course of action is to collaborate with industries to reduce sources of pollution, Coastkeeper will resort to litigation if necessary. The goal of litigation is to force certain industries that have not followed clean water laws to come into compliance.
In 2011, the State Water Resources Control Board’s Office of Enforcement published the first statewide report on third party enforcement of the Clean Water Act. The Citizen Suit Enforcement Under The Federal Clean Water Act report analyzed citizen suit actions under the Federal Clean Water Act from March 2009 through June 2010. The report prominently referenced Coastkeeper’s numerous enforcement actions and included some of our recent Consent Decrees as examples of citizen suit resolutions to violations of the Clean Water Act. The report concluded by stating that “citizen suit enforcement in California fulfills the role contemplated in the Clean Water Act” and “for the most part,…address violations that the Water Boards do not have the resources to pursue with their own staff.”
In each case we have settled, there has been a “Supplemental Environmental Project” (SEP). A SEP is a voluntary, environmentally beneficial project undertaken at the election of a defendant that is related to the violation in exchange for a reduced financial penalty. SEPs must satisfy certain legal requirements, such as an underlying relationship between the violation and the environmental benefits derived from the SEP. Coastkeeper has never accepted any such SEP funds from any lawsuit for its own benefit. Rather, Coastkeeper established the Orange County/Inland Empire Green Fund (Green Fund) in order to more efficiently distribute SEP money. Since its inception in 2009, Coastkeeper has been able to direct over $250,000 to the Green Fund.
What is the Green Fund?
The Green Fund seeks to level the playing field by providing funds to NGOs that would not otherwise be able to obtain professional services to protect recognized ecological resources. The goal of these funds is not to simply stop growth or development projects, but to preserve a specific, recognized ecological resource when threatened. Grants from this fund are being made available to law schools and non-profits for the following purposes:
- Law schools who wish to provide stipends to support law school students who have completed one year of schooling and intend to work between ten and fifteen hours per week providing legal research and advocacy for the benefit of the local environment.
- To help non-profits offset the cost of employing expert consultants necessary to either help designate natural areas as deserving of protection or to preserve and protect a known designated natural resource.
- To fund restoration and “on-the-ground” infrastructure projects which are related to outdoor natural science education for students K-12.
How it works
Administered through the Orange County Community Foundation, this fund is exclusively supported by the settlements of Coastkeeper’s litigation. Coastkeeper has recruited a prestigious advisory board, consisting of individuals closely involved with public interest litigation. The Green Fund Advisory Board will make funding decisions to distribute funds to non-profit organizations who apply for funding.
Coastkeeper is not involved in determining any Green Fund awards. The independent advisory board will make the awards to NGOs. Funds are allocated only to NGOs that are based in Orange County or the Inland Empire. The threatened ecological resource must also be located within the same boundaries. Coastkeeper is excited to support critical work in our watersheds through this initiative.
Accomplishments so far…
In 2012, the fourth round of funding was distributed to three organizations totaling $50,000 for environmental programs in Orange County and the Inland Empire. The Green Fund awarded funding for the following programs:
- Inside the Outdoors Foundation: The grant is to support Inside the Outdoors’ Building Environmental Stewards for Tomorrow (BEST) program. “BEST is a youth-led conservation project that empowers high school students to affect change as they create and implement a plan to improve water quality in the Upper Newport Bay. BEST connects education with action as the student and Inside the Outdoors’ mentors work with the community to study water quality and restore wetland habitat in the Upper Newport Bay.” Approved for $16,000
- Trails4All: The grant will enable Trails4All to construct proper trails to test water quality along native creeks in order to provide critical information on pollutants and runoff. Students who are learning about water quality testing and monitoring will be used to collect data. Proper educational environmental signage will be installed along the trails. Trails4All’s partners include the U.S. Forest Service, Glen Ivy Hot Springs & Spa, Inland Empire Waterkeeper, Sherman Indian School, Centennial High School, and the Letha Raney Intermediate School. Approved for $17,000
- Inland Empire Waterkeeper: The grant funds the Santa Ana River Initiative, a program “designed to enable public access to the Santa Ana River, to protect the river as a legitimate natural resource, and provide opportunities for recreational activities at designed locations on the river. Waterkeeper envisions the Santa Ana River to be a key resource for the communities of the Inland Empire.” Waterkeeper will produce a report detailing potential sites suitable for public access to the Santa Ana River on public lands, including actual impairments to access and means of improving public use of the river. Approved for $17,000
In 2011, the Green Fund allocated its second and third round of funding for $57,000 for the following projects:
- Trails4All: “This grant is to train and enable a Native American youth leadership team to design and construct a wetland in conjunction with Glen Ivy’s holding/settling basins that would help clean the water from the facility’s mineral springs and Cold Water Creek before being discharged into Temescal Creek.” Approved for $15,000
- Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks: “This grant is for consultant fees for a Green Vision Coordinator who serves as Vice Chair of the Orange County Transportation Authority’s Environmental Oversight Committee.” Approved for $10,000
- Whittier Law School: “This grant is to provide Orange County Coastkeeper with two legal interns each semester of the 2012-14 academic years who will assist Coastkeeper with legal and policy research, document preparation and representation in a variety of venues.” Approved for $32,000
In 2010, the first round of funding was awarded to local NGOs doing important environmental work. The Green Fund allocated $79,750 for the following programs:
- Whittier Law School: “This grant is to provide Orange County Coastkeeper with two legal interns each semester of the 2010-11 academic year who will assist Coastkeeper with legal and policy research, document preparation and representation in a variety of venues.” Approved for $32,000
- Bolsa Chica Land Trust: “This grant is to offset the costs of employing expert scientific consultants. Bolsa Chica is an internationally significant ecosystem and offers habitat to several species of raptors, numerous mammals and native plants. The Land Trust has initiated the Save the Bluffs campaign to preserve eleven acres of coastal bluffs at Bolsa Chica. Expert scientific reports are needed to help preserve threatened natural habitats at Bolsa Chica.” Approved for $11,000
- Inside the Outdoors Foundation: “This grant is to restore James Pond and add educational stations to enhance outdoor environmental education programs. James Pond, a freshwater pond located at Rancho Soñado, provides a unique hands-on learning experience in a freshwater wetland living laboratory. However, cattails and silt have degraded the pond so that it is almost unusable.” Approved for $20,000
- Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary: “This grant is to upgrade the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary’s Outdoor Environmental Education Program. The proposed upgrade will significantly increase Tucker’s ability to provide hands-on Standard’s based education to visiting K-12 students. Tucker proposes to install a specifically designed, accessible, K-12 Science Laboratory. The laboratory will be stocked with supplies and equipment to conduct field investigations and experiments.” Approved for $16,750