My colleague Joel Schwartz responded to the story on EPA grantmaking to environmental groups (blogged here yesterday) with this insightful comment:
The irony is that the AP story gets the conflict of interest backwards. AP makes the mistake of thinking that NRDC and other activist groups might not want criticize EPA's policies because they're receiving money from EPA. In fact, EPA intends that much of the money they give to activists will be used to criticize or sue the agency for being too lax, with the intended result that EPA's power will be increased. The article suggests that environmental groups have a conflict of interest in their fiduciary obligation to EPA. But the conflict of interest is that EPA funds activist groups to do PR and file lawsuits that help maintain and enhance EPA's power and maintain the public fear necessary for continued public support for the regulatory-activist complex. A related conflict of interest, not addressed here, is that EPA (and state regulators) provide much of the funding for the health effects research that is then used to justify the need for EPA and state regulators.