Natural Resources Defense Council

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WARNING! Sewage sludge is toxic. Food should not be grown in "biosolids." Join the Food Rights Network.

Natural Resources Defense Council is considered a Big Green environmental group, one of the largest and most prominent in the world. NRDC describes itself "the nation's most effective environmental action organization. We use law, science and the support of more than 1 million members and online activists to protect the planet's wildlife and wild places and to ensure a safe and healthy environment for all living things. Worth Magazine has named NRDC one of America's 100 best charities, and Charity Navigator has given NRDC four stars (out of a possible four)." [1] It was founded by Michael A. McIntosh, Sr. It is formally allied with

As one of the largest environmental groups, NRDC has often been singled out for criticism by industry funded groups such as the Center for Consumer Freedom. (See Conservatives target the Natural Resources Defense Council for more details).

Support for coal gasification

NRDC has espoused a pragmatic approach to coal that focuses on encouraging coal gasification and carbon capture and storage, a position that has frequently placed the organization at odds with local activists opposing projects such as the Empire Synfuel project in New York. "We can't eliminate coal," said Katherine Kennedy, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "So although other technologies are the ones we're going to favor, we're looking for solutions on the coal front, too."[2][3]

TXU Deal

As part of the estimated US$45 billion buyout, Texas utility TXU (now Luminant) settled a series of lawsuits with NRDC and Environmental Defense and agreed to cancel 8 of its planned 11 new Texas coal-fired power plants as well as several new coal-fired plants in Pennsylvania and Virginia, back federal legislation to create a cap-and-trade system regulating CO2 emissions, and double spending on energy efficiency. In return, Environmental Defense and NRDC agreed not to campaign against TXU’s remaining three Texas coal-fired plants.[4] In March 2007, TXU announced its official withdrawal of the air permit applications for the eight cancelled plants.[5]

The following proposed Texas coal plants were cancelled in TXU deal:

The following plants were allowed to proceed:

NRDC Calls for Better Regulation of Sewage Sludge in 2002/2003

In 2002, NRDC released a press release titled "This Just In: Sludge May Be Hazardous to Your Health."[6] The press release states:

"The government is using outdated science in assessing the health risk of sewage sludge used as fertilizer. According to a new report by the National Research Council, the standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1993 on the use of "biosolids" for treating soil are based on an unreliable survey identifying hazardous chemicals in sewage sludge from wastewater treatment plants. The NRC panel concluded that the agency needs to do more scientific study on the risks to people from exposure to chemicals and disease-causing pathogens in sludge used as fertilizer.
"The panel's report underscores that current federal regulations on applying sludge do not protect public health, according to NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). Earlier this year, EPA and NRDC reached a legal settlement that requires the agency to develop a plan to address NRC's recommendations."

In the press release, Nancy Stoner, director of NRDC's Clean Water Project is quoted as calling the EPA's policy of land application of sludge "not safe." Furthermore, the press release notes that "The NRC panel's report found that EPA's sludge regulations may fail to protect the public from infectious diseases as well as toxic chemicals that cause long-term debilitating illnesses, including cancer." It goes on to note other studies that point to hazards of land application of sewage sludge: "Two years ago, the Centers for Disease Control identified Class B sewage sludge as a potential hazard for workers handling the material. In 1997, the Cornell University Waste Management Institute warned that federal sludge regulations undermine agricultural productivity and fail to protect the environment and public health. Meanwhile, two EPA inspector general reports have concluded that the agency cannot guarantee that land application protects human health and the environment because there is not enough data or enforcement."

NRDC followed up in 2003 with a press release critiquing the EPA for failing to regulate cancer-causing dioxins in sewage sludge:

"The Environmental Protection Agency today announced it will not regulate dioxins in land-applied sewage sludge, regardless of the fact that it is the largest source for dioxin exposure in the nation after backyard trash burning. Dioxins are among the most toxic substances on Earth, according to NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), and today's decision violates the Clean Water Act, which requires the agency to limit toxic pollutants that harm human health or the environment.
"Dioxins cause cancer and diabetes, as well as nervous system and hormonal problems," said Nancy Stoner, director of NRDC's Clean Water Project. "And the EPA is required by law to protect the public from toxic pollutants like dioxins. This decision shows the agency under this administration has forgotten its mission."
"EPA was required to announce this final regulation today as part of a settlement agreement with NRDC. The settlement is the final phase of lawsuits filed by NRDC and environmentalists in Oregon more than a decade ago to require EPA to limit toxic pollutants in sludge. Although amendments to the Clean Water Act in 1987 require EPA to set limits on toxic pollutants, the agency has not yet met that obligation for dioxin or any other organic toxic pollutant."[7]

At that time, NRDC made the following recommendations:

  • "Prohibit sludge application on land used for pasture or growing forage food for livestock that will be consumed by humans;
  • "Set a dioxins limit at 1 in one million cancer risk to protect public health;
  • "Ban land application to sites where dioxin levels in the soil (sic) 1 parts per trillion (based on ecological risks that cannot be alleviated by management measures, such as banning application to pasture lands, which would reduce risks to human health); and
  • "Require pollution prevention programs for sludges with detectible amounts of dioxins."[8]

EDF Partners with Synagro, The World's Leader in Dumping Sewage Sludge on Farms and Gardens

It is interesting to contrast the NRDC position on sewage sludge with that of the Environmental Defense Fund. EDF creates formal corporate partnerships between itself and major corporations, such as the Carlyle Group with which it partnered in March, 2010. [9] The Carlyle Group, a private investment corporation, owns Synagro, the world's largest company producing sewage sludge "compost" and "fertilizer," often called "biosolids," that is dumped on farms and gardens.

According to its own guidelines [10], EDF does not accept direct funding from corporations that are engaged "in any significant activities that are in direct conflict with EDF’s environmental protection objectives or activities." This is misleading, since EDF does aggressively seek funding from employees, board members and investors in such corporations, including its formal corporate partners such as Carlyle Group. And EDF also considers on a case by case basis donations from foundations set up by such corporations.

It would seem that by partnering with Synagro EDF is in fact endorsing the practices of Synagro in dumping sludge on farms and gardens, and in misleading millions of people by selling its sewage sludge products as "compost" and "natural organic fertilizer."

Such partnerships are extremely lucrative for EDF since it aggressively fundraises among the individuals on the Boards of Directors, in management, and who are investors in its partners. Meanwhile, the corporate partner such as Carlyle Group can greenwash itself by pointing to its partnership with one of the world's best funded Big Green environmental groups.

In the 1970s and 1980s EDF and other major environmental groups including Natural Resources Defense Council worked closely with the sewage industry and endorsed moves by the Environmental Protection Agency to rename toxic sewage sludge as "biosolids" and dump the waste onto farmland. Until May, 2011, when EDF requested it be removed, the following quote appeared on a sludge industry website showing endorsement of this practice.

"EDF and NRDC have been steadfast proponents of reusing biosolids of appropriate quality as the best biosolids management alternative. Biosolids can be a valuable natural resource."
FRED KRUP, Executive Director - JOHN ADAMS Executive Director
Environmental Defense Fund - Natural Resources Defense Fund"[11]

EDF's Sean Crowley had the quote taken down, and he points out that there is no date or citation for the quote, which likely came from a consent decree among major environmental groups and the sewage sludge industry. While it is partnered with the world's largest sewage sludge company, Synagro of Carlyle Group, Crowley claims that EDF has no position what so ever on the practice of using agricultural farms and gardens as waste dumps for sewage sludge.

NRDC, on the other hand, became a critic of sludge dumping in 2002 and 2003, based on the dioxin contaminants in sewage sludge.



Accessed June 2011: [12]

Former Trustees

Honorary Trustees



Natural Resources Defense Council
40 West 20th Street
New York, NY 10011
Phone 212-727-2700
Fax 212-727-1773


  1. NRDC website
  2. Tim Knauss, "DeWitt eyed for huge energy plant," December 17, 2006.
  3. Ted Nace, Stopping Coal in Its Tracks, Orion Magazine, January/February 2008.
  4. A Buyout Deal That Has Many Shades of Green, New York Times, February 26, 2007.
  5. "TXU Halts Efforts To Obtain Permits for Eight Coal-Fueled Units", press release, March 1, 2007.
  6. This Just In: Sludge May Be Hazardous to Your Health, Natural Resources Defense Council, July 3, 2002, Accessed May 9, 2011.
  7. EPA Will Not Protect Public From Dioxins In Land-Applied Sewage Sludge, Natural Resources Defense Council, October 17, 2003, Accessed May 12, 2011.
  8. EPA Will Not Protect Public From Dioxins In Land-Applied Sewage Sludge, Natural Resources Defense Council, October 17, 2003, Accessed May 12, 2011.
  9. Carlyle Group Teams Up With EDF, The Wall Street Journal, March 18, 2010.
  10. EDF Corporate Funding Guidelines, 2011
  11. Bio Solids - Notable Quotes, Accessed May 6, 2011.
  12. Board, Natural Resources Defense Council, accessed November 23, 2010.
  13. NRDC website

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