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Environmental Groups Get Boost From GOP Attacks

For environmental groups, the focus on fundraising has come at a time when their policy agenda has been sidelined by a political focus on jobs and deficit reduction. The current political climate is a far cry from the environment-friendly mood prior to the midterm elections, when advocacy groups and the Obama administration helped pass a comprehensive climate change bill through the House.

When the bill failed in the Senate, Palamuso said environmental activists started giving more, not less, to his organization.

"There was a lot of speculation that folks were going to be down heading into the election, but we raised and spent more money on that election than ever before," he said.

The league's political arm raised more than $1 million for 2010 and has already started fundraising for the next election. Meanwhile, the group's nonpolitical side is using the money raised to pay for online campaigns and to improve its website.

"Threat will always drive fundraising," Palamuso added.

But it's unclear how strong of threat there really is. Democrats still control the Senate and White House, making the anti-regulation bills favored by the House difficult to enact.

"Just as House Republicans are playing to their base, environmental groups are playing to theirs," said Paul Bledsoe, a senior adviser on energy issues at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The focus on Republican actions helps keep environmental groups relevant at a time when Congress is focused on other issues. The groups are "grappling to find issues that assert their near-term political relevance," Bledsoe said.

While the groups haven't made much progress on Capitol Hill, Connors of Friends of the Earth said there have been victories elsewhere. Her group recently sued the State Department to halt the Canadian oil sands pipeline. It also released a series of emails, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, that activists say show the Obama administration has favored the pipeline despite concerns about its environmental impact.

"People that we thought would be allies definitely have not been," Connors said of the administration. "What has been a boost to our efforts is that people have been seeing us make tangible headway on what they see as a big problem."

Correction: Oct. 13, 2011

This article originally misstated which measure Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) backs. She supports legislation to delay environmental regulations for industrial boilers.

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