Mott Foundation Gives Environmental Grants While Destroying the Environment, Critics Say

The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation gives out grants around the world from its headquarters in Flint, Michigan. A lot of those funds support wonderful-sounding initiatives for education, children, and the environment. But protestors in Miami today say that the foundation is hypocritical – that it wins praise for giving out grants while simultaneously destroying the Everglades through its business interests. 

Mott started the Michigan company that would become General Motors, and in 1931 bought U.S. Sugar, the company that grows and processes sugar north of Lake Okeechobee. The destruction of the Everglades ecosystem from the lake south is largely due to sugar farming – from both the engineering of roads and canals that made farming possible, and the pollution from fertilizers that runs off into Lake O, then moves east, west, and south. 

Today, representatives from the Mott Foundation – which according to its last annual report has $2.8 billion in assets – were in Miami for the Environmental Grantmakers Association conference, which is featuring Sen. Bob Graham, Catholic Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, and Dr. Mona Hana-Attishaand, the doctor who first alerted the world about Flint's water crisis. 

Grant Stern, a a radio show host for the "Only in Miami" show on 880 the Biz, says that the protest was largely organized through the Occupy Democrats Facebook page and that it drew 70 people – huge for a Tuesday in Miami. 

He says it's an "insidious situation" that Mott benefits from U.S. Sugar, then makes "this big attempt at greenwashing to make them seem like a charitable foundation, when they're some of the worst polluters. And they're making huge donations to every politician they can, essentially buying protection from the political class.  Even Marco Rubio has said that controlling the sugar market is a matter of national security, and that's why we must federally subsidize sugar. That's atrocious! It's unhealthy!" It's sugar, he says, that is causing the national obesity and diabetes crises. 

As the Huffington Post explained in a detailed article: 

"The bulk of the Mott Foundation's environmental work in the United States focuses on the freshwater challenge, with special emphasis on the country's Great Lakes region." There is no difference between the impacts of industrial agriculture on the Great Lakes, where the Foundation is investing resources to protect, and former Everglades, polluted by a corporation it controls: US Sugar. (William S. White has been both president of the Flint, Michigan-based foundation and chairman and CEO of US Sugar Corporation.)

Charitable organizations like the Mott Foundation are prohibited by law from engaging in political activities, but US Sugar exercises its massive leverage through campaign contributions at every level of government; from local county commissions to the White House. In the last quarter of 2015, US Sugar Corporation spent $165,000 lobbying in Tallahassee ("AT&T, HCA, U.S. Sugar in top three for lobbying expenses", Feb. 15, 2016).

Here's video of massive amounts of dirty water being released from Lake Okeechobee – which is now described by many as a giant "toilet" – being sent east and west through Florida's rivers. 

Says Stern: "Here we are subsidizing sugar and the sugar we are subsidizing is destroying our environment.... U.S. Sugar and FPL are the two biggest threats to Florida's environment and drinking water." 

A representative from the Mott Foundation did not immediately return a call for comment. 

The foundation's annual report does not detail its holdings in U.S. Sugar, but it has been reported that 30 percent of the company's shares are owned by the Mott Foundation, 30 percent by the Mott Children’s Health Center, and 40 percent by the company's pension fund and employees.

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Deirdra Funcheon