This one isn't covered in the benefit-cost analysis textbook:
We shelved the article for reasons I no longer remember, but recently, local stories have appeared on the funding, salaries and even compensation to board members of the Southern Environmental Law Center and their clients.
The figures are public record because non-profits file a federal tax form 990, which lists salaries of key employees as well as income and expense sources.
I focused on the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) because they are engaged in four issues locally: the closure of federal beaches along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the Bonner Bridge replacement over Oregon Inlet, the Mid-Currituck Bridge and most recently, a sweeping redefinition of “critical habitat” for loggerhead sea turtles that may extend the federal regulatory reach to beaches currently managed at the state, county or municipal level.
SELC is a law firm, thus its primary salaries are paid to staff attorneys and administrative personnel.
The general public usually overestimates salaries earned by attorneys, especially in small towns and rural environments. In reality, it is not unusual to see many attorneys, similar to “family doctors,” earning incomes that barely breach six figures in this region.
While many may think the salaries described in the accompanying charts are not excessive, I believe the story here is a comparison to the gap between what people are earning from litigating for so-called environmental causes and the incomes of the residents whose livelihoods, already fragile in places such as Hatteras Island, can be affected by the litigation. ...
People’s opinions on the salaries earned by these environmental crusaders may vary as to whether they are excessive or not.
But the incomes and lifestyles of the people on Hatteras Island, who are directly affected by the actions of the three organizations, are well below the compensation one can earn by challenging beach access and new bridges.
Comparing incomes of those working for those who want to legally challenge threats against "so-called environmental causes" is not something that I've encountered in print. Apparently, if the lawyers make $150,000 and the tackle shop and restaurant workers make less, then the SELC has no right to try to work the legal system to get their preferred bridge project in place.
And, actually, the salaries paid to the SELC are some evidence that this "so-called environmental cause" has large passive use values since the salaries are paid by voluntary contributions.
I would argue, if I had a platform to make such an argument (e.g., a blog), that policy decisions guided by benefit-cost analysis would be a much less costly way of moving forward. The environmental benefits of a more environmentally friendly bridge (i.e., one that bypasses the dynamic Oregon Inlet) or a high speed ferry (including passive use values) should be compared to the increased transportation and construction costs.