Heinz Endowments could be cutting ties with controversial shale center

The Heinz Endowments is no longer providing financial support to the controversial Center for Sustainable Shale Development — a nonprofit whose mission is to find best practices for tapping the energy resources of the Marcellus Shale region.

Susan LeGros, executive director of the Downtown-based center, said the city’s second-largest foundation, which backed the center’s creation in 2013, has been dropped from its list of partners and philanthropic supporters because it is “not currently funding us.”

“Heinz [Endowments] was a founding entity in the startup of CSSD,” said Ms. LeGros. “As we proceed, we alter our messaging and it seemed accurate to identify them as an original funder and not a current funder.”

An official at the endowments declined to comment.

At its creation last year, the organization was touted as groundbreaking because it brought together groups typically at odds about how to develop the region’s energy resources.

Before and after the launch of the center, the Heinz Endowments came under intense criticism from environmentalists who believed its partnership with the oil and gas industry was in direct conflict with the organization’s long-standing support of environmental causes.

Many observers believe the widespread criticism and outcry led to a staff shakeup at the endowments last summer that included the dismissal two key employees and eventually resulted in the resignation in January of its former president, Robert Vagt, who has long had investments and career connections in the oil and gas industry.

Teresa Heinz Kerry, chair of the endowments, told the Post-Gazette last year she had wanted to collaborate with the center’s energy partners — including Chevron, EQT, Consol and Shell — about responsible drilling practices but that the endowments’ board did not authorize creation of the organization.

Environmental groups who are represented at the center are Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, the Clean Air Task Force, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Group Against Smog and Pollution, and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.

Currently listed as philanthropic funders of the center are the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and the Richard King Mellon Foundation.

On Wednesday, the center said it received a two-year grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation to support certification programs for natural gas producers and other initiatives. The funding totals $150,000 over two years, said Ms. LeGros.

Also dropped from the list of the center’s partners is the William Penn Foundation, a Philadelphia-based philanthropy Ms. LeGros also characterized as an original funder that is no longer providing financial support to the center.

Joyce Gannon: jgannon@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1580. First Published May 14, 2014 1:59 PM

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