In American energy politics today, there is an alleged David vs. Goliath battle underway. As this narrative tells it, the scrappy, grassroots environmental movement is bravely aiming its sling at behemoths that pursue profits from their oil and gas enterprises with no regard for the Earth or its inhabitants. This narrative holds that while the oil and gas industry deploys armies of slick lobbyists in Washington, the environmental movement rounds up any support it can get: from Main Street, from family farms, from mom-and-pops, from the folks next door.
Big Green, Inc., a project of the Institute for Energy Research (IER), shatters this David vs. Goliath myth. The project reveals that the environmental movement is a multi-billion dollar industry that has coöpted Americans’ desire for clean air and water into a political juggernaut that leverages government to block access to affordable, reliable energy. Far from being a proverbial David, the environmental movement is a well-oiled lobbying machine with as many hidden income streams and amorphous front groups as it claims prop up the energy industry. While reaping all the benefits of our modern industrialized world, this parasitical class besieges the energy producers who provide for our economic lifeblood and makes Americans, who want simply to live happier, healthier, more prosperous lives, worse off. IER has dubbed this machine Big Green, Inc.
In 2018, IER made public its first tranche of research into Big Green, Inc., detailing 8,821 environmental grants from 2008-2016 adding up to $3.7 billion. This money flowed from ten left-leaning foundations to over 1,500 environmental activist groups spanning all 50 states. IER’s searchable database enables users to see precisely who gives, who receives and for what purposes the money is granted.
The Heinz Endowments
In its 2019 update, IER added three new grantmaking organizations to the Big Green, Inc. database. This update covers 1,583 grants originating from the Heinz Endowments, the Bloomberg Family Foundation and the Kresge Foundation. Between 2008 and 2016, these three foundations funded 513 environmental groups — many of which hold anti-energy biases — across the United States with grants totaling $473,207,264.
The Heinz Endowments deserves special attention. Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Heinz Endowments focuses much of its environmental grantmaking effort on projects opposing the development of its home region’s abundant shale resources. If the name Heinz sticks out, it is indeed the same name likely affixed to your ketchup bottle. And yes, this is the same Heinz affiliated with former U.S. Secretary of State, longtime U.S. Senator, and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. In the period from 2008 to 2016, the Heinz Endowments contributed over $120 million in environmental grants. While some of the grants went toward meaningful environmental progress, tens of millions of dollars went to organizations intent upon shutting down the industries that comprise the regional backbone. Shale development has become a primary target of Heinz partners.
The Marcellus Shale boom has been a display of Pennsylvania at its best, and has exemplified the creativity, learning, and sustainability Heinz deems its “priority strategic funding areas.” Innovation, hard work, and stewardship of resources have been the shale booms hallmarks as it has elevated many heretofore-struggling locales in the region. Pennsylvania’s natural gas resources and the companies working to develop them have created thousands of high-paying jobs and invested millions in regional economic growth. With the boom, new businesses have sprung up, landowners have gained a new income source and energy has gotten cleaner and cheaper for all.
Heinz Grant Activities
Despite these benefits, the Heinz Endowments, true to Big Green, Inc. form, has granted funds to promote cumbersome laws designed to crowd out energy producers, to stimulate public anxiety and to spread disinformation, as when it explicitly funded an expansion of the website Fractracker.org, a notoriously dishonest broker.
The endowments have also funded numerous grants in recent years around air quality concerns in Pennsylvania. But what this work fails to take into account is that Pennsylvania air quality today is better by far than it was before widespread natural gas extraction in the state began. In the period of evaluation, the Heinz Endowments donated more than $15 million to hinder hydraulic fracturing in particular.
The purposes of many of their grants are internally inconsistent. For example, a $120,000 grant to PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center in 2015 was “(t)o augment public education and civic engagement to address air pollution and shale development in the region.” This framing insinuates that shale development is an air quality issue when, in reality, it is an air quality solution. Natural gas is one of the cleanest burning and least air polluting heating sources available, and its widespread use has contributed to bettering air quality in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
Grants to Netcentric Campaigns “support community networks in shale-impacted regions in Pennsylvania.” This grant language suggests shale development has been some sort of detriment to communities, when in fact, shale development brings new economic dynamism to small towns and cities across the state, fostering a renaissance of small businesses on numerous Main Streets. Organizations like Netcentric Campaigns appeal to the mainstream with terms like “support community networks,” but speak to their base of donors about a “fight against the gas industry,” making clear their intentions.
Many of the Heinz Endowments’ energy and environment-related grants are for political purposes that are nakedly at odds with the region’s prosperity. In 2015, a Heinz grant supported a so-called climate justice rally, run by Pittsburgh 350, a local chapter of 350.org, the far-left group that advocates for the total abolition of natural gas, coal and oil use in the immediate future. The Heinz Endowments has also funded EarthJustice, the Environmental Defense Fund and other national groups advocating for a near term full abandonment of reliable energy resources. Closer to home, Heinz has funneled millions of dollars to deceitful groups like the Center for Coalfield Justice. The Center for Coalfield Justice demonizes both coal and gas development, describing hydraulic fracturing as “destructive,” “extremely invasive” and “threatening public health and the environment.” Another Pennsylvania-based organization on the Heinz payroll is the Clean Air Council, which received over $1.3 million from the Heinz Endowments to harass the shale gas industry in western Pennsylvania.
Local Political Influence
While some leaders in the state choose to lean into the benefits of natural gas and see the good it can bring to communities, some, including Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, remain inexplicably opposed to them. At the 2019 Climate Action Summit co-sponsored by the Heinz Endowments and featuring climate apocalypse monger David Wallace-Wells, Mayor Peduto voiced his opposition to new petrochemical facilities. In that speech, Mayor Peduto said he also plans to send a letter to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, expressing that “the expansion of this industry is an impediment to the region’s growth.” He could not be more wrong, and Wolf knows this. In a KDKA radio interview at the end of November, Wolf was asked about his view of Peduto’s comments on the future of petrochemicals in the region, and his response was that “these are exactly what we need in that energy efficient future.” Politicians like Peduto sometimes fail to see what the people they serve actually care about, like infrastructure problems and ensuring that energy is available affordably and reliably. It is heartening to see that Wolf, at the very least, understands some of the benefits of natural gas and related industries in the region.
While the region’s transition to natural gas has improved local air quality and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, the region’s most tangible environmental crisis has only grown more acute. Each year, nine billion gallons of raw sewage and stormwater leak into the Allegheny, Ohio and Monongahela rivers. One is left to wonder why more Heinz dollars are not allocated toward resolving this genuine, pressing local crisis. While the Heinz Endowments has made some contributions to organizations working to solve the region’s water treatment issues, such as the six-figure totals it has given regularly to 3 Rivers Wet Weather, the response to this real threat has been weakened by disproportionate expenditures intended to hamstring safe energy development practices. Every dollar the Heinz Endowments grants to radical, anti-energy activists is a dollar that will not work to improve quality of life and health for Pennsylvanians, but instead do just the opposite.
Meantime, a second water crisis has emerged. Since 2016, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) has failed consistently to comply with federal lead thresholds. In all but one six-month period since the lead issue became known, PWSA’s water samples have tested above the 15 parts per billion mark established by the Environmental Protection Agency. Lead exposure, according to the World Health Organization, can have serious consequences for the health of children by attacking their brains and central nervous systems, resulting in reduced intelligence quotient and attention span. While the Heinz Endowments has fomented hostility to energy producers, Pittsburgh has become a second Flint.
The Heinz Endowments’ funding of a systematic vilification of natural gas costs the region dearly. By working to limit the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania, the Heinz Endowments has shown itself to be at odds with its purported values. Its pecuniary resources could be better allocated toward the region’s genuine environmental crises and toward enriching the area through the funding of endeavors that improve its quality of life, express its values and create meaningful good for the community rather than try to undo all of the progress that energy abundance has created for Pennsylvania.
The energy resources held in the Marcellus Shale are inextricably linked to the region’s flourishing. Further, the oil and gas industry and other wealth creators represent exactly what Heinz claims to value: creative, community-enhancing solutions to the challenges we all face. The Heinz Endowments’ funding of anti-energy outfits like Pittsburgh 350, EarthJustice and Fractracker does nothing but detract from opportunity and prosperity in Pennsylvania and represent the worst aspects of Big Green, I
Jordan McGillis is a policy analyst at the Institute for Energy Research focusing on climate policy, federal lands, international relations and free market theory. McGillis graduated with a B.A. from the University of South Florida and an M.A. from Seton Hall University, both in international affairs.
Paige Lambermont is a policy associate at the Institute for Energy Research focusing on nuclear energy policy, hydroelectric energy policy, tax credits and subsidies in the energy sphere, and Renewable Portfolio Standards. She has a degree in political science from American University.