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Philadelphia lawyer to lead Center for Sustainable Shale Development

| Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

A Philadelphia lawyer who has worked for the energy industry and the Environmental Protection Agency will become the executive director of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development.

Susan P. LeGros, whose appointment is expected to be announced on Tuesday, will be tasked with maintaining harmony among the coalition of environmental groups and drilling companies that have pledged to work together to improve environmental standards for natural gas drilling.

“I've always tried to be what I call a fair broker,” LeGros told the Tribune-Review on Monday. “I've always tried to look at what the science tells us and figure out how that informs your policy view. I think that cuts across all the clients you represent.”

LeGros is the first full-time leader of the coalition, which was formed last year and is supported by The Heinz Endowments. She replaces Andrew Place, director of energy & environmental policy at Downtown-based EQT Corp., who has been interim executive director.

The Downtown-based center has already felt internal pressure and outside criticism in its first year. In addition to managing a complex mix of members, the center's formation led to tension at The Heinz Endowments over the foundation's collaboration with drillers.

One of LeGros's first tasks is to meet with all the member groups — including The Heinz Endowments, Chevron Corp. and the Clean Air Task Force — to hear their priorities and set a strategy, she said. Then comes the center's long-term work, to help ensure drillers work responsibly.

The center is at a pivotal time as it shifts from setting voluntary standards for responsible drilling to enforcing them among its participants. In addition to naming LeGros its first full-time leader, the center is starting to invite drilling companies to participate and prove they're following the center's standards for protecting water and air.

It has hired Bureau Veritas to audit those applications. And it added Irwin A. “Sonny' Popowsky, former leader of Pennsylvania's Office of Consumer Advocate, to a panel that signs off on Bureau Veritas' findings, Place said.

The group is employing so many checks and balances to prove to skeptics that its member companies, including Shell, EQT and Consol, aren't using the center for green-washing, to claim an environmentally unsafe process is safe.

“With layer upon layer of oversight, even the most skeptical person cannot say this is green lipstick,” Place said. “It's building unassailable credibility. We hope it should be bulletproof.”

LeGros has advised chemical, battery and renewable energy companies on regulatory issues and defended them against claims of contamination, according to her current firm, Stevens & Lee. Before moving to the private sector, she was a section chief during more than four years at the Environmental Protection Agency in the mid-1970s.

The center had to find a leader who appealed to all its members, and LeGros' work for renewable power clients was important to environmentalists, said Joe Osborne, legal director for the Garfield-based Group Against Smog and Pollution. Legros said climate change is one of today's biggest environmental challenges and she believes her experience representing diverse interests among solar power companies shows she can unify a diverse coalition.

“A lot of the work as executive director is as a mediator between two groups of people who may not always see entirely eye to eye, sometimes, maybe more than two groups of people,” Osborne said. “It seemed like she had the ability to stake out that middle ground.”

Timothy Puko is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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