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Heinz Endowments cuts funding ties to shale development group

| Wednesday, May 14, 2014, 7:05 p.m.

The Heinz Endowments ended its tense ties to a Downtown alliance of environmentalists and oil and gas companies established to set standards for responsible drilling.

Susan LeGros, executive director of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, provided little explanation for why The Heinz Endowments is “not currently funders” of the center that formed more than a year ago. The center also removed the Philadelphia-based William Penn Foundation from its list of participants.

“They both decided to go in a different direction,” LeGros said on Wednesday after issuing a news release on new funding that did not include the foundations as named participants in the center's work.

A spokeswoman for The Heinz Endowments declined to comment. Western Pennsylvania's second-largest foundation has repeatedly refused to answer questions about upheaval and tension there that began a year ago when people questioned its environmental commitment in light of its funding of the center.

Departures at the endowments included its president, Robert Vagt, who became chairman of local drilling company Rice Energy, and Caren Glotfelty, senior director of the environmental program.

The William Penn Foundation had no involvement in the center since awarding it a $50,000 startup grant, despite its being named a participant in January, a representative of the foundation said.

LeGros said she was not aware of any incident that prompted The Heinz Endowments to sever its ties, and she declined to discuss the tension that surfaced at the foundation.

“They were a funder at an important part in the organization,” she said. “Their participation was very much appreciated.”

She said the center, with a budget of between $800,000 and $1 million, remains financially sound as it searches for more private funding. The Richard King Mellon Foundation joined the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation as a donor with the announcement of a $150,000, two-year grant.

Other participants include industry funders Chevron, Consol Energy, EQT Corp. and Shell, and the nonprofits Clean Air Task Force, Environmental Defense Fund, the Group Against Smog and Pollution, PennFuture and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.

As an alliance between energy companies and environmental groups, the center wants to maintain a balance in its funding for programs that set standards separate from regulators. LeGros said the center will reach out to more foundations “to make sure a balance is maintained.”

David Conti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5802 or dconti@tribweb.com.

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