Shedding Sunlight on Anti-Energy Activism

The Pittsburgh-based Heinz Endowments, with $1.5 billion in net assets works, funnels millions of dollars to anti-natural gas organizations and “drilling foes,” as the Associated Press has reported. Their playbook – fund the so-called research, the “news” and the promoters – is not new or especially unique, but it’s an approach that degrades public trust and diminishes the importance of maintaining a fact- and science-based dialogue about important issues like natural gas development and manufacturing.

The Heinz Endowments playbook is simple:

FUND THE ACTIVISTS: As laid out in financial reports and organization disclosures, the Heinz Endowments have pushed millions of dollars to groups like the Clean Air Council, PennEnvironment, Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, PennFuture, among others, to promote “research” aimed at generating scary headlines and spreading misinformation and fear. Here’s a sampling of Heinz-funded activism:

Clean Air Council: $1,458,800 since 2012
PennEnvironment: $545,000 since 2010
PennFuture: $6,952,226 since 2007
Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project: $600,000 since 2016

FUND THE “RESEARCH”: Heinz funds university “studies” and “research” that often fail to demonstrate basic and sound principles. Many so-called studies are not peer reviewed and rely on debunked research to make “new” claims. Specifically, Anthony Ingraffea and John Stolz are both Heinz-funded researchers who peddle studies that have been debunked by independent experts, academic peers and state and federal regulators.

FUND THE “MEDIA”: Through blogs like Public Herald, Public Source, Pittsburgh Today and StateImpact PA, the Heinz Endowments funds the “news” that often covers Heinz-funded activism and research. No conflict, right? Recently, some of these websites ultimately disclosed the shared financial ties only after their stories were posted.

Disclosure examples:

(StateImpact PA, 1/31/17)

(PublicSource, 8/8/17)

(PublicSource, 12/8/16)

Look no further than Pittsburgh Quarterly’s recent edition to see this playbook displayed. The series, “produced” by Heinz-funded Pittsburgh Today, cobbled together old, debunked Heinz-funded studies and Heinz-funded activists. For example, the magazine highlights a deeply flawed Heinz-funded “study” by a few University of Pittsburgh staffers on low birth weights claims. That so-called study, however, “does not support a conclusion that the proximity to the [gas development] wells caused reduced birth weights,” according to the Magee-Womens Research Institute and Foundation.

The magazine also pointed to a widely debunked asthma study conducted by a staffer at the anti-natural gas (and pro-population control) Post Carbon Institute, that failed to follow basic and well-established research fundamentals, like baselining metrics.

What’s more, Pittsburgh Quarterly’s series ignores the fact that Pennsylvania’s air quality is sharply improving due in large part to natural gas. Thanks to clean, locally produced natural gas, carbon emissions across the nation are at their lowest point in a quarter century. In fact, Pennsylvania’s top environmental regulator said in 2016 that the Commonwealth’s air quality “continues to improve,” reflecting the benefits of producing and using more clean-burning natural gas.

Our members, who produce 95% of the natural gas in Pennsylvania, support sound, fact-based research and balanced journalism. But when the lines between activism, sound research, and journalism blur, public confidence is lost and the ability to have productive, thoughtful and meaningful dialogue disappears.