Summary: The Keystone State, an oil and natural gas powerhouse, is under siege by an alliance of well-organized, well-funded “green” activists. From cap-and-trade schemes meant to bleed ratepayers dry to fracking bans on one of Pennsylvania’s most vital industries, the environmental Left is fighting an all-out war to blanket the commonwealth with its antihuman ideology. If successful, the activists will transform one of the country’s most important energy-producing states into the professional Left’s latest conquest—and Pennsylvanians will pay the price.
Enter Activism Inc.
The loudest voices demanding a fracking ban in Pennsylvania come from the professional Left, headquartered in California and Washington, DC. While a fracking ban is supported by virtually every environmentalist group, a few national groups are noteworthy for driving the far Left’s anti-fracking agenda and take-no-prisoners tone.
Sierra Club. The Sierra Club (based in Oakland, CA) has lobbied the commonwealth for a fracking ban and supports a blanket ban on fracking across the country as part of its goal of “eliminating the use of fossil fuels . . . as soon as possible.” “There are no ‘clean’ fossil fuels,” the group contends.
The Sierra Club represents the extreme tip of the activist Left and attracts hardline environmentalists. Among its board members is Paul Watson, founder of the radical Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and a cofounder of Greenpeace, infamous for using steel-hulled ships to ram and sink whaling vessels.
The group opposes all extraction, transportation, and use of oil, natural gas, and coal, as well as nuclear power plants and hydroelectric power generated by dams. Nevertheless, the Sierra Club accepted $25 million from the natural gas industry between 2007 and 2010 as part of its Beyond Coal campaign, most of which came from the CEO of Chesapeake Energy, a company involved in fracking.
However, most of its significant funding (nearly $250 million in 2018 revenues, including its fund-raising arm) comes from ultra-wealthy liberal foundations such as Tom Steyer’s TomKat Charitable Trust, New Venture Fund, Sea Change Foundation, Energy Foundation, and Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
And it’s moving further left into so-called environmental justice. In June 2020, the group announced that it was disowning its founder, famed conservationist John Muir, for his friendship with fellow conservationist Henry Fairfield Osborn, who cofounded the American Eugenics Society after Muir’s death.
Greenpeace. Tied with the Sierra Club on the far Left is Greenpeace, born from the antinuclear activism of the 1960s. Greenpeace opposes all use and extraction of fossil fuels, organizing stunts such as dangling protesters from a bridge in Portland, Oregon, to block a Shell icebreaker from leaving port en route to the Arctic, where the company planned to drill for oil. Greenpeace was one of the earliest groups to demand the absolute transition to renewables by 2050, now an issue supported by the broader Left—albeit for the entire planet, not just the country, at the bargain-basement price of $48 trillion (more than twice the GDP of the U.S.).
Greenpeace’s anti-fracking crusade is largely built on lies and deception. Its website contains numerous images of bronze-colored water supposedly “contaminated” by nearby fracked wells and spreads the claim that “fracking causes earthquakes.” The group also spreads the claim that fracking creates “explosive water”—tap water so contaminated with methane that it’s flammable—popularized by the 2010 propaganda documentary Gasland. (In reality, according to The New York Times, the methane-laced water depicted in the film was due to gas migration caused by poor cement well casings and not fracking. Methane, while potentially asphyxiating in high concentrations, is not harmful to drink.)
Pennsylvania is ground zero for Greenpeace’s war on coal. “Did you know that 1,359 people die each year . . . as a result of coal pollution in Pennsylvania?” its website asks, citing the now-debunked theory that coal-burning power plants contribute to acid rain (the big environmental scare of the 1970s and 1980s).
Like other eco-activist groups, Greenpeace receives huge grants ($53 million in 2018, between its two national arms) from liberal foundations such as the Hewlett Foundation, Packard Foundation, and Ford Foundation.
League of Conservation Voters. The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) is even more politically active than Greenpeace or the Sierra Club, serving as little more than an advocacy group for the Democratic Party’s left wing.
LCV publishes a scorecard in which it rates the “pro-environment” vote on bills passing through the Pennsylvania legislature. It regularly lobbies for legislation that would expand the scope of government regulation and hamper the oil and gas industry. The group also endorses environmentalist politicians for Congress and the Pennsylvania General Assembly, ranking each politician on a personal “green” scorecard. In 2016, LCV endorsed Josh Shapiro’s successful bid for Pennsylvania attorney general, lauding his efforts to enact a fracking ban and for seeking “criminal penalties for those who poison our air and water.”
LCV receives funding from the same bevy of liberal foundations ($99 million in 2018 revenues, including its fund-raising arm) and major political groups, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and “dark money” Sixteen Thirty Fund, as well as the Hewlett Foundation, Sea Change Foundation, Energy Foundation, and Joyce Foundation, which once had Senator Barack Obama on its board.
PennFuture. Pennsylvania is also replete with homegrown eco-activists—unsurprising, given the commonwealth’s importance to the war on fossil fuels and fracking. These groups operate with funding from outside donors and ultraliberal foundations based in Pennsylvania.
PennFuture (formerly Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future) is one of the leading homegrown “green” groups championing a shutdown of “dirty fuels” in Pennsylvania. PennFuture also lobbies for a severance tax on natural gas—that is, a tax when gas is extracted from the ground—that it (misleadingly) claims will be “borne by the producers instead of taxpayers.”
The group envisions reducing Pennsylvania’s carbon dioxide emissions by a whopping 50 percent over the next five years, mostly by implementing President Obama’s 2015 Clean Power Plan, which would have hiked household energy prices by some 250 percent while reducing global temperatures by only 0.02 of a degree by the end of the century. (Obama himself said on the campaign trail that under his plan, “electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”)
The Clean Power Plan—axed by Donald Trump early in his presidency—was supposed to be the culmination of the Left’s decades-long war on coal after congressional Democrats failed to pass the 2010 Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill, leaving President Obama to enact the 460-page behemoth by executive order rather than legislation.
The group’s board of directors includes prominent global warming advocate Michael Mann. PennFuture has hosted at least one gala attended by climate alarmist Al Gore and Teresa Heinz, heiress to the Heinz family’s food fortune and wife of former Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. This is not surprising, given where PennFuture receives its funding.
Heinz Endowments, the $1.2 billion mega-foundation in Pittsburgh chaired by Teresa Heinz, has given PennFuture $15 million since 2002. Heinz—who married Senator John Heinz (R-PA) and inherited his family fortune after his death in a 1991 plane crash—is a global warming devotee. In 1990, she met Kerry at an Earth Day event; two years later, she was made a delegate to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which created the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which governs the UN global warming agenda.
PennFuture also receives substantial funding from the William Penn Foundation—$5.5 million since 2001—a little-known Philadelphia-based foundation that poured out $136 million in grants in 2018. The Penn Foundation also funds left-wing environmentalist groups, including the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Sierra Club Foundation, League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, and Nature Conservancy.
The San Francisco–based Energy Foundation has given $2.1 million to PennFuture since 2003. The Energy Foundation is a “pass-through” group created in 1991 as a $20 million collaborative by the Pew Charitable Trusts, Rockefeller Foundation, and MacArthur Foundation to move hundreds of millions of dollars to far-left political groups.
Delaware Riverkeeper. The Delaware River Basin, the huge watershed running from upstate New York to the Delaware Bay south of New Jersey, is a favorite target of leftist groups trying to ban fracking in Pennsylvania piecemeal.
President John F. Kennedy founded the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) in 1961 to monitor local water quality, but it has since morphed into a cudgel that special interests use to stymie development of traditional energy sources.
In 2010, the New Jersey–based commission imposed a de facto ban on fracking natural gas in parts of Pennsylvania and New York, citing three concerns related to water quality. Predictably, the ban wasn’t enough for environmental activists, who submitted thousands of comments to the commission and have sought a moratorium on all natural gas development in the commonwealth.
The DRBC is closely tied to Delaware Riverkeeper, an activist group based in Bristol, Pennsylvania. Riverkeeper is as ideologically motivated as they come. The group’s CEO, Maya van Rossum, authored The Green Amendment: Securing Our Right to a Healthy Environment, which argues for adding “inalienable rights to pure water, clean air, a stable climate and healthy environments” to the U.S. Constitution. It regularly sues the government on environmental issues. In April 2020, it sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after it approved construction of a liquefied natural gas terminal on the Delaware River.
According to testimony by Tom Shepstone, who operates the blog NaturalGasNow on behalf of his research firm, the DRBC “has stacked almost all its committees with representatives of the Delaware Riverkeeper, a special interest anti-gas advocacy group that sued it over gas drilling issues.” Shepstone has called the DRBC and Riverkeeper “allies” in their funding and agenda:
The fact the DRBC saw no conflict of interest in taking money from a foundation that also financed the Riverkeeper, which was suing the agency at the same time over gas issues, tells anyone with half a brain the William Penn Foundation was orchestrating everything. The foundation funded DRBC studies of gas drilling impacts were a sham effort to delay forever having to take a vote, killing fracking without taking responsibility as the Riverkeeper provided the opposition to justify the studies.
The DRBC and Delaware Riverkeeper are both funded by the William Penn Foundation, which has given grants totaling at least $2 million to the DRBC and close to $3 million to Riverkeeper. Many of the grants are marked for “advocacy” against natural gas development—that is, fracking. PennFuture, which also receives Penn Foundation grants, supports a “permanent ban on natural gas extraction” in the Delaware River Basin.
But the biggest donor to the Delaware Riverkeeper is the Woodtiger Fund, a foundation based in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, operated by the descendants of Henry Wallace—vice president to Franklin D. Roosevelt and widely considered a far-left radical sympathetic to the Soviet Union. Woodtiger has gifted $4 million to the Riverkeeper in recent years.
A Turning Point for Pennsylvania
This year could prove one of the most important in Pennsylvania’s history. Pennsylvanians have a clear path laid out before them on the road toward growth, prosperity, and affordable energy, or they could succumb to the designs of the far Left. It’s no exaggeration to say that the very future of the commonwealth hangs in the balance. The consequences of the decisions that Pennsylvanians make this year will ring through the ages.
This article first appeared in RealClearEnergy on October 14, 2020.