The Pennsylvania Environmental Council is an organization that the Public Accountability Initiative first touched upon in our recent report on the revolving door between Pennsylvania’s environmental regulators and the natural gas industry. The group is perhaps the most prominent voice on environmental issues in the state of Pennsylvania and often provides representatives to Commonwealth boards, commissions, and panels. Its mission statement reads:
The Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) protects and restores the natural and built environments through innovation, collaboration, education and advocacy. PEC believes in the value of partnerships with the private sector, government, communities and individuals to improve the quality of life for all Pennsylvanians.
On the fracking issue, PEC has positioned itself as a moderate, calling itself “the voice of reason.” It has called for a severance tax in Pennsylvania, but supports drilling in the Marcellus asserting “[i]t is widely considered that the Marculle [sic] Shale play offers an abundant fuel to help bridge the gap between today’s energy portfolio and a future supply that reflects both a reduced carbon footprint and reduce dependence on foregin [sic] sources of energy.”
Ostensibly dedicated to environmental protection and restoration, PEC’s permissive stance on fracking becomes more understandable in light of their extensive ties to the natural gas industry. All but two of the group’s eighteen directors work for companies with a stake in the energy industry, either as a driller such as Chesapeake Energy or as a service-provider such as the law and lobbying firm Duane Morris, which has a Marcellus Shale practice. Half of the board works for companies that are members of the gas industry advocacy group the Marcellus Shale Coalition (See table in sidebar).
The PEC is active in a wide variety of environmental issues in the state, operating “centers of excellence” in water resources, sustainable communities, and energy and climate. Though the group is not solely active in Marcellus Shale issues, the proportion of pro-fracking interests represented in PEC’s leadership raises questions about the group’s endorsement of natural gas. Does PEC back fracking to “bring about sustainable communities, protect our water resources, and address energy and climate issues?” Or is the group rather a mouthpiece for the Marcellus Shale Coalition?
Gas industry mouthpiece?
Telling, perhaps, is PEC’s decision to bestow former Governor Tom Ridge with a lifetime achievement award “for his achievements as a champion of the environment” in 2012. Ridge left the governor’s office to become the nation’s first Secretary of Homeland Security, after which he founded two consulting and lobbying firms, Ridge Global LLC and Ridge Policy Group, which were the recipients of a one year $900,000 contract to lobby for the Marcellus Shale Coalition. During this time, Ridge appeared on the Colbert Report to dispute water contamination claims and to promote fracking as a pathway to energy security. (It is worth noting that on the show Ridge explicitly denied being a lobbyist, despite being registered as such at the time and despite his firms’ contracts with the Marcellus Shale Coalition.)
Also telling is the PEC-run website Marcellus Facts, which aggregates news stories about the Marcellus Shale from local and national sources. Included among these stories are press releases from the Marcellus Shale Coalition, which is listed as a news source at the bottom of the page, without identifying them as coming from the gas industry.
The website also has, along its sidebar, a feed from the Twitter account paenvirodigest, which is “the instant news feature of www.PaEnvironmentDigest.com,” a blog written by former DEP Secretary David Hess. Hess is now the director of policy and communications for the government affairs firm Crisci Associates, and a registered as a lobbyist for Aqua America, Exelon, Shipley Energy, Dominion, Interstate Gas Supply, Covanta, and the Pennsylvania Petroleum Association, as well as for the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.
Further, among the news sources linked at the bottom of the Marcellus Facts page is former DEP Secretary John Hanger‘s “Facts of the Day” blog. Hanger is now of special counsel to the law firm Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, which describes itself as representing “every segment of the natural resources industry.” Hanger appeared in the pro-fracking film Truthland, conceived of by the industry public relations group Energy in Depth, in 2012 and is currently running for governor.
The Pennsylvania Environmental Council does not only have ties to the oil and gas industry, however. The group also has a close relationship with Pennsylvania government, especially the state’s environmental regulators. Given the PEC’s capture by the petroleum industry, it is troubling that Pennsylvania’s regulators rely on the group’s counsel for the environmental perspective.
When Tom Corbett became governor in 2011, he assembled a transition team tasked with “reviewing the operations of the state government departments and agencies under the governor’s jurisdiction and [preparing] a transition report.” The Energy and Environment committee of this team included three people tied to the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. Don Welsh was a former president of the council, Ellen Ferretti was the vice president of PEC’s northeast regional office and went on to become Corbett’s Deputy Secretary for Parks and Forestry at the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and Nicholas DeBenedictis, who is a chairman emeritus at PEC and is chairman and CEO of Aqua America as mentioned in the sidebar above.
The Energy and Environment transition team was the precursor to the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, which was instructed to review existing and proposed laws and regulations pertaining to Marcellus Shale development and provide recommendations on additional steps to protect the environment, efforts to promote the environmentally-sound development of natural gas resources, policies to encourage the use of natural gas and its byproducts, and proposals to address the impact of fracking on local communities. As described in PAI’s report on the regulatory revolving door, this commission was stacked with industry representatives, including Pennsylvania Environmental Council chairman Anthony Pennoni.
Furthermore, three people tied to the Pennsylvania Environmental Council – director Philip Hinerman, director emeritus Joseph Manko, and legislative counsel Thomas W Scott – serve on the rules committee of Pennsylvania’s Environmental Hearing Board, the trial court that hears appeals from Department of Environmental Protection actions.
Lastly, PEC director John Hines came to the council from a regulatory position. Prior to his job lobbying for Shell Oil and Gas, Hines was Deputy Executive Secretary for programs at the Department of Environmental Protection under Michael Krancer. While at the DEP, Hines authored a controversial e-mail detailing a new policy requiring all enforcement actions to be approved by himself or another top DEP staffer and cleared with Krancer. The policy, described by PennFuture’s Jan Jarrett as “a clear strategy to chill enforcement of gas drilling,” was rescinded after much protest.
Advocating a pro-fracking position and almost entirely captured by oil and gas industry representatives, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council seems to be part of a trend aiming to greenwash the natural gas industry. Like the American Clean Skies Foundation, the PEC presents a gas-friendly message, though perhaps more furtively than the Chesapeake Energy front group. PEC’s ties to both natural gas and to Pennsylvania’s environmental regulators represent a troubling synergy giving the industry more influence over natural gas policy in the guise of environmental protection.
The ties in this article and in the Pennsylvania revolving door report were can be found on LittleSis, PAI’s tool for researching connections between powerful people and organizations.