Media outlets should use extra caution when publishing op-eds by former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.
On at least two occasions in the past three years, Rendell has failed to disclose oil and gas industry ties in op-eds that advocated for oil and gas interests. In both cases, newspapers later had to append disclosures noting the conflicts of interest – a relatively rare step for a publication to take.
In 2013, Rendell urged New York Governor Cuomo to lift his state’s ban on fracking with his op-ed “Why Cuomo must seize the moment on hydrofracking” in the New York Daily News. But, as ProPublica reported, he did not disclose his work for Element Partners, a private equity firm with a stake in several fracking companies, or his role as special counsel to law firm Ballard Spahr, which does extensive business with fracking companies in the Marcellus Shale.
Last month, Rendell wrote an op-ed in The Philadelphia Inquirer expressing his support for the “Philadelphia energy hub” and the development of the city’s Southport property into an energy and container port. Again, information on his ties to the oil and gas industry was withheld. Two days after Rendell’s op-ed ran, the paper published a clarification in its “Letters” section, stating, “A commentary by former Gov. Ed Rendell published Monday, ‘Time is right to develop Phila. energy, container hub,’ failed to mention his work as a consultant for energy and container companies.”
Southport is one of the first proposed “energy hub” projects. The term “energy hub” describes a somewhat amorphous undertaking by business elites in the region to massively scale up local processing and distribution of Marcellus Shale oil and gas, turning Philadelphia into “the Houston of the northeast.”
That plan has prompted opposition from environmental and neighborhood organizations, making Rendell’s op-ed even more important for the business elites pushing the plan. The endorsement of a high-level former public servant with a significant following provides validation and cover for development plans which may diverge significantly from the interests of the surrounding community.
Of course, this kind of public relations ploy is more effective when the former public servant is independent and credible, which may explain why Rendell failed to disclose his relevant business relationships.
Even with the appended disclosures to Rendell’s Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed, the energy and container companies employing the former governor still have not been disclosed. But we do know that his ties to the natural gas industry are extensive. In addition to his positions at Element Partners and Ballard Spahr LLP, mentioned above, he is also a consultant for VNG, which provides retail fueling to natural gas stations.
The below map illustrates the extent of Rendell’s ties to the natural gas industry.