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How Big Green Undermines Pennsylvania’s Energy Potential

By Kevin Mooney

Pennsylvania sits at the epicenter of what is aptly described as America’s “natural gas revolution,” which is why the state is well positioned to help free America and Europe from relying on foreign adversaries for their energy.

But there’s a problem. Average residents who stand to benefit from affordable and reliable domestic energy supplies are operating at disadvantage against anti-energy campaigns that receive financial support not just from outside of the state, but also possibly from outside of the U.S. That’s why now is a good time for policymakers to take a hard look at the oversized influence green activists are exercising in Pennsylvania at the expense of their constituents.

While testifying before the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee in September 2018, Ken Stiles, a former CIA analyst, now a professor with Virginia Tech, described how “agents of influence” either knowingly or unknowingly work to advance the interests of foreign powers.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine further highlights the geopolitical importance of the Keystone State and its vast supplies of oil and natural gas. Innovative drilling techniques such as hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking) have been used to access these precious natural resources in the Marcellus Shale, a geological formation of sedimentary rock that cuts across a large portion of Pennsylvania.

In his testimony, Stiles makes the point that “covert support for anti-fracking and anti-pipeline groups is a form of espionage.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and the League of Conservation Voters, are among the groups that have come under congressional scrutiny for maintaining close ties with China and Russia. All three are active in Pennsylvania and all three have been complicit in efforts to undermine natural gas production.  The NRDC, for instance, has been instrumental in efforts to block fracking in the eastern part of Pennsylvania, which prevents the state from realizing its full energy potential.

Pennsylvania is number two only to Texas in terms of natural gas production, according to the Energy Information Administration. Government figures also show Pennsylvania is the third largest coal producing state and the third largest net supplier of total energy to other states.

Stiles told lawmakers that if the U.S. can export natural gas, oil, and coal to its allies, then Russia will no longer be in position to “blackmail” western democracies. This would certainly help to explain why America’s strategic competitors might view environmental advocacy groups as an ideal conduit for espionage campaigns aimed at restraining American energy.

U.S. Senate report describes how the San Francisco-based Sea Change Foundation pulls in funds from overseas that are then steered into U.S. environmental groups. Stiles went into detail about this money trail in his testimony.

“No doubt Moscow has been funneling money into U.S. environmental groups for years, worried that fracking technology would one day become viable – and a threat to Russian economic prowess in the world energy market,” Stiles said in his prescient testimony.

Despite public testimony and congressional investigations highlighting their connections with foreign powers, green activists continue to have the upper hand over free market outfits in Pennsylvania like the Marcellus Shale Coalition that favor the development of domestic oil and gas supplies. That’s partly because the alleged foreign agents cited in congressional reports now have allies in government in the form of Tom Wolf, the chief executive in Harrisburg and Joe Biden, the chief executive in Washington D.C. But it’s also because they continue to benefit financially from left-leaning foundations inside and outside of Pennsylvania that spend billions of dollars in grants to support litigation and regulations that stifle production of the most affordable, reliable, and accessible forms of energy.

The Sea Change Foundation is a key player here. But so are its San Francisco neighbors namely the Energy Foundation and the Tides Foundation. There’s also the Bloomberg Family Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation both based in New York to name just a few more.

From within Pennsylvania, Heinz Endowments based in Pittsburg, and the William Penn Foundation based in Philadelphia, are among the biggest funders of anti-energy activism. Big Green Inc., a project of the Institute for Energy Research, a Washington-D.C.-based group that advocates for free market energy policies, tracks donations from these foundations on a state-by-state basis. In 2019, Heinz donated $375,000 to the Clean Air Task Force, an anti-oil think tank, $590,000 to the Clean Air Council, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit created in 1967 to push environmental litigation, and  $90,000 to the Sierra Club “to protect the region from impacts from fossil fuel use and development, according to Big Green.

The database also shows that since 2000 the William Penn Foundation has donated $10 million to the Open Space Conservancy, which acquires land so it can block development and construction, $7.1 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a federally endowed conservation group that bankrolls left-leaning conservation groups, and $2 million to the Delaware Riverkeeper Network that opposes natural gas development and frequently sues government agencies.

With the midterm elections approaching, Pennsylvania has reached a critical turning point where energy policy concerned. The state could either cut an even larger figure as an energy powerhouse or succumb to green activism that serves to benefit America’s strategic competitors. In fact, the outcome of the governor’s race will probably determine whether Pennsylvania enters the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, also known as RGGI, a multistate climate change compact built around “cap and trade” regulations. On Tuesday (April 5) the state senate fell just one vote shy of the two-thirds majority needed to override Wolf’s veto of a resolution that would prevent the state from joining RGGI. But the Commonwealth Court has blocked Wolf from implementing RGGI pending expected litigation. In a joint statement, Senate Republicans praised the court for prevent Wolf from taking executive action they view as unconstitutional.

“The governor’s attempt to unilaterally enter Pennsylvania into RGGI would put even more financial pressure on Pennsylvania families with increased electric bills at a time when they are already struggling due to inflation and the anti-energy policies of Governor Wolf and President Biden,” the senators say in their statement. “We need an energy strategy that makes the best use of our natural resources and unleashes the full potential to our economy – not cripple it for the sake of political ideology.”

That’s well said. But the NRDC, with roughly $180 million in assets, and the Sierra Club, with more than $88 million in assets, are sure to play a prominent role in the upcoming elections. Both groups have repeatedly testified in favor of joining RGGI and both groups have the resources to drown out the voices of state residents who pine for American energy independence.


Kevin Mooney is an investigative reporter with both the Commonwealth Foundation and the Heritage Foundation.