Going to extremes: A report seeks to fault reputable environmentalists

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Clearing the air is important, in more ways than one.

Three months ago the Post-Gazette and others applauded the formation of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, a collaboration of environmental groups and energy companies that want to raise operating standards in the Marcellus Shale gas industry.

The higher standards would push the industry to adopt new practices that would cut engine emissions, increase water recycling, enhance groundwater protection, improve wastewater disposal and reduce the toxicity of fracking fluid. The better practices would work to everyone's benefit. Who could be against that?

The Public Accountability Initiative, for one. The left-leaning group released a report this month that tries to raise doubts about the environmentalists who are part of the CSSD.

Among the environmentally active groups that the report seeks to discredit are the Heinz Endowments, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, the Clean Air Task Force and the Environmental Defense Fund. It faults the groups -- unfairly -- for links to the industry through board members, despite the fact that the organizations have a history of commitment and action on a clean environment.

The report faults Robert F. Vagt, president of the Heinz Endowments since 2008, for sitting on the board of directors of Kinder Morgan, a gas pipeline company, where he made $136,016 last year and owns $1.2 million in stock. Mr. Vagt's industry connection has been no secret; the Heinz Endowments website notes that he worked in the oil and gas industry for more than 10 years, and the Kinder Morgan site lists him as a member of the board.

Although it's worth knowing Mr. Vagt's financial stake in the gas company, it's just as relevant that the Heinz Endowments, the organization he leads, awards $10 million in grants each year to promote the health of the environment and that of the region's residents in regard to environmental problems. The Endowments, whose longtime chairman is environmental advocate Teresa Heinz, has spent an additional $20 million since 2009 to improve regional air quality. But the PAI report says nothing about that.

The report also puts down the Clean Air Task Force and the Environmental Defense Fund for being "solutions-oriented" as opposed to "committed to an ideology," an indication that the document's real purpose is to denigrate those who would dare work with energy companies to clean up their drilling practices. This attempt to subvert joint action on behalf of a better environment is appalling, and it runs in the face of Pittsburgh's historic air and water cleanup that was accomplished by working in the middle, in the city's case through a partnership of the public and private sectors.

The Center for Sustainable Shale Development has a similar mission and similarly committed collaborators. Pennsylvanians want energy through clean and safe methods. Those who are willing to work hard at that are the true environmentalists.

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