Sloppy screed: A report faults a group seeking better shale practices

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Painting with a broad brush can be so sloppy.

The nonprofit watchdog Public Accountability Initiative has done just that in its latest report that portrays the Center for Sustainable Shale Development as a nefarious web of gas industry interests without environmental conscience.

The center counts environmental groups and energy companies among its members, with the joint mission of raising standards in the developing Marcellus Shale gas industry. But the Public Accountability Initiative, based in Buffalo, N.Y., is not interested in details. Its report, with the damning title “Anatomy of an Industry Front Group,” uses inaccurate shorthand to disparage four of the center’s participants.

It criticizes CSSD for hiring Susan LeGros as its new executive director because she practiced energy law, dismissing her broad experience that included working for the Environmental Protection Agency and representing renewable and solar energy businesses.

It characterizes the Benedum Foundation as “the family foundation of West Virginia’s ‘king of the wildcatters.’ ” The nickname refers to the late Michael Benedum, a pre-eminent figure in Pittsburgh oil history who established the foundation in 1944. It is hardly an accurate description of the foundation, which makes grants for education, economic development, community development, health and human services and the arts.

The executive summary of Public Accountability’s report describes former Carnegie Mellon University president Jared Cohon as someone “who once selected projects for funding by the tobacco industry’s Center for Indoor Air Research.” It doesn’t mention his position at CMU, a long and distinguished career, until much later in the report.

Similarly, it criticizes CSSD for using the services of Tim O’Brien, a longtime public relations executive, on the basis that his firm’s website put “energy” first in a list of 17 different industries counted among its clients.

The initiative’s report reads like a conspiracy theorist’s screed and suggests that anyone with any experience or expertise in the field of energy should be barred from the table. This is the second flimsy report Public Accountability Initiative has issued against the CSSD.

It has painted itself into a corner, offering half-baked critiques and nothing constructive.

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