The Heinz Endowments, in dismissing its top environmental officer last week, appears to be in danger of veering from "the center of the road" when it comes to conservation issues, according to a former secretary for the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Jim Seif -- also a former legal chief with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency -- said that Pittsburgh's second-largest philanthropy needs to adhere to a middle ground on the most contentious environmental issue of the day: natural gas drilling and the below-ground extraction practice known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."
But instead, he said, the Heinz Endowments and its board seem to be moving toward a less-conciliatory approach to the energy industry, and in the process have forced out environmental director Caren Glotfelty, who is known as a pragmatist interested in finding a balance between environment concerns and economic development.
About The Heinz Endowments
• The Heinz Endowments has $1.4 billion in net assets, making it the second largest foundation in Western Pennsylvania. Only the Richard King Mellon Foundation has greater assets.
• The foundation focuses its philanthropy in five areas: arts and culture; children, youth and families; education; community and economic development; and the environment.
• The private family foundation was formed in 2007 by merging the Howard Heinz Endowment and the Vira I. Heinz Endowment. It employs about 30 people and is based Downtown.
• According to an audited financial statement on the foundation's website, the endowments will pay out $30.73 million in its five program areas this year.
• The 14-member board is chaired by Teresa Heinz. Her three sons, Andre, Christopher and H. John Heinz IV, sit on the board along with Christopher's wife, Sasha.
The sudden departure of the Endowments' longtime communications director Douglas Root, whose last day on Thursday was the same as Ms. Glotfelty's, has added to concerns among Pittsburgh's foundation community that other changes could follow.
"If there is a new day coming at Heinz, then this is one of the smoke signals," said one observer of Pittsburgh's nonprofit community, who, like many others interviewed for this story, requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the personnel moves and because Heinz interacts with and provides grants to so many Pittsburgh nonprofits.
Mr. Root could not be reached for comment, and Ms. Glotfelty, in a statement emailed to the Post-Gazette, said only that "the board has indicated that it is moving in a different direction with regard to the environment program."
Contacted Friday, a spokeswoman for The Heinz Endowments said neither the board nor the Endowments' president, Robert "Bobby" Vagt, would comment on this week's departures or the reasoning behind them.
Individual board members would not comment, either, and a request to interview members of the Heinz family was also denied.
Environmental issues are only one of many programs that The Heinz Endowments funds. It also is involved in education, arts and culture, economic development and family issues, particularly those involving disadvantaged children. But observers say the foundation's board has been in turmoil recently over the fracking issue. Should it oppose it totally? Or work from within to make the practice safer?
The departures of Ms. Glotfelty and Mr. Root occur about four months after the Heinz Endowments made headlines with the announcement of the creation of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, a coalition of foundations, environmental groups and gas developers that was formed to establish voluntary performance standards.
Those in the philanthropic community say that staff departures aren't unusual, and that family-run foundations can have delicate power dynamics. But the size of The Heinz Endowments -- which distributed $75.1 million in grants last year, with $10.5 million going to environmental program grantees -- and the high level of respect for Ms. Glotfelty, and Mr. Root, make their departures more noteworthy.
"What I see, broadly, is a new generation taking over, with a new approach," Mr. Seif said. "It happens," he said, and it's natural at family philanthropies. At many family foundations, Heinz included, some board positions are filled from the community at large, but the majority are family members, and thus the family retains control of the foundation purse-strings and big-picture decision-making.
At Heinz, the foundation's chairwoman, Teresa Heinz Kerry, is a notable contributor to various environmental causes, issuing checks and grants through a number of philanthropic vehicles, including the Endowments. (Mrs. Kerry was hospitalized for three weeks last month, following a seizure.)
All three of her sons with the late Sen. H. John Heinz III -- John, Andre and Christopher -- sit on the Endowments' board of directors, as does Sasha Heinz, Christopher's wife. Andre Heinz, in particular, shares his mother's zeal for the environment, and in some ways, is more of a hardline environmentalist.
He has studied and advocated in the fields of green architecture, sustainable development and environmental education. In 1999, he received a master's in environmental management at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
While Andre Heinz is seen as more of an environmental idealist, Ms. Glotfelty has experience in government and in working with business that rounds out her passion for green causes, according to colleagues in the Pennsylvania conservation community.
It was that background in part that led Ms. Glotfelty and her former boss Mr. Vagt, who spent 10 years in the oil and gas industry before becoming president of Davidson College, to spearhead the creation of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development.
Seeded with Heinz money, the coalition was announced in March and was brought together to create new standards for operators extracting natural gas and related liquids from the Marcellus Shale formation.
It represented a sort of truce between environmentalists and energy developers. But in June, a report from the Public Accountability Initiative -- a tiny nonprofit environmental watchdog group -- suggested that The Heinz Endowments should have been more forthcoming about the fact that Mr. Vagt is still on the board of directors at Kinder Morgan, a natural gas pipeline company, where he was paid $136,016 last year and where he owns $1.2 million in stock.
Mr. Vagt and the Endowments declined to comment on the report when it was revealed.
Environmentalists have also said that the center's "standards" weren't all that ground-breaking, and in some cases were less strict than the existing state drilling standards. The coalition, according to the Public Accountability Initiative, represented a "greenwashing campaign controlled by the natural gas industry, with the cooperation of a few philanthropies."
Mr. Seif, now an energy expert with Ridge Global, the consulting firm founded by former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, urged the Heinz board and the Heinz family to show some more backbone, and not be "spooked by a couple of screwballs" within the environmental movement.
"If what they hope to be is an organization that gets no criticism, good luck," he said. "As good as an idea the CSSD was, [Heinz] doesn't like the idea of making common cause with the oil companies. Which is ridiculous, truly ridiculous. ... This is a really smart pathway to the future, [to resolve] conflicts and guide the regulatory process."
The Heinz Endowments' inner turmoil over its still unresolved stance on fracking has been brewing for some time, said Doug Shields, former Pittsburgh city councilman, who fought to keep drilling out of the city.
"It was clear there were deep divisions," he said. "The board members themselves were deeply conflicted" on drilling going back to at least 2011, he said, when the Endowments steered money away from an informational web project known as "FrackTracker," which was being directed by the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Healthy Environments and Communities.
Those divisions, however, come from a good place -- a deep care for the environment broadly, and the Pittsburgh's region's quality of life in particular, said former Heinz Endowments president Max King, who spent nine years at the philanthropy, and whose term immediately preceded Mr. Vagt's.
"The Heinz family members on the board [are] dedicated to environmentalism, and care enormously about environmental issues," "They are all smart, passionate and very well-informed. ... But I would say the same is true of [Ms. Glotfelty]," he said.
Meanwhile, those in the conservation and environmental community are still angry about Ms. Glotfelty's dismissal.
"The Heinz Endowments owes us an explanation," said John C. Oliver, former head of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources secretary under Mr. Ridge, and now the mayor of Sewickley Heights. The Endowments' board, he said, must account for why "someone with such a distinguished career was so unceremoniously let go."
Mr. Seif said that while The Heinz Endowments is under no obligation to explain its actions, it should know that those actions will be scrutinized.
"All the stakeholders in the Pittsburgh, Marcellus and environmental [communities] will be watching carefully," he said. "If they lurch out of the center of the road, it will do harm to a lot of people, and spoil a wonderful family legacy for Pittsburgh."