Appalachian Basin

Heinz Stone Soup: Natural Gas Activists at Work

A recent letter in a Washington County newspaper in support of a local attorney and friend of Rep. Jesse White raises many issues about who is really behind natural gas opposition in the Marcellus Shale. 

There was an unusual letter to the editor in the Observer-Reporter newspaper in Washington, Pennsylvania  that tells us a lot about how activist natural gas opposition works throughout the Marcellus Shale region. Namely, they intentionally mislead, and use more aliases than Sean Combs in doing so.  The letter, ostensibly written in support of Rep. Jesse White’s favorite lawyer, Attorney John Smith, and targeting Range Resources, was signed by Veronica Coptis, “community organizer with the Mountain Watershed Association.”

Coptis uses her letter to sing the praises of Smith, the author of the Act 13 challenge now before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, as a selfless solicitor for Robinson Township, Washington County, but manages to direct most of her attention to Jesse White’s favorite cause; attacking Range Resources.  The words come off the page like they were written by Smith or White for someone else to sign but this is beside the point.  We know Coptis is no ordinary citizen making observations to her neighbors.  Rather, she is an activist with an agenda.

Follow the Money Trail to the Pickle Aisle

Veronica Coptis does identify herself as a “community organizer” with the Mountain Watershed Association (MWA), but that hardly explains the extent of her activism.  The Association describes itself as “an advocacy organization, and our advocacy work centers on local issues and national issues having a local impact.  MWA is also home of the Youghiogheny Riverkeeper.”

Riverkeeper groups, of course, exist in several places around the country.  They are self-appointed guardians who would have the public believe they arose organically in support of a threatened river, but a little digging typically reveals some special interest agenda runs through it.  The MWA is no exception.

The very first rule for discerning what a non-profit group is really all about is to follow the money, of course.  The MWA’s 990 tax return for 2010 indicates it has nearly $1.2 million in assets, unusual for a group with such a local focus. Moreover, that figure was up more than $300,000 over 2009, which also reflected its revenues net of expenses.  Gross revenues were nearly $780,000.  Yet, it only took in $2,470 in membership dues, about one-tenth of what my country church takes in from its annual calendar sale.

So where does the money come from?  It netted another $17,500 or so from fund-raising events and the like, still leaving well over three-quarters of a million dollars that had to come from somewhere.

The MWA’s audited financial statements for the years ended March 31, 2010 and 2011 offer the answer.  The first clue is provided by this statement:


Excerpt from MWA Audit


Hmmm…who might that be?  Well, another comes from the next page where we find this:


Another Excerpt from MWA Audit


The fact $137,150 of the MWA’s restricted assets come from the Heinz Endowments for “gas well oversight” and “activism” suggested this was the major sugar-daddy for MWA.  Sure enough, a quick check of the pickle-maker heirs’ donations reveals this notorious funder of all things opposed to natural gas development gave MWA $59,170 in 2010 “to facilitate and host a pilot project for training citizens to provide gas-well oversight” and another $380,500 in 2011 “to expand citizen engagement in and oversight of the Marcellus development in Pennsylvania.”  We’re not talking beans or ketchup anymore, but real money, and MWA, by its own admission, probably wouldn’t be in business but for that money.  And, it’s pretty darned good business when you can net over $300,000 off assets of $1.2 million.  MWA owes its soul, if not its very being, to Heinz.

Heinz, along with another funder of MWA, the Colcom Foundation, also fund the Clean Air Council, which attacks natural gas from the air while MWA and others fire their volleys over water.  Colcom also funds the Damascus Citizens, another Potemkin village initiative against natural gas, along with American Rivers, the Community Environmental Legal Defense FundEarthworks and PennEnvironment while investing in oil and gas to do so (including the Russian state owned company Gazprom).

Heinz also helped fund a sham study of economic impacts of the Marcellus Shale by Cornell University and gave over $2 million in 2010 and 2011 to Marcellus Shale opposition. This includes support for the infamous Conrad Volz’s advocacy parading as research (now mercifully ended) and the financing of Earthjustice, which shows up just about everywhere to oppose natural gas and infrastructure development.

It’s clear Veronica Coptis, when she speaks up for Attorney John Smith and his work with Robinson Township  in challenging Act 13 on behalf of MWA, isn’t just some innocent citizen speaking for a river she loves.  Rather, she is the not so indirect representative of Heinz Endowments, a special interest group if there ever was one, with assets of roughly $1.4 billion.  She’s doing the bidding, in fact, of two foundations virulently opposed to natural gas development in Pennsylvania and New York.  She has also traveled to Maryland carrying their water.

The Marcellus Shale Opposition Corn Maze

Veronica’s and the MWA’s networks go well beyond Heinz  and Colcom, however, and even deeper with these entities.  The MWA, for example, identifies itself as part of the Waterkeepers Alliance, headed by none other than Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. who distinguished himself as a natural gas advocate a few years ago and then reversed course when he saw political correctness in his world  (NRDC Senior Attorney, Hudson Riverkeeper, et al) demanded conformance to the party line of opposition.

She shows up, too, as board member and secretary of something called the Center for Coalfield Justice, which received $655,000 from the Heinz Endowments over the last four years and, like MWA, is also funded by the Colcom Foundation.  This organization, despite its name has a page devoted to fighting natural gas development and, according to the Commonwealth Foundation, led the formation of a group of anti-gas allies operating collectively as Marcellus Shale Protest:

Many local efforts to oppose hydraulic fracturing in Western Pennsylvania are promoted via the Marcellus Protest project, established by the radical Center for Coalfield Justice. Marcellus Protest was created “to stop the destruction of our environment and communities caused by Marcellus Shale gas drilling as well as to support other directly affected communities.”  On Nov. 3, 2010 the group launched a protest in Pittsburgh against the gas industry (proclaiming “a revolution”) which included punk music artist Justin Sane who performed his song “Gasland Terror,” which (by CCJ’s own description) “equated the gas industry with terrorists.”

The Center describes its Marcellus Shale program as “committed to making citizens aware of Marcellus Shale gas drilling activities and its negative impact on local communities and the environment” through, among other techniques, “special outreach meetings to educate the public about fracking and other harmful practices by the gas industry.”  There seems to be no definitive list of the allied groups and individuals involved in its Marcellus Shale Protest initiative, but we notice all the usual suspects have connections to it, including the Responsible Drilling Alliance, Alex Lotorto and PennEnvironment to name just three.  Tracking these groups is like trying to find your way through a corn maze; no matter which path you take, you end up bumping into the same folks over and over again, just operating under different names.

Jesse’s Friend and Lawsuit Cook

One of those names that keeps popping up is that of Attorney John Smith, a possible source of the distorted statements from depositions used by Rep. Jesse White to bash Pennsylvania DEP over a trumped up disclosure issue.  He represents Jesse’s junkyard plaintiff in the case that generated those depositions.  Smith is also a campaign contributor to the flamboyant politician who likes to cite Kesha in his speeches on the floor of the House of Representatives.  White returns the favor with a wink and a nod in this Facebook post where he says he can “empathize with Mr. Smith and thank him for the work he has done for the community.”



No doubt Jesse does “empathize” with his campaign contributors, but this little post implying Smith and letter writer Veronica Coptis are merely acquaintances he admires and with whom he happens to agree, can only be taken seriously by someone with the gullibility of a Gomer Pyle.  It suggests, in fact, the Coptis letter defending Smith and attacking Range Resources, Jesse White’s favorite target, was no coincidence.

Smith is also, and surely not by coincidence, attorney for four of the seven municipalities who are challenging Pennsylvania Act 13‘s zoning pre-emptions. John Smith represents Cecil, Mt. Pleasant, Robinson and South Fayette Townships in the matter. Robinson Township was lead petitioner. East Finley Township, another Smith client, signed a letter of support backing the filing of the Act 13 lawsuit.  The MWA, unsurprisingly, also joined in supporting the challenge as did the NRDC, EarthJustice (which got $50,000 from Heinz in 2011) and the usual cast of characters.

Fighting natural gas development has been a good gig for Smith.  Not only has he been able to represent clients such as Loren Kiskidden, the junkyard plaintiff referenced above, but he has also been able to substantially raise the value of solicitor appointments in the communities he represents, as the following chart illustrates:



Veronica Coptis and Smith’s clients may well be very satisfied with his representation and we certainly don’t suggest he’s anything but competent, but tilting at the natural gas windmill isn’t cheap if you’re a township.  Moreover, trying to understand the connections between the Heinz Endowments, the Colcom Foundation, Jesse White, the MWA, the Center for Coalfield Justice and Marcellus Shale Protest, not to mention Loren Kiskadden and four lawsuit-waving townships is like trying to figure out what’s in stone soup.  I wonder if Heinz cans that stuff?

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  • Vera Scroggins
    Posted at 18:26h, 20 December Reply

    Is “Agenda” a bad word? ! Do you not have an “Agenda”, like promoting gas drilling for the profits of those who want it despite the possibilities and actualities of pollution, contamination and health impacts for generations to come and try to clean it up.
    Come and drive through these towns with gas drilling for five years and more
    and see the stores, buildings and see if anything looks like we are truly benefiting
    monetarily from all this supposed wealth.
    The buildings are mostly like they were 20 years ago and more businesses are closing and shutting especially since the industry slowed down significantly since the summer.
    and then come with me or someone and talk to residents who are sorry this business ever
    came into our county.

    • Observer
      Posted at 03:26h, 22 December Reply

      No agenda is not a bad word. Agenda’s are tools used in achieving goals. For instance if I choose to represent a negative belief of my own I do not wait for that belief to become a reality knocking on the door of my space, but I pre emotively address it even before that reality, gas drilling in this case, “HVHF” becomes a threat. In other words if I truly believed that HVHF was a threat I would have built my agenda around planning to stop it before it got started.

      Thus the birth of the acronym NIMBY’ or Not In My Back Yarder. a description which well fits you Vera and most of NYRAD & VeRSE and other anti drilling advocates.

      I can not remember before 2008 one person or one media outlet taking a stance on HVHF either way until it came to NY. not even in PA in 2008 was this news until Dimock PA happened. What I do remember is people complaining about the cost of fuel, a cost of war clock on the city of Binghamtons outer office wall for all to see, a protested act of civil disobiediance in which David Sprout and others who threw blood into a recruiting station in Syracuse NY, were protesting the invasion of IRAQ and the death of US Troopps all for the sake of our oil imports and that being the basis of their claim.

      What I see in my observation of this whole fracing delema, is a few people got together in the basement of the Unitarian Church on Riverside drive and decided that drilling will disrupt there way of life precieved, That they were falsely afraid their viewscape would be runined.

      Then giving there fears momentem was a very smart Fox circling over the issue. he started off with a lie, perhaps you remember it, it’s in the begining of his movie ” I got an offer of 100,000.00 from a gas company to drill on my hundred acres of land” I turned it down (making himself an immediate environmental hero) The problem here was the Fox lied at the begining of this movie making that statement, and all throughout by twisting facts and adding a flamming faucet for effect.

      For the anti drill activist this was equal to finding the Holly Grail from Christ Last Supper. It was a propaganda film that not only energized the anti drill activist movement, it was to become their bible in this long dragged out fight over HVHF in NY. for the next for years and counting the anti drill activist told stories of water aquifers that have been destroyed by chemicals but could not even name one such aquifer. The fact that this was not true was reinforced by Lisa Jackson of the EPA publicly stating No aquifer has ever been harmed by fracing. Even as the 11 Dimock family litigants, most notably Craig & Julie Saunter, publicly demanded from and got there water tested by the EPA as a total 61 water wells in the town of Dimock PA were tested, the test results came back no water effected by and no trace of fracing chemicals in there water.

      Then there were claims of air pollution from drilling. but the fact is everything we do pollutes, coal mining, timbering, trash removal, cleaning our homes, virtually everything we do pollutes “HOWEVER” A report was just put out stating America is 20 years ahead of it’s target to reduce global warming pollution because of our conversion from coal to natural gas. MIT also rebutted the Cornell Professor’s Holworth study saying that his model used assumptions and was not a real gas well study.

      One more even though I can write a book, Deforestation. How frac”k”ing hypocritical is that argument. At more the one anti fracing event I heard the argument that we should be using renewable’s such as wood. Imagine if just 1/5 of the people heating their homes with fossil fuels converted to wood. It would not only deforest hundreds of thousands of acres of our forest, but it would drive the price of lumber through the roof having an bad economical effect on the building industry. Trees are cut down for pipelines and well pads, but when everything is finished after a few years, reclamation is not only done but is visible to the eye where reclamation has been completed.

      As for your boom to bust argument again, “your off base” first I would say a boom is good no matter how short lived and will change the lives of many for the better example: Bradford county just reduced every bodies taxes by 8.9 percent because of drilling fees and taxes. You talk about a slow down taken place in PA already but you fail to mention the reason for a slowdown is not because of a bust situation but rather because of a lack of infrastructure to get the gas to the market. Once the infrastructure is in place you will see the marcellous shale country live out longer then EJ’s and IBM lasted in this area combined. When the export facilities are in place America will become the world leader in exporting gas to countries that use coal greatly reducing world air pollution sources all while creating millions of jobs and returning America to an economical giant..

      Like I said I could write a book but with you Vera I would be wasting my time as your mind is closed to progress and opportunity thanks to your instilled fears from fictions like Gasland.

      • Vera Scroggins
        Posted at 12:14h, 22 December Reply

        I knew just about in the beginning when gas was started drilling in Dimock; I was shown by a friend in Dimock, the drilling starting near her on Ely property and Teel properties
        in 2008 and I immediately knew this was industrialization and know of the problems with that, since I was raised in it, and started documenting and visiting sites and calling the regulatory agencies and telling people about it. I’ve been documenting for about four years now and you can see my videos on youtube and I have photographs on Picassa.
        Come and meet me in person and not just rely on rumors , if you have the guts.
        Get your facts straight and Bradford Co. after over five years , now is finally reducing their property taxes a mere 5.9 % not 8.9 % and after they got their Act 13 money. They couldn’t do it before; wonder why not?
        And I never advocate for using wood for fuel; I don’t consider that a good alternative.
        I call the gas companies like WPX personally and ask questions which you can consider doing; I asked them why did they pull out so much of their activity and told that
        the price of gas is too low and they need to make more money with wet gas in western Pa. and Ohio.
        Since NY has dryer gas, you’re out of luck. At this time, your NY gas is not even desired by the gas companies.

        • Tom Shepstone
          Posted at 15:53h, 22 December Reply

          You sound very bitter, Vera.

          • Observer
            Posted at 17:30h, 22 December

            She sounds like the town crier

  • Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance » Blog Archive » PennEnvironment’s Natural Gas #MoratoriumMonday
    Posted at 15:53h, 25 January Reply

    […] has also received grant money from the Heinz Endowments to fight Marcellus Shale development, of course, and we know their agenda. Their 990 tax return also includes financial statements […]

  • David Duncan
    Posted at 15:18h, 20 February Reply


    How about letting me come to your home for a drink of water? I’d like a glass of the H2O you’ve declared to be contaminated. Then I’ll know if you’ve got a point or the EPA is correct when it says your water is drinkable.

  • Elitists Opposed to Natural Gas Receive Comeuppance in Bobtown | Natural Gas NowNatural Gas Now
    Posted at 17:11h, 08 March Reply

    […] Whittacker Chambers died in 1961, some 53 years ago, but his wisdom lives. The elitists of the second estate, today’s nobility, who fund the war against natural gas and fossil fuels (e.g., the Heinz, Park and Rockefeller families) combined with the fourth estate, the press, to speak on behalf of the “plain men and women” of Bobtown. The contact name at the top of the petition against Chevron, in fact, is a representative of the Mountain Watershed Association, a Heinz Endowments front group. […]

  • Sarah
    Posted at 22:55h, 15 June Reply

    Thanks for the heads up on this. My intuition said something’s wrong with this picture.

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