Environmental Leader Leaving Major Pittsburgh Endowment

  • Caren Glotfelty, pictured at the Group Against Smog and Pollution's 40th Anniversary. Photo: Courtesy GASP

August 2, 2013
Editor's Note: The Allegheny Front is a beneficiary of Heinz Endowments funding.

A key figure at one of Pittsburgh's biggest environmental philanthropy organizations has announced her departure, leaving conservation groups wondering what their futures hold. 

The Heinz Endowments is saying little about the loss of Caren Glotfelty, who long directed its Environment Program. Instead, they e-mailed a statement from Glotfelty herself, which had earlier been sent to grantees and colleagues: "The board has indicated that it is moving in a different direction with regard to the Environment Program, and it is clear to me that this is the right moment to leave. I have been privileged to be part of The Heinz Endowments and very proud of all the grantees and partners who have worked so hard during my tenure to make the Pittsburgh region a better place."

The Endowments' Environment Program gave about $10 million to 68 groups in 2012. Glotfelty's departure, scheduled for early August, has elicited worries from some groups about budgetary futures, but also an outpouring of personal support for the 66-year-old Glotfelty. 

"Listen, Caren was one of the most respected environmental stewards in Pennsylvania and she just has a long body and a large body of work, so the environmental groups I talked to were surprised and a bit saddened by the news," says Bill Toland, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette business reporter who broke the story.

Asked whether the recent illness of Endowments' Chair Teresa Heinz Kerry, the wife U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, played a role in the board of directors' "different direction with the Environment Program," Toland said that was unclear. News reports have stated that Heinz Kerry is expected to make a full recovery following a seizure and time spent in a Boston hospital. Heinz Kerry has led the philanthropy, started by heirs of the family ketchup fortune, since 1991. She has demonstrated a strong interest in environmental causes, and is a board member of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Toland pointed out that Glotfelty's announcement came after the Heinz Endowments "caught some heat" in June when the Public Accountability Initiative watchdog group criticized the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, a group spearheaded and largely funded by the Heinz Endowments. The Public Accountability Initiative accused Heinz Endowments' President Robert Vagt of not disclosing his ties to the oil and gas industry. Vagt's on the board of Kinder Morgan Inc., the largest operator of natural gas pipelines in the U.S. This was not the first time information about his industry ties was made public, however, it made a splash since the Center for Sustainable Shale Development was bringing together industry and environmental groups to develop standards for the gas industry.

In 2011, the Environment Program faced public questions about Vagt's ties to the industry, when the Heinz Endowments pulled out of a controversial project at the University of Pittsburgh. The Endowments told Pitt's Center for Healthy Environments and Communities not to use its funding to pursue Marcellus work. 

At the time, Glotfelty told The Allegheny Front that Vagt has taken a position from the very beginning that "we are only going to benefit from the development of this natural gas resource if we are fully aware of all the range of impacts: environmental, public health, community impacts. And we do everything in our power to prevent those impacts from happening."

Jeanne Clark, a former communications director with the environmental group PennFuture, a Heinz grantee, commented on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story: "Caren is a shining star, and deserves better. For Caren to be treated this way is truly dishonorable. This is not only terrible news for the environment, it is a major blow to Pittsburgh."