The Energy Foundation is a left-of-center “pass through” charitable foundation founded by and supported by a network of left-wing organizations. The Foundation began in January 1991 as a $20 million collaborative between the Pew Charitable Trusts, Rockefeller Foundations, and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and has subsequently grown in partnerships and funding. The Energy Foundation describes itself as a nonpartisan “grantmaker,” with a focus on building a “new energy economy.” In reality, it is a medium for bundling vast sums of money from donors to far-left political causes, under the guise of philanthropy.
The Energy Foundation was involved in the funding scandal in 2015 which led to the resignation of Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber (D).
The Energy Foundation was conceived as early as 1989, according to Adele Simmons, the former president of the MacArthur Foundation. It was established to be a “pass through” nonprofit, emphasizing strategic grants to groups able to influence energy regulatory policy. According to the group’s “strategic assumptions,” “intelligent philanthropy can influence energy policy with multi-billion dollar payoffs.”
The Energy Foundation was founded by Hal Harvey in 1991, who served as the organization’s president until 2002. Harvey has a history of left-wing environmental activism. In his announcement of the creation of the Energy Foundation, he referenced the recent First Gulf War: “At a time of grave danger and volatility in the Middle East, it is worrisome that the United States is increasing its dependence on foreign oil, especially so because there are other proven alternatives.”
Harvey also worked as founder and CEO of ClimateWorks Foundation from 2008-2011, and served as Environment Program Director at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation – both significant financial supporters of the Energy Foundation.
Board of Directors
The Energy Foundation’s Board of Directors and staff are well-connected in left-wing philanthropy and activism, illustrating the interlocking interests of the environmentalist and progressive movements.
Bill Ritter, Jr. is the Foundation’s board chair. Ritter served as the Governor of Colorado from 2007-2011. A Democrat, he touts his environmentalist and liberal record. Ritter is currently the Director of the Center for the New Energy Economy in Fort Collins, CO.
Mark Burget is the executive vice president and North American regional director of The Nature Conservancy. From 2008-2011, he served as ClimateWorks Foundation chief operating officer and president, alongside Hal Harvey.
William D. Ruckelshaus is the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the Ronald Reagan administration, a position he held from 1983-1985.
Khee Poh Lam is a member of the Energy Foundation China and ClimateWorks Foundation Network boards.
Former board members include Noa Staryk, a past McKnight Foundation board member.
Co-founder and CEO Eric Heitz began his career in the field installing solar systems, moving on to work as a consultant on related technologies for government agencies. Heitz’s total compensation in 2015 was $442,448.
Senior Manager of Strategic Communications Eric Jaffe and Senior Vice President of U.S. Programs Jason Mark are among those Energy Foundation employees with more political backgrounds. Jaffe has worked for Democratic politicians and with Resource Media, a liberal communications company. Mark spent over a decade with the Union of Concerned Scientists, which was involved with the push for the Kyoto Protocol in the 1990s and touts its role in creating the anti-science narrative around President George W. Bush.
Doug Larson is a consultant to the Energy Foundation. Larson is the former executive director of the Western Interstate Energy Board.
Funding and Activities
Since its inception, the Foundation has attempted to influence public energy policy through ostensibly philanthropic grants to environmentalist groups. To this end, the Energy Foundation conducts a sizable amount of direct activity, such as organizing workshops and research projects to support its agenda.
As a bundler nonprofit, the Energy Foundation benefits from provisions in the IRS 501(c)(3) charitable organization status enabling it to mask the flow of donations from private interest groups that wish to hide their support for partisan causes. Funding to the Energy Foundation can then ‘pass through’ to 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations, which are permitted to engage in overtly political activity.
A significant part of the Energy Foundation’s funding comes from wealthy nonprofits, including the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, ClimateWorks Foundation, McKnight Foundation, Schmidt Family Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. These groups remain deeply connected, and many share a number of board members and officers in common.
Sea Change Foundation, a private environmentalist group largely funded by hedge fund companies, venture capital firms, and offshore private holdings, is a top donor to the Energy Foundation. Sea Change has donated tens of millions of dollars to the Foundation since its creation.
TomKat Charitable Trust, the personal philanthropy of liberal mega-donor hedge-fund billionaire Tom Steyer and his wife, is a former donor to the Energy Foundation from 2009 to 2013. It contributed $200,000 to the Foundation in 2012. On its website, the Energy Foundation downplays TomKat’s contributions; however, documents show the Foundation received $3 million from Steyer’s group.
A 2014 report from the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works identified the Energy Foundation as the “quintessential example of a pass through” organization. From 2010 to 2012, according to the Senate report, the Foundation received approximately $203,346,390 from these groups. During this time, the Energy Foundation funneled $5,676,000 to the Green Tech Action Fund (GTAF), the Foundation’s politically active 501(c)(4), and an additional $3,758,510 from 2013 to 2015.
The GTAF has, in turn, provided substantial funding to various environmentalist and progressive activist organizations, including the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, and the BlueGreen Alliance. These organizations then financially support the campaigns of Democratic candidates for public office.
The Energy Foundation claims to be “nonpartisan” and asserts that it doesn’t “have a financial stake” in the “clean energy markets” they promote. However, the Foundation lists among its grant recipients various radical organizations, many of which are not are not primarily environmentalist groups:
- Center for Popular Democracy
- Sierra Club Foundation
- Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.
- The Tides Center
- BlueGreen Alliance Foundation
- Public Citizen Foundation
- Environmental Defense Fund
The Energy Foundation is purportedly a member of the Environmental Grantmakers Association. In addition, the group maintains ties to other agitator organizations, including the US Climate Action Network and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The Energy Foundation’s lists its key interests as the following:
- Public Engagement
The Energy Foundation claims a substantial part of its financial grants contribute to overhauling buildings. As a bundler nonprofit, however, its most substantive grants fund political activism – or what the Public Engagement program calls “the development and dissemination of effective national narratives.” Despite the tight restrictions on political activity placed on 501(c)(3) nonprofits, the Foundation is in reality only loosely separated from actual policy influence and advocacy.
In 2015, the Energy Foundation funded a study by Doug Meade, an economist at the University of Maryland, and Jason Price of Industrial Economics, a private consultancy. The study was intended to boost political support for the controversial Clean Power Plan released by the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in August 2015 by touting job growth. The Foundation is a vocal proponent of the Clean Power Plan, which would mandate a drastic 32 percent reduction in airborne carbon dioxide relative to 2005 levels by 2030. The EPA plan was stopped short of implementation in February 2016 by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Former EPA administrator and Energy Foundation board member William D. Ruckelshaus co-authored a September 25, 2016 op-ed in favor of the EPA plan, criticizing American power plants as the “principal culprit behind the alarming warming of our planet.” Ruckelshaus also filed an amicus curiae brief supporting the EPA plan.
In December 2013, the Alabama Coal Association (ACA) accused several organizations of promoting a “war on coal.” The ACA cited roughly $3 million in grants given to anti-coal groups by the Energy Foundation, including the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. Federal filings show that the grant intent was “the accelerated retirement of conventional coal-fired plants.”
Bill Ritter, Jr., a former Colorado Governor, current Energy Foundation board member, and member of the Democratic Party authored a March 29, 2017 op-ed in The Conversation supporting the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, as well as the Paris Climate Treaty. “One in 50 new jobs in America is now in solar energy,” Ritter claims, while attempts “to roll back important environmental safeguards are being sold to the American people under the rubric of job creation.”
The Energy Foundation has appeared close to Democratic politicians. In May 2017 California Governor Jerry Brown (D) announced a trip to China to “build foreign support carbon-cutting efforts,” according to an ABC News story. Brown and his staff were accompanied by members of the California Energy Commission and the California Air Resources Board, whose travel expenses were paid for by the Energy Foundation.
On February 13, 2015 Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber (D) announced his resignation from public office following revelations that his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, collected over $250,000 in fellowship and consulting fees from environmentalist groups to promote favorable policies, including low-carbon fuel standard legislation.
Hayes received $50,000 from the Energy Foundation in 2013 for “communications work.” She failed to disclose pertinent ethics filings to the governor’s office, and filed significantly lower sums on her 2011-2012 tax returns.
Energy Foundation, which collected donations from Tom Steyer’s TomKat Charitable Trust from 2009-2013, was accused of funneling TomKat’s funds to Hayes, which Steyer’s attorney denied, claiming the funds were “explicitly restricted so they could not be used for lobbying, legislative or electoral purposes.” The Energy Foundation also denies that Steyer indirectly funded Hayes, yet notes – in contradiction to Steyer’s attorney – that while the “TomKat Charitable Trust did not earmark its donations to any specific Energy Foundation Project” the “Trust had no input on the Energy Foundation’s grant decisions.”
The Energy Foundation admitted funding the Clean Economy Development Center (CEDC) $50,000 in 2011 and $25,000 in 2012 for a fellowship program in which Hayes was the only participant. This is during the period in which TomKat was a donor to the Energy Foundation. The CEDC has had its nonprofit status revoked by the IRS, and has since ceased to function.