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Teresa Heinz Kerry: Family "Not Fully Aware" of Heinz Endowments Partnership With Energy Companies

Teresa Heinz Kerry says family members weren't fully aware of a controversial decision by the Heinz Endowments to partner with major energy companies on natural gas drilling standards, even though the organization approved two pilot grants for the project last year.

The Heinz Endowments, with assets of $1.4 billion, is the 49th largest foundation in the United States. Heinz Kerry is chair of the Endowments, and she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that she was never involved with the Center for Sustainable Shale Development.

Some environmentalists criticized the foundation for working with drilling companies on the CSSD project, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that the Heinz Endowments helped launch last March.

Heinz Kerry traced the CSSD origins to conversations she had with Marvin Odum, president of Shell Oil, about finding a transparent way to develop the resources of the Marcellus Shale, according to the Post-Gazette interview published Monday.

"We decided to collaborate with the environmental and public health people. That's what I absolutely sanctioned and brought to the endowments,"   Heinz Kerry told the paper. Asked how that initial idea to collaborate evolved into the CSSD without her or the board's knowledge, she said, "I don't know. Things changed. I don't know how or when."

Last year the Heinz Endowments funded two grants to help launch the Institute for Gas Drilling Excellence, which was later renamed as the CSSD. One $45,000 grant was to "complete its development phase and begin operating by January 2013," while a separate $50,000 grant was for "technical assistance" to develop standards for drillers.

Two key Endowments staff members were fired last August, and president Robert Vagt announced earlier this month that he will retire. Some media reports connected those changes to controversy over the CSSD, but Heinz Kerry called that "conjecture."

Heinz Kerrry was hospitalized last summer after suffering a seizure, but she still plans to remain active with the Endowments, which are separate from the Heinz global food company.

"I told them I'd be here and I'll be chair if I'm 150 ... that's my intention," she said, adding that she also doesn't anticipate that the focus on grants to help southwestern Pennsylvania will change.