NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, just days before headlining a gala backed by advocates of offshore drilling (Photo: Governor Andrew Cuomo Flickr)
The New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV) is holding its Spring Gala on Monday, May 14th, in New York City, and Governor Andrew Cuomo is the event’s keynote speaker.
The NYLCV was founded in 1989, and it claims to be “the only statewide environmental organization in New York that fights for clean water, clean air, renewable energy and open space through political action.” However, as we discuss below, the NYLCV has close ties to the fossil fuel industry that undermine its credibility as an organization claiming to advance climate justice. Most notably, it is funded by fossil fuel companies and directed by individuals with oil and gas ties.
But the credibility problem is not just with the NYLCV; it is also with Cuomo, especially at a time when he is trying to position himself as a progressive leader on climate and environmental issues. He is calling for state pensions to divest from fossil fuel companies, and yet is participating in an event bankrolled by fossil fuel companies with business in New York State. Given this, Cuomo’s association with the NYLCV – and his decision to headline its gala – looks especially hypocritical and worthy of scrutiny.
In the past we have examined the fossil fuel industry’s use of front groups to whitewash – or “greenwash” – its environmental record. These organizations are, to varying extents, funded by oil and gas companies, and those companies’ executives, lobbyists and attorneys often have leadership roles in the groups. The NYLCV is one such group, and Cuomo appears to be a willing participant in its greenwashing of the fossil fuel industry. Cuomo cannot have it both ways on fossil fuels. Either he is truly opposed to state investment in fossil fuels, or he is not. He cannot credibly call for divestment from fossil fuel companies while participating in a major political event funded by those same corporate interests.
Some highlights of this article include:
- Gala’s honoree is pro-fossil fuel, pro-Trump billionaire. The NYLCV’s Spring Gala environmental honoree is Andy Sabin, a pro-fracking billionaire whose philanthropic foundation has nearly $1 million invested in fossil fuels. Sabin opposes strong environmental regulation and is a major Trump donor and supporter.
- Fossil fuel-tied GOP leader is board chair. The NYLCV Education Fund board chair, Ed Cox, is the chairman of the New York State GOP and a longtime director of Noble Energy, a major oil and gas company. As a director, Noble paid Cox $320,152 in 2017.
- Funded by the fossil fuel industry. At least nine fossil fuel companies, some with controversial business in New York State, sponsor the NYLCV Education Fund.
- Fracked-gas pipeline pushers on board. The NYLCV’s Capital Region Chapter Chair, Robert M. Rosenthal, is an attorney for Millennium Pipeline and has litigated against New York State to advance the fracked-gas Valley Lateral Project. Millennium spokesperson and former Cuomo official Michelle Hook is also on the NYLCV board, as is longtime Millennium lobbyist Scott Wigger.
- Numerous other fossil fuel ties on board. A number of other fossil fuel-tied executives, lawyers and lobbyists sit on the NYLCV and NYLCVEF boards, including individuals tied to NRG, ExxonMobil, National Fuel, Global Partners and Entergy.
All this raises serious questions about the NYLCV. Is this organization genuinely advocating for environmental issues – or is it just providing cover for the oil and gas industry? Does it advance a real environmental vision – or does it just give executives, lobbyists, and attorneys a way to hobnob as “environmentalists” in elite cultural and political circles, even as they push a fossil fuel agenda?
NYLCV’s fossil fuel industry funders
The NYLCV has an Education Fund which has a stated mission “to educate, engage and empower New Yorkers to be effective advocates on behalf of the environment — from clean energy and funding for parks, to solid waste and green buildings.” The NYLCVEF is funded by a group of “Eco-Partners” who sponsor the fund’s efforts. At least nine of these sponsors are tied to the fossil fuel industry. These include ExxonMobil, Williams, NRG, Entergy, Millennium Pipeline Company, National Grid, Con Edison, CSX, and Langon.
Several of these companies have controversial projects in New York State that local environmentalists have opposed. These include:
- Williams, which is a partner behind the controversial Constitution Pipeline that New York State recently denied. Its projects also include the massive Transco Pipeline system and the proposed Northeast Supply Enhancement expansion of the TransCo fracked-gas pipeline system in New York State.
- Millennium Pipeline, which is the company behind the Eastern System Upgrade in New York State and the controversial 7.8 mile Valley Lateral Project that will feed out-of-state fracked gas to Competitive Power Ventures’ Valley Energy Center.
- NRG, which owns an oil-fueled generating station in Oswego. NRG’s natural gas and coal production represents 60% of its portfolio, as opposed to only 15% in renewables. The company caused a controversy in New York State when it accepted $190 million in public subsidies for power plants that it closed.
- CSX, which transports crude oil and frack sand throughout New York State.
National Grid and Con Edison are both major energy suppliers in New York, and Entergy has operations in several counties in New York State. Other Eco-Partners include major real estate interests and banks.
The conflict between the NYLCVEF’s purported environmentalist mission and its funding from major fossil fuel companies with business in New York State raises series questions about the NYLCV’s credibility. For example, it appears the group has not done any work around the Williams-backed Constitution Pipeline – or even mentioned it – even though the fight around the pipeline has been a major environmental issue in New York.
NYS GOP head & fossil fuel director is board chair of NYLCV Education Fund
The board chair of the NYLCVEF is Edward F. Cox, but his NYLCVEF profile page fails to mention a few crucial pieces of information about him – including that he is the chair of the New York State Republican Party and that he rakes in big money from his position on the Board of Directors of Noble Energy, a major fossil fuel company.
Cox has served as the chairman of the New York Republican State Committee since 2009, and he has been involved in conservative politics since the presidency of Richard Nixon (Cox is married to Nixon’s daughter). He served as John McCain’s state chairman during the 2008 presidential campaign and participated in the campaigns of George W. Bush.
Cox is also a member of the Republican National Committee, which was a driving force behind the 2016 GOP platform that backed extensive rollback and outright gutting of a range of environmental regulations and the expanded use of fossil fuels, drilling, and devolution of public lands. This is a platform that has been forcefully implemented by figures like Ryan Zinke, Scott Pruitt, and Donald Trump. (Though Cox and Trump have butted heads at times, Cox was “thrilled” about Trump’s campaign visit to New York State in April 2016).
Cox has been a board member of Noble Energy since 1984 – a fact that is omitted from his NYLCVEF profile page. Noble is an oil and gas company that raked in $3.39 billion in sales last year, and it has spent millions over the past decade on lobbying and donations to advance fossil fuel interests. For his directorship role, Cox was given a whopping $320,152 in 2017. Given that Cox has been on the Noble board for over three decades, he has likely taken in millions of dollars as a director. All of this – Cox’s commitment to the GOP’s fossil fuel agenda and his own personal profits from the fossil fuel industry – raises serious doubt over his ability to push an environmental agenda as NYLCVEF’s board chair.
NYLCV Honoree Andrew Sabin: Trump-Backer & Fossil Fuel Champion
This year’s “Environmental Leader Honoree” for the NYLCV’s gala is Andrew Sabin, a billionaire who owns the Sabin Metal Corporation, one of the world’s largest precious metals companies. Sabin is being honored for his conservation efforts and for the millions he has donated to elite university environmental research centers. But a deeper look into Sabin’s record brings up some big questions, including whether he is an opponent of – not an advocate for – climate justice.
Supporter of Trump/GOP fossil fuel & anti-regulatory agenda
According to a New York Times profile of Sabin, he is “vehemently opposed to new regulation and a carbon tax,” believes that “the E.P.A. is guilty of overreach,” and “supports the use of cheap and abundant natural gas.” Moreover, Sabin supports and enables a political agenda that denies human-caused climate change, opposes environmental regulation, and is deeply committed to the expansion of the fossil fuel industry.
Since 2012, Sabin has given $1,324,272 almost entirely to Republicans, according to Open Secrets. From 2012 to 2014, Sabin gave a whopping $250,000 to American Crossroads, the GOP Super PAC, to help Republicans gain office and implement their anti-climate agenda. During the 2016 election cycle, for example, donated $620,473, with 99% of it going to the GOP. This made Sabin the 136th biggest donor of the entire election cycle. So far in 2018, Sabin has given $320,400, all to Republicans, making him the 102nd biggest donor of the 2018 election cycle. This money goes to range of candidates who support the fossil fuel industry. For example, the current second biggest recipient of Sabin money, John Kennedy (R-LA) is an unapologetic supporter of oil and gas land-leasing and drilling. In 2015, Sabin also donated $1,000 to Trump Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (Zinke was then a Montana representative in the US House). Zinke is widely seen as a key opponent of environmentalists.
Most alarming is Sabin’s avid support for Donald Trump. Sabin gave $100,000 to Trump Victory, the Trump fundraising Super PAC. Sabin has met personally with Trump and has downplayed Trump’s attack on the environment. Even as the Trump administration moves to expand offshore drilling and coal use, open up public lands to the fossil fuel industry, and kill regulations that stem carbon emissions from cars and power plants, Sabin remains a stark supporter.
Even more, in addition to supporting Trump politically, Sabin also appears to share some of his other tendencies. The New York Times noted:
Perhaps one way to makes sense of Mr. Sabin is to recognize that he is much like Mr. Trump himself. Impassioned and at times charismatic, he is also quick to ignore facts, brimming with conspiracy theories, and prone to objectifying women. His girlfriend is several decades his junior. “You’re only as young as the woman you’re touching,” he said. While watching Fox News, he complimented the appearance of the daytime host Jenna Lee. (“I think she’s so hot,” he said.) Aboard his yacht, he openly viewed pornography on an iPad. Over the course of several months, he sent a reporter numerous emails containing X-rated images.
Sabin’s own personal behavior is also a case study in unsustainable practices for the environment. He owns a private plane, which he claims allows him to “go to oil refineries, chemical plants and customers across the nation.” He also owns a 60 foot yacht, likely a big gas guzzler. While Sabin seems to think he needs these amenities, it is unclear whether he has entertained the idea of a different and more environmentally sustainable lifestyle.
All told, Sabin makes a strange selection for the NYLCV’s “Environmental Leader Honoree,” given his charity’s fossil fuel investments, his financing of the Trump/GOP fossil fuel agenda, and his personal practices. (Though, it should be said that past gala and cocktail party honorees have included Suez, a fracking wastewater company, and Con Edison, which runs gas generating stations across New York State.)
Philanthropic foundation invested in fossil fuels
Sabin’s philanthropic arm is the non-profit Andrew Sabin Family Foundation (ASFF). While the ASFF is the entity through which Sabin donates to conservationist causes, the organization’s most recent available 990 filing reveals that the charity retains extensive fossil fuel investments. The ASFF’s schedule of investments as of December 31, 2016 shows that Sabin invested nearly a million dollars through the ASFF in stocks and corporate bonds of major oil and gas, fracking, and offshore drilling companies, including Chevron, ExxonMobil, Transocean, and Chesapeake.
|Company Invested In||No. of Shares||Cost|
|Chesapeake Energy Corp.||100,000 (bonds)||$98,625|
|General Electric Capital Corp.||100,000 (bonds)||$103,900|
|Linn Energy LLC/Fin Corp.||100,000 (bonds)||$87,500|
|Oasis Petroleum Inc.||100,000 (bonds)||$101,250|
Source: Andrew Sabin Family Foundation 990 filing for 2016 (guidestar.org)
At a time when fossil fuel divestment is at the cutting edge of the environmental movement, Sabin’s oil and gas investments are deeply troubling. Sabin’s financing of the fossil fuel industry through purchases of stocks and bonds also presents a stark conflict of interest, since his charitable ventures stands to gain revenue if the oil and gas companies it invests in profit.
Millennium attorney, Cuomo-tied PR head, and lobbyist all on NYLCV board
Another big conflict exists between the NYLCV’s purported environmental mission in New York State and its board leadership with regards to the Millennium Pipeline Company. Millennium’s attorney, as well as its Director of Public Relations and Community Outreach and one of its longtime lobbyists, sit on the NYLCV board. As described above, Millennium is one of the NYLCV’s Education Fund “Eco-Partners.”
One of Millennium’s most controversial projects in New York State is the Valley Lateral Project, a proposed pipeline that would feed fracked gas to the CPV Valley plant. (As we have reported on, the CPV plant has faced intense opposition and has been tied to to the corruption scandal of top Cuomo aide Joseph Percoco.) After the New York State DEC denied key permits to the Millennium Pipeline in August 2017, FERC overruled the NYDEC in September 2017, and this federal overruling has been upheld in the US second circuit court and federal appeals courts.
In a battle between New York State and its environmentalist community on one side, and major fossil fuel companies on the other side, one would think that the NYLCV would take the side of the former. However, Greenberg Traurig attorney Robert M. Rosenthal, the NYLCV’s Capital Region Chapter Chair, is the attorney who represented Millennium against the NYSDEC in Millennium’s successful attempt to uphold the overriding of the NYDEC’s denial of the pipeline. In other words, a key leader of the NYLCV fought to override the wishes of New York State in order to ensure that a pipeline would be built that would feed fracked gas to a major power plant and lock in big fossil fuel emissions for decades to come.
As with the Constitution Pipeline, it appears that the NYLCV has not done any work around the Millennium pipeline, or even mentioned it, even though the pipeline has been a major issue for environmentalists in New York State.
Another NYLCV board member is Michelle Hook, who has been Millennium’s Director of Public Relations and Community Outreach since December 2015. Prior to this, she served two years in the Cuomo administration as the Governor’s Deputy Communications Director for Public Safety. Scott Wigger, a longtime Millennium lobbyist whose firm has been paid $454,000 since 2012 to lobby for Millennium, is also a Capital Region board member for the NYLCV.
All this represents a blatant conflict of interest in the NYLCV leadership. It undermines the credibility of the NYLCV and casts doubt on whether it can take strong – and necessary – positions on fossil fuels, renewable energy, and climate justice.
Other fossil fuel board ties
In addition to Rosenthal, Hook, and Wigger, other NYLCV board members with fossil fuel ties include:
- Steven C. Russo, NYLCV board chair, is a Greenberg Traurig attorney who has lobbied for Entergy and National Fuel.
- Raymond G. Long, NYLCVEF board member, is Vice President for National State and Federal Government Affairs for NRG Energy.
- Dean Sommer, NYLCV board member, has represented Global Partners, which wanted to run more “bomb trains” through Albany.
- John Cahill, NYLCVEF board member, is an energy attorney whose firm works with the fossil fuel industry. Cahill served as Governor George Pataki’s Chief of Staff and was a 2014 GOP candidate for Attorney General (he was criticized for not disclosing his ties to the oil and gas industry).
- Rhea Jezer, NYLCV board member, is President of Energy21 LTD, which National Grid and ExxonMobil sponsor.
- Neal Zuckerman, NYLCVEF board member, is a partner in the New York office of the Boston Consulting Group, Inc., a firm that works with fossil fuel industry clients.
- Andrea Schmitz, NYLCVEF board member, is Vice President of Environment, Health and Safety at Con Edison.
- Eric Gribetz, NYLCVEF board member, is Co-Managing Partner of Pegasus Capital Advisors, which owns Pure Biofuels, a company that stores liquid fuels and is a petroleum refiner.
Cuomo and the Fossil Fuel Industry
Andrew Cuomo’s decision to headline the fossil fuel-backed NYLCV gala casts doubt on his environmentalist commitments and desire to divest from fossil fuels. This also comes amidst recent revelations that Cuomo has accepted nearly $113,000 from the oil and gas industry – from companies such as Con Edison, Amoco, Dominion Energy and Global Partners – in the current election cycle so far. Cuomo’s campaign chairman, Bill Mulrow, is also a board member of Con Edison.
Cuomo cannot have it both ways. He cannot posture as a progressive environmentalist who wants to divest from fossil fuels while he also headlines an oil and gas industry gala and takes big fossil fuel campaign donations. Cuomo must decide: is he truly opposed to investment in fossil fuels, or is he not?