NY League of Conservation Directors are Pushing the Williams Pipeline & Other NYS Fossil Fuel Projects

The New York League of Conservation Voters, an influential conservationist group in New York State, has several board members that are actively working to advance some of the most controversial fossil fuel projects in the state, including the Williams Pipeline and the Danskammer Energy Center.

NYLCV regional board members Mike Klein and Evan Thies have both lobbied for Williams Companies, and NYLCV Capital Region Board Member Michelle Hook works as vice president of public affairs for Danskammer Energy.

Several other board members of the NYLCV and its Education Fund have close ties to, and personally profit from, the fossil fuel industry. Some have backed Donald Trump, whose environmental policies have been disastrous for our climate.

All this raises concerns over conflicts of interest – namely, that people in positions of governance of a high-profile organization with a purported environmental mission are also simultaneously working for the fossil fuel industry and advancing its interests.

This, in turn, raises concerns that the fossil fuel interests that are represented in the NYLCV’s governing bodies are using these positions as green cover to advance oil and gas infrastructure projects that will perpetuate our climate crisis. 

Williams Pipeline

Williams Companies is an oil and gas powerhouse based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Williams is proposing the Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) pipeline, commonly known as the Williams Pipeline. The NESE is a gas pipeline that would be built under the New York Harbor to serve the gas and electric utility National Grid. It has faced intense opposition. 

The NYLCV has three regional board members – Mike Klein, Evan Thies, and Christian DiPalermo – who are all tied to the lobbying firm Urban Strategies LLC, which lobbies for Williams Companies in New York. 

Mike Klein is a New York City NYLCV board member and is the founder of Urban Strategies. He previously held several state government positions. 

Klein and Urban Strategies have been registered to lobby for Williams Companies since 2017. During 2017 and 2018, Williams Companies paid Klein $255,000 for his services, including the significant sum of $145,000 for the first half of 2018 alone. 

Klein’s filings and signed agreements with Williams can be seen here.  

So far in 2019, Williams Companies has paid Klein $20,000 through April. Here is the most recent letter that Klein signed to agree to lobby for Williams Companies, for a fee of $5,000 per month in 2019:

Klein’s NYLCV bio page gives no indication that he is a lobbyist, let alone for Williams Companies.

NYLCV regional board member, Evan Thies, is a partner of Urban Strategies. Thies has been a registered lobbyist for Williams Companies through his own firm, Pythia Public. According to an official filing, Thies and his firm were paid $45,000 between July and December 2018 to lobby for Williams Companies.

Thies signed a July 1, 2018 letter to Amanda Mertens Campbell, Williams’s Vice President for Government Affairs & Public Outreach, that stipulated his firm would provide “grassroots lobbying and organizing services” for Williams: 

Thies does not appear to have lobbied for Williams so far in 2019, and the lobbying registration between Williams and Thies & Grenell LLC is now listed as terminated. 

Another partner of Urban Strategies is Christian DiPalermo, who is a Long Island board member of the NYLCV. DiPalermo is the founder and principal of CDD Strategies, a lobbying firm. 

DiPalermo does not appear to personally have lobbied for Williams Companies. However, he is a longtime lobbyist for Spectra (now Enbridge), which is seeking to build its Algonquin Gas Transmission through New York State, as part of its larger, controversial Atlantic Bridge gas pipeline system. Since 2012, Spectra has paid CDD Strategies a whopping $1.405 million to lobby on its behalf in Albany, according to state records. Here is a copy of their current lobbying agreement, signed by DiPalermo.

James Tripp is also a NYLCV board member and Andrew Darrell is a NYLCV Education Fund board member. Tripp is the former General Counsel at Environmental Defense Fund, while Darrell is the New York regional director and deputy director of Environmental Defense Fund’s national energy program. As we recently wrote, EDF is touting an industry-funded study promoting the Wlliams pipeline and has a history of elevating fracked gas as a climate solution.

Danskammer gas plant 

Michelle Hook, a Capital Region Board Member of the NYLCV and former Cuomo administration official, currently serves as vice president of public affairs for Danskammer Energy, LLC, which owns the Danskammer power plant in the Hudson Valley. 

Danskammer Energy is owned by Tiger Infrastructure Partners, an investment firm with close ties to the dark money networks of the GOP, as we reported on with New York Communities for Change last year. Danskammer and its Wall Street backers are proposing a new natural gas-fired facility at the current Danskammer site that it would call the Danskammer Energy Center.

Hook was recently cited in aTimes Herald-Record article that reported on a $20,000 donation from Danskammer to the Town of Marlborough, which stands to be impacted by burning of new fossil fuels nearby. The donation was made to go towards unspecified “beautification projects.”

Many elected officials and community members in the Town of Newburgh, where the plant is located, oppose Danskammer’s proposal.

Millennium Pipeline and the CPV Plant

In addition to working for Danskammer, Michelle Hook is also the Director of Public Relations and Community Outreach for Millennium Pipeline Company, a position she’s held since late 2015. In news stories, she’s often cited as Millennium’s spokesperson.

Millennium Pipeline owns the Valley Lateral Pipeline, whose construction was opposed by many climate advocates in New York State because it was proposed to deliver Marcellus Shale fracked-gas to be burned at another controversial fossil fuel project, the CPV Valley Energy. A CPV executive was tied to a corruption scandal involving Governor Andrew Cuomo’s top aide, Joseph Percoco, who is now in prison. 

Three other NYLCV directors also have worked for Millennium Pipeline. Robert M. Rosenthal, the NYLCV’s Capital Region Chapter Chair, was Millennium’s attorney in its battle with the state to build the pipeline, while Scott Wigger, a longtime lobbyist for Millennium whose firm was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby for the company, was a NYLCV Capital region board member until recently. Michael Cassidy, a NYLCV Capital Region board member, is a lobbyist for Brown & Weinraub, and he and his firm have been paid over $100,000 to lobby by Millennium.

Millennium Pipeline is also a “corporate partner” of the NYLCV’s Education Fund. Other corporate partners include fossil fuel and utilities powerhouses like ExxonMobil, Entergy, ConEdison, Williams, and National Grid – all which, again, raises concerns over the extent to which NYLCV can advocate for climate concerns when it’s being sponsored by the industry whose profits are tied to extracting and burning fossil fuels whose emissions will intensify the climate crisis. 

Other fossil fuel & Trump board ties

Other NYLCV voters have close ties to the fossil fuel industry. Some are also big Trump backers, which raises concerns given the Trump administration’s destructive climate policies.

  • Ed Cox chairs the NYLCV Education Fund, the organization’s public engagement wing. Cox has raked in millions of dollars as director of Noble Energy, a top Texas oil producer. Since 2012 alone he’s taken in over $1.575 million in cash and stocks awards from his directorship – and he’s been on Noble’s board since 1984. Cox is stepping back from his position as chair of the New York State GOP – a position he’s held since 2009 – and is joining the Trump 2020 campaign. Cox’s governance position with and profiting from a major oil producer, and his work to advance Donald Trump’s anti-climate agenda, present stark conflicts with his leadership role in the NYLCV.
  • Andy Sabin is a board member of the NYLCV Education Fund. According to the New York Times, Sabin is “vehemently opposed to new regulation and a carbon tax” and believes that “the E.P.A. is guilty of overreach.” He also “supports the use of cheap and abundant natural gas,” and his own philanthropic foundation invests hundreds of thousands of dollars directly in fossil fuel powerhouse companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron. While Sabin donates tens of thousands to conservationist groups and university research centers, he has also donated to a host of elect officials who have promoted catastrophic climate policies, including to former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and to Donald Trump (Sabin gave $100,000 to Trump Victory). 
  • Val Smith is Secretary of the NYLCV Education Fund. She is the Managing Director and Global Head of Corporate Sustainability for Citi, which, according to a recent report by several climate organizations, Citi is the world’s third biggest financier of the fossil fuel industry, making available over $129.493 billion from 2016 to 2018. Given Smith’s title with Citi and given Citi’s central role in propping up the fossil fuel industry, her position with the NYLCV raises concerns of “greenwashing” – that Citi is using its representation on the NYLCV to burnish its environmental record even as it continues to fund the driving force behind out climate crisis.

Below is a LittleSis map of the ties between NYLCV board members and the fossil fuel industry that we described above.

See map at at LittleSis.org.

In closing, all this has consequences. A site search of the NYLCV’s website with the terms “Danskammer,” “Millennium Pipeline,” “Valley Lateral Project,” “CPV,” “Williams Pipeline,” and “Northeast Supply Enhancement” fails to reveal a single instance of the NYLCV speaking out against these new fossil fuel infrastructure projects, even as they have been widely opposed by the New York State climate movement.

In order to avoid conflicts of interest, and in order to avoid serving as environmental cover for fossil fuel companies and the banks that lend to them, the NYLCV should reconsider its decision to have board members who actively work to advance fossil fuel projects, personally profit from their ties to the industry, or commit themselves to advancing destructive climate policies through the politicians they fund and support.