Two years ago, news broke that the Department of Transportation was directly funding anti-pipeline activists through a little-known grant program called the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) Technical Assistance Grant (TAG) Program. The discovery prompted an audit, which temporarily halted the grants. Now PHMSA is at it again, announcing a new round of TAG funding for a variety of organizations across the country, including a group that openly advocates against pipelines.
One of the grant recipients in the FY2018 program is the Pipeline Safety Coalition, which was given $99,938 to establish a “community safety awareness network” in Pennsylvania. The Pipeline Safety Coalition has received more than $1.1 million through the TAG program in the past, despite having filed public comments against major pipeline projects in Pennsylvania.
The Pipeline Safety Coalition grant shows that TAG is continuing to award grants to anti-pipeline groups in violation of its Congressional mandate.
InsideSources initially reported on TAG grants to the coalition in 2016, noting that the group appeared to have used government grant money to fund a study calling for Congressional action on pipeline regulations. Shortly afterward, the program was audited.
In August 2017, the DOT’s Office of Inspector General released a report on the finding of its audit, faulting PHMSA for failing to develop and implement grant oversight procedures. The audit found that that the grant agreements “do not explicitly state that grantees cannot use TAG funds for direct advocacy for or against a pipeline construction or expansion project.” Use of the funds for anti-pipeline advocacy is disallowed by Congress.
Meanwhile, PHMSA staff told auditors that they considered these grants to be “low risk” and did not always properly review audits of grant applicants, nor track if a group had previously received federal funding.
The FY2018 documents show that TAG continued to give grant money to the Pipeline Safety Coalition even after the audit found lax grant oversight. Since 2009, the Pipeline Safety Coalition has received nearly $1.1 million in TAG grants. Tracking the money is difficult however, because the coalitions have failed to file the proper IRS paperwork.
In addition, it appears that Lynda Farrell, who runs the small nonprofit out of her house, may have personally profited from the government grants. In September 2012, the coalition won a $50,000 grant from PHMSA. Five months later, local records show that Blue Heron Consulting, a firm that she runs out of her home, received $30,000 in PHMSA money.
Farrell has a history of partnership with anti-pipeline activist groups, including the Clean Air Council and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. She has vocally resisted pipeline projects, including the PennEast line, and has used the name of her group when doing so.
The coalition’s anti-pipeline ties violate the statute which created the TAG program. Created by Congress in 2009, TAG authorizes PHMSA to provide funding to non-profits and local governments that would act to “improve damage prevention, develop new technologies, or otherwise improve pipeline safety” of natural gas or hazardous liquid pipelines. The law also clearly states that grant money “may not be used for lobbying, for direct advocacy for or against a pipeline construction or expansion project, or in direct support of litigation.”
PHMSA describes the grants as a program to “allow local communities and groups of individuals to obtain funding for technical assistance in the form of engineering or other scientific analysis of pipeline safety issues and help promote public participation in official proceedings.”
Green grants die hard.