The Carpetbagging Delaware Riverkeeper

delaware riverkeeper - Tom ShepstoneTom Shepstone
Natural Gas NOW


The Delaware Riverkeeper is now the ultimate in carpetbaggers, totally violating its non-profit charter as it does the dirty work of the William Penn Foundation.

Our colleague Jim Willis had a great post yesterday over at Marcellus Drilling News regarding a lawsuit taking place in Middlesex Township, Butler County, Pennsylvania. Middlesex Township has incurred $35,000 illegal fees defending itself from the attacks of the two hack organizations serving as arms of the William Penn Foundation; the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. The latter is headquartered in a natural gas heated building in Bristol, Pennsylvania (also near Philadelphia, where the Foundation has its offices). It’s time someone sued these carpetbaggers, particularly the Riverkeeper, which violates its own charter with this activity.

Delaware Riverkeeper

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network was formally incorporated by Maya van Rossum, Tracy Carluccio and Janine Bauer on May 29, 2008. Prior to that time it had operated under the aegis of the American Littoral Society, still another organization funded by the William Penn Foundation. The Riverkeeper amended its charter on February 17, 2009 and a copy of the original articles of incorporation with amendments may be found here. Here are two particularly relevant sections from those documents (emphasis added):

Delaware Riverkeeper

Excerpt from Delaware Riverkeeper Network Articles of Incorporation


“This corporation is organized and operated exclusive!y for charitable purposes within the meaning of section 501 (c )(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Notwithstanding any other provision of these articles, the organization, shall not carry on any other activities not permitted to be carried on by an organization exempt from Federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (or the corresponding provisions of any future Internal Revenue law) or (b) by an organization contributions to which are deductible under section 170(c)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (or corresponding provision of any future United States Internal Revenue law).”

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network’s own charter, in other words, limits it in two ways. It is, first of all, constrained by its stated purpose of “restoring the Delaware River Watershed’s natural balance where it has been lost and ensuring its preservation where it still exists.” Secondly, it is limited to charitable activities as defined by the Internal Revenue Code and cannot engage in other activities not permitted by a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. The Delaware Riverkeeper, as currently operated, is not only violating both of those provisions of its charter, but is doing so in extraordinary ways.

Delaware RiverkeeperIt doesn’t take a geographer to realize how far astray from its charter the Delaware Riverkeeper Network is operating when it goes to Middlesex Township in Butler County, two watersheds and 200 miles away, to fight a war against a zoning ordinance amendment because it allows gas drilling. Maya van Rossum says the Riverkeeper lawsuit “challenges the constitutionality of the zoning ordinance, which essentially allows drilling and fracking to take place anywhere in the Township.” What conceivable relationship does “drilling and fracking” 200 miles outside the watershed have on restoring or preserving the natural balance of the Delaware River watershed?

Obviously, it has none. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network is not about the Delaware River watershed; rather, it’s about implementing the ideology of van Rossum and the William Penn Foundation with respect to fossil fuels. Middlesex Township is simply a target of opportunity from that perspective. But, that’s not what this non-profit organization is supposed to be doing or why it’s tax-exempt, which brings us to the bigger problem; that the Delaware Riverkeeper Network is operating as a 501(c)(3) charity for tax-exempt purposes and what it’s mostly doing appears to be activity specifically not permitted by either the Internal Revenue Code or its own articles of incorporation.

What is not permitted is “substantial” lobbying. Here’s the guideline from the IRS Publication 557 (emphasis added):

In general, if a substantial part of the activities of your organization consists of carrying on propaganda or otherwise attempting to influence legislation, your organization’s exemption from federal income tax will be denied. However, a public charity (other than a church, an integrated auxiliary of a church or of a convention or association of churches, or a member of an affiliated group of organizations that includes a church, etc.) may avoid this result. Such a charity can elect to replace the substantial part of activities test with a limit defined in terms of expenditures for influencing legislation. Private foundations cannot make this election.

“Substantial,” of course, is not defined, but the IRS rules do provide an opportunity to be sure an organization complies by establishing upper limits on the amount of expenditures that can be made on lobbying (if the organization elects to use those limits as its test). The Delaware Riverkeeper Network has apparently made that election, as its 990 return for 2013 reports lobbying expenditures of $2,304 for the year (see Schedule C, Part II-A). “Lobbying,” for purposes of this calculation, is defined by the IRS as “attempting to influence legislation,” which is defined as follows:

  1. Any attempt to influence any legislation through an effort to affect the opinions of the general public or any segment thereof (grass roots lobbying), and
  2. Any attempt to influence any legislation through communication with any member or employee of a legislative body or with any government official or employee who may participate in the formulation of legislation (direct lobbying).

Does anyone familiar with the activities of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network think it’s done much of anything that wasn’t an attempt to influence legislation, particularly with respect to Act 13, which it fought viciously? Does anyone think their lawsuit against Middlesex Township in Butler County, 200 miles outside the Delaware River watershed is not “attempting to influence legislation”?

Reasonable people can, I expect, agree the sum of $2,304 doesn’t come close to representing the real level of lobbying activity of the Delaware Riverkeeper. Like so many environmental special interest groups it appears to be brazenly ignoring the rules and someone ought to call them on it.

There are other problems as well. Consider the following:

  • Given its funding by the latter, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network is little more than an arm of the William Penn Foundation, which funds multiple such activities as its apparent way of attempting to influence legislation, despite being a “private non-operating foundation” that isn’t supposed to be doing any substantial lobbying.
  • The Delaware Riverkeeper Network’s 990 return reiterates to the IRS that the organization’s activities are directed “To preserve, protect and restore the Delaware River Watershed’s natural balance,” which a lawsuit in Butler County hardly serves to accomplish.
  • The 990 further states the organization is obligated to report its contributors and complete Schedule B, Schedule of Contributors, but no such schedule is, in fact, attached.
  • As recently as 2011, the Delaware Riverkeeper’s Board of Directors included Judge Albert Ceparullo, a jurist with the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas. The group’s 2011 Annual Report lists his name, while featuring a photo of van Rossum holding a “Don’t Be Frackin’ Crazy” sign from a “Don’t Drill the Delaware Day Rally” event (no “carrying on propaganda there) and bragging about securing a legislative moratorium in New Jersey. Pennsylvania’s Judicial Code of Conduct provides, with respect to a judge’s participation in charitable activities that “A judge shall not serve if it is likely that the organization will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before the judge or will be regularly engaged in adversary proceedings in any court.” Is there any doubt the Delaware Riverkeeper was then and continues to do precisely that?

There is no question what the Delaware Riverkeeper Network is doing; it’s non-stop propaganda with respect to gas drilling and the organization is venturing far afield geographically in pursuing an agenda that, seemingly, has nothing to do with its charter or it’s bylaws. Moreover, it appears to be doing it with abandon, giving only the slightest pretense of complying with the rules, if it’s 990 return is any guide, although I’ll happily entertain their explanations here. Why aren’t journalists calling it out for this behavior and asking for those explanations? Maybe Middlesex Township ought to file a countersuit. Maybe someone should be doing the same with respect to the William Penn Foundation. Maybe the IRS ought to take a look.

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4 thoughts on “The Carpetbagging Delaware Riverkeeper

  1. IRS won’t take a look at this, Tom and we all know who. Their longstanding target is waaaay over there to the right of the Delaware River Keepers. On the TEA party, right?

  2. Interesting. I guess this sort of explains to me why more than one person who it seems works for the Catskill Mountainkeeper might be under the impression that oh let’s see spreading misinformation about a proposed LNG import project for offshore of Long Island is somehow about being ” the strongest and most effective possible advocate for the Catskill region”. Forget the IRS. One can not even get a journalist to cover anything at all about these groups and what they think activism is. They are untouchable it seems as they are environmentalists and therefore must be acting to protect both “the environment” and us all.

    Interestingly the 2014 draft NY State Energy Plan has this to say about mercury contamination in the catskills and oddly it isn’t anything about fracking:

    “The Northeast Regional Mercury Total Maximum Daily Load identified mercury from atmospheric deposition as the primary
    cause of water body impairment. The highest mercury concentration in fish is found in the Catskill and Adirondack Mountains. Nation-wide, coal-burning electric generating units are the largest source of mercury, while for New York, as seen in Figure 8, electric generation contributes only 15 percent. Mercury emissions in the electrical generation sector have been trending downward in New York due to a greater reliance on natural gas to produce electricity and regulations which target mercury in coal-fired electric generation facilities. The
    largest contribution of atmospheric mercury in the State still comes from mid-western utilities”

  3. If coal power kicks up enough mercury it will dumb down the public enough that they will no longer care! Great article Tom! And Karen O. ,why do we need lng imports when we have so much ng right here in the northeast?Another thing i noticed last week was that the hudson is the main petrolium transport route for the entire northeastern US. Why? All NY or None!

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