If John Kerry wins the presidency in November, the United States will have a first lady with a long history of making big financial donations to environmental groups, including those with interests in chemical and plastics issues.
Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of the Democratic presidential nominee, heads several wealthy foundations that have given millions of dollars to environmental causes, including hundreds of thousands of dollars to campaigns to reduce toxic chemical pollution.
She and her groups have given $2.75 million to Environmental Defense, which led a campaign to make public vast amounts of information about chemicals and human health, and more than $1 million to a group studying ways to change the chemical supply chain to cut use of potentially dangerous materials.
While Heinz Kerry's work would seem likely to bring more prominence to environmental issues in a Kerry administration, her foundations also are active with more-traditional business concerns: they have supported workforce-development efforts by the National Association of Manufacturers and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.
For example, the foundations gave $150,000 to NAM's Manufacturing Institute to promote manufacturing careers, $200,000 to SME to build stronger manufacturing education curricula and millions of dollars to schools and worker-training agencies in Pennsylvania.
While it may be overstepping to draw a direct link between the activities of Heinz Kerry and the policies of a potential Kerry administration, public documents examined by Plastics News and interviews with recipients offer interesting glimpses of her foundations' activities and their environmental thinking.
She chairs the Heinz Family Philanthropies and the Howard Heinz Endowment, and is on the board of the smaller Vira Heinz Endowment. The foundations have given more than $60 million a year in grants to a range of issues, including workforce, human health, women's economic opportunities and cultural enrichment.
She also served on the board of Environmental Defense from 1987 to 2002, taking a leave of absence while her husband runs for president.
Heinz Kerry's foundations are ``middle of the road'' on environmental issues, and that tends to mirror the philosophy of ED, which uses partnerships with industry and more-activist positions when needed, said Lynn Goldman, who served on the ED board with Heinz Kerry and was an assistant Environmental Protection Agency administrator in the Clinton administration.
ED has used some of its grant money on chemical toxicity issues: the group partnered with EPA and the American Chemistry Council in 1998 to set up a program to make basic health data publicly available on 2,200 chemicals in common use. Heinz Kerry gave $320,000 to ED in 1998 for chemical health-testing work.
ED spokesman Colin Rowan said Heinz Kerry supports the group's approach of trying market-based solutions: ``Our approach on the business side of things is if you want to change America, you have to change American business.''
Environmental Defense also is known in the plastics industry for, in the 1990s, reports critical of the state of plastics recycling and for working with McDonald's to reduce packaging, including abandoning polystyrene.
The other major chemical campaign Heinz Kerry has funded also works with industry. The Chemical Strategies Partnership was formed in 1996 to work with businesses to cut their use of chemicals, and the organization has used money from Heinz foundations to work with tool and die shops in a pilot project in Pennsylvania, for example.
Heinz Kerry's foundations have given $1.35 million to San Francisco-based CSP. The group counts businesses like Quaker Chemical Corp., PPG and GM as members as well.
CSP Executive Director Jill Kauffman Johnson said the Heinz approach is less common among foundations.
``There are many foundations who help to create new policy, but Heinz, they try to take a stance of, `Can we activate the business community?' '' she said.
Heinz funding also has gone to individuals and groups sharply critical of industry.
Lois Gibbs, who led the campaign against pollution at Love Canal in the 1970s, received a Heinz Award for the Environment in 1998. Her group, the Center for Health, Environment and Justice in Falls Church, Va., also has been active in campaigns against vinyl.
The Heinz Award focuses on Gibbs' Love Canal activities, but a Heinz Web site also includes statements from Gibbs talking about the importance of the precautionary principle in handling environmental health issues, very much a hot-button issue with industry. Records indicate that the foundation gave Gibbs $125,000 in 1999.
Heinz foundation money also has gone, in lesser amounts, to groups like the League of Conservation Voters (which endorsed John Kerry), the Natural Resources Defense Council and Physicians for Social Responsibility, according to foundation records from 1998-2002.
Heinz foundations have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups working on green building practices.
According to Web sites for the various foundations, they try to focus much of their work in and around Pittsburgh, where they are based.
The foundations grew out of the Heinz family wealth from publicly traded H.J. Heinz Co., although the foundations are separate from the company, and today own about 4 percent of its stock. Heinz Kerry is not involved with Heinz Co.
Heinz Kerry took over the family's philanthropic activities after her first husband, Sen. John Heinz, R-Pa., died in a plane crash in 1991, foundation officials said.
Foundation officials said the boards of the various funds include both very liberal and very conservative members, and giving tends to reflect those broad viewpoints.
``Some of the organizations we have funded would be considered by some to be on the more activist, progressive side of things,'' said Caren Glotfelty, director of environment programs at the Heinz endowments. ``But definitely many of the grantees ... would be in the middle of the road, if not conservative.''
Several manufacturing-related initiatives in Pennsylvania have received funding. Foundation records indicate that the NAM funding went to promoting manufacturing careers in the Pittsburgh region, and the SME funding went to build stronger links between schools in the area and to beef up education for engineers.
``The Heinz endowment was a catalyst, and they came to us and asked us to work with them to create a framework for students to get educated in manufacturing,'' said Stephen Quinlan, grants program officer for the SME Education Fund in Dearborn, Mich.
The effort grew to a $3.3 million program with five colleges to offer new manufacturing degree programs, one of SME's largest such programs for its $21 million education fund, SME said.