Vagt's decision to leave the Pittsburgh-based foundation follows the departure of its director of environmental programs, Caren Glotfelty, and communications director, Douglas Root, in August, leading to speculation that the shakeup is tied to the endowments' backing for the Center for Sustainable Shale Development. Glotfelty and Vagt spearheaded the creation of the center — a coalition of foundations, environmental groups, and gas developers — as a way to bring environmentalists and the gas industry together to establish new standards for extracting gas from the Marcellus Shale formation that lies under much of southwestern Pennsylvania and the Appalachian Basin. Vagt, who has headed the foundation since 2008, came under fire from environmentalists for not fully disclosing his ties to the energy industry, which include serving as a board member for and holding stock in a Texas pipeline company.
According to the Post-Gazette, some observers believe the foundation's board was divided about how to proceed on the issue of fracking and suggest, that after board chair Teresa Heinz Kerry was hospitalized this past summer, her son André, an ardent environmentalist, pushed to oust Glotfelty because of her ties to state government and good working relationship with the energy industry, the Post-Gazette reports.
Vagt, who spent seventeen years working for oil and gas companies in New York and Texas before serving as president of Davidson College, did not give a timetable or specific reason for his pending departure, other than to say in a statement that "[a]s looming on the horizon is my sixty-seventh birthday, this seemed to be an appropriate time for me to step down."
"How the Heinz Endowments conducts its business matters a lot," Peggy M. Outon, executive director of the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "If there are changes in the way they do their business and their culture, that's going to have a profound effect on the nonprofit community here. We're all watching to see what's next."