The Allegheny Conference on Community Development welcomed their new chair at the organization’s annual meeting Wednesday evening.
Morgan K. O’Brien, CEO of Peoples Natural Gas, chair of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce and current vice chair of the conference, will take over as chair on Jan. 1, 2014.
O’Brien said he looks forward to continuing the mission of the conference to improve the quality of life in the greater Pittsburgh region.
“It’s a group of businesses who are aligned on prioritizing missions and trying to make an impact on either legislative initiatives or supporting projects locally that will have the greater good for the community and for the region,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said he is most excited about continuing to develop natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, a resource that he believes will attract energy-intensive manufacturing and technology companies to the region.
He also said he looks forward to working with researchers in the area to make natural gas extraction technology cleaner and greener.
“(We want) to make sure that we’re being responsible when it comes to the water that’s used in fracking, that we’re responsible (with regard to) any air issues as the drilling occurs,” said O’Brien. “There’s a significant amount of what I would call ‘brain power’ and resources around.”
O’Brien said a major part of his job is to educate people on the science of hydraulic fracturing.
He expressed skepticism with regard to the recent campaign launched by the Thomas Merton Center in partnership with climate change activist Bill McKibben to push the city of Pittsburgh and other major institutions to divest from the fossil fuel industry.
“The world isn’t ready to abandon fossil fuels,” O’Brien said. “To me, the challenge is more, how do you make the natural gas answer one that folks who do have those deep concerns on environmental issues comfortable?”
Additionally, O’Brien said he and other conference members are looking forward to working with mayor-elect Bill Peduto.
“I think everybody’s excited about having the opportunity to work with Bill and help him develop his plan and to work with him on projects that make sense for us and overlap with his agendas,” O’Brien said.
Catherine DeLoughry, senior vice president of communications and public affairs at the conference, said developing the region’s natural gas resources is just one small part of the organization’s mission.
She said that at Wednesday’s meeting, they focused considerably on the Strengthening Communities Partnership, which provides funding to Community Development Corporations in the region.
“While our region has done better than most in coming out of this recession, that there are both people and communities that have been left behind,” DeLoughry said.
McKees Rocks and Wilkinsburg are the first two communities to receive multi-million dollar funding packages from the Conference through the state of Pennsylvania’s Neighborhood Partnership Program.
DeLoughry said that at least three more community organizations in the Pittsburgh metro area will be applying for the funding, including Economic Development South, the Fayette County Cultural Trust and the City of Washington.