Pennsylvania’s new Pipeline Caucus wants stronger regulation of Mariner East II

A pipeline station in Delaware County. (Sam Holt/Wikimedia)

Dozens of people rallied in the state Capitol rotunda Tuesday for stronger regulation of the Mariner East II pipeline, which transports natural gas across 17 counties in southern Pennsylvania.

The event also served as the debut for the General Assembly’s Pipeline Caucus, a bipartisan group of lawmakers trying to advance a package of bills that create a new regulatory process for pipeline construction and emergency preparedness.

After a two-year construction period that was prolonged by multiple regulatory shutdowns and technical problems, the pipeline began pumping ethane, propane, and butane in late December, according to StateImpact PA.

Residents near the pipeline say they live in fear of an explosion. They also say Sunoco Pipeline, which constructed Mariner East II, hasn’t provided adequate safety assurances to local governments or school districts, which must develop their own emergency response plans and train emergency professionals to prepare for a potential disaster.

Becky Britton, a Chester County resident and local school board director, whose home is 50 feet from the pipeline, said that 40 school districts are still waiting for disaster plans that the company has not delivered.

“Our brave first responders cannot perform their duties because Sunoco refuses to share critical, lifesaving information,” Britton said. “Sunoco has used their immense power to create a regulatory landscape that puts them above the law.”

Energy Transfer Partners, Sunoco’s parent company, could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.

Sunoco redacted large portions of the emergency plan it released to local government agencies, claiming confidentiality privileges afforded to public utilities. Local officials, including the Chester County Commissioners, said the redacted document was useless to them as they tried to draft their own safety precautions.

Last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter last week to Gov. Tom Wolf, asking him to order a moratorium on the pipeline’s operations until Sunoco made its emergency response plan fully public.

Some of those lawmakers have joined the nascent Pipeline Caucus, which currently counts 18 members of the state House of Representatives and 11 members of the Senate, Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-Chester, said Tuesday.

“You will see a strong legislative caucus emerge, both Democrats and Republican, who have had it with the abuses across the commonwealth by this particular company,” Dinnaman said. “And you will see the beginnings and the enactment of a strong regulatory process to protect the citizens.”

In addition to criticizing Sunoco’s safety standards, lawmakers and citizens rallying today decried the state Public Utility Commission’s decision to designate the project as a public utility, allowing it to seize land by eminent domain.

One hour before the anti-pipeline rally, members of the General Assembly’s Oil and Gas caucus held their own media event in the Capitol, where they touted the economic benefits and safety of natural gas pipelines.

“By a wide margin, pipelines are the safest and most efficient means of transporting gas and oil products to consumers,” caucus co-chair Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington, said. “The demand for these resources is growing every day.”

Sunoco Pipeline and Energy Transfer Partners are the subject of a joint investigation by the Pennsylvania attorney general and the Delaware County district attorney, which was spurred by allegations of criminal misconduct related to the pipeline’s construction.

Wolf’s administration announced last month that the state Department of Environmental Protection was temporarily blocking permits for Energy Transfer Partners, following numerous complaints about Mariner East 2 and a September pipeline explosion in Beaver County.

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