Eagles quarterback Nick Foles wasn’t the only one with a trick play up his sleeve. As millions were celebrating the Eagles’ triumphant Super Bowl win, Governor Wolf was pulling off a move we might want to call the Sunoco Special. And no one is cheering.
Political insiders know that agencies often drop embarassing or unpleasant news on a Friday afternoon. But Governor Wolf’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) came up with an even sneakier idea: While our attention was focused on reliving the heroics of Philly's beloved Eagles, the agency sent out word that it had reached a settlement with Sunoco allowing it to resume construction of the controversial, dangerous, and totally unnecessary Mariner East 2 pipeline.
This was astonishing news. Just last month, the DEP flagged the company for “egregious and willful” violations of state environmental laws. Sunoco was ordered to stop almost all construction activities while answering a series of questions posed by Pennsylvania regulators. But all of that scrutiny simply vanished, thanks to a quick settlement and a fine that amounts to pocket change for a corporate behemoth like Sunoco parent company Energy Transfer Partners.
This was especially bad news for communities in Delaware and Chester counties, where thousands of homes, schools, and other buildings sit within the pipeline’s “blast zone.” These communities do not trust Sunoco, and with good reason: They’ve already seen dozens of drilling fluid spills and tainted drinking water. And those risks are just the start: If the pipeline leaks--and it’s all but certain that this will happen at some point-- the dangerous volatile liquids it will carry could spark an explosion, with the potential for a terrifying amount of damage.
But Governor Wolf has responded to questions from these communities with almost total silence. This is galling, but not surprising: He has been such an ardent supporter of Sunoco all along, pushing for approval of the project’s permits while tuning out the voices of residents concerned for their safety. Their commitment to protecting each other is inspiring: They have marched, gone to court, built support among local officials, and even traveled to Harrisburg to plead their case. When the DEP hit the pause button on the pipeline’s construction, many felt like they were finally being heard.
Wolf’s settlement changed all that in an instant. And for many of them, the question they want answered is remarkably simple: Are we safe? This is a pipeline being built to carry dangerous liquids for export to Europe, so are the risks worth it? State officials either can’t or won’t give them an honest answer, and the governor’s office would rather pass the buck instead of protecting residents.
The failure of the Wolf administration to take safety seriously has forced these folks to take matters into their own hands--literally. Community leaders at Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety raised over $15,000 in a matter of days, and they will use those funds to pay for an independent citizen’s risk assessment of the project.
This is inspiring, but it’s also infuriating. Pipelines leak, and one recent study of oil pipelines found that Sunoco had the worst safety record in the country. Indeed, a volatile liquids pipeline in West Virginia, similar to the Mariner East 2, had a massive explosion just 13 months after it was built. Thankfully, it did not cause any fatalities, but that’s primarily because the area near the fireball was not heavily populated. The Mariner East 2, on the other hand, will be much closer to many more people, putting lives at serious risk.
It was astonishing to see the Wolf administration try to bury this news at a moment of joy throughout the city, and indeed much of the state. Until we have a clear, independent assessment of the risks associated with the Mariner East 2 pipeline, it should not be built. And as residents continue to build their movement to protect their communities, it’s clear that Governor Wolf’s trick play isn’t fooling anyone.