A day after StateImpact Pennsylvania published a story about a Harrisburg law firm’s close connections to both the gas industry and the state Public Utility Commission (PUC), the firm stepped down as legal counsel for Sunoco Logistics in a high-profile pipeline case currently before the PUC.
The law firm of McNees, Wallace and Nurick is a member of the gas industry trade group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition. The firm’s attorneys routinely represent energy companies before the PUC.
McNees has also spent the past two years working as outside counsel to the PUC– advising it on oil and gas zoning matters. One political science professor has called the arrangement an example of the cozy relationship between government regulators and industry.On Tuesday, McNees filed a notice with the PUC to withdraw as legal counsel for Sunoco in a closely-watched case over the Mariner East pipeline. The company is seeking permission from the PUC to be considered a “public utility corporation,” which would exempt it from local zoning.
McNees spokeswoman Vikki Grodner wouldn’t say why the firm withdrew from the case.
“The reasons for the change of counsel are, of course, privileged attorney-client communications,” she wrote in an email.
A Sunoco spokesman declined to comment. The company will now be represented by the Philadelphia law firm, Blank Rome.
One of the new attorneys working on behalf of Sunoco is former state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary, Michael Krancer. He stepped down as Pennsylvania’s top environmental regulator a year ago to head Blank Rome’s Energy, Petrochemical, and Natural Resources practice.
As a note of disclosure, McNees, Wallace, and Nurick has provided legal counsel to witf, which is one of two public media stations that collaborate on StateImpact Pennsylvania, on local matters.