PUC rejects judges' decision, orders hearings on Sunoco Logistics pipeline
The Public Utility Commission has ordered more hearings on Sunoco Logistics’ request to bypass local zoning to build structures for facilities along its 300-mile natural gas liquids pipeline.
In a 4-1 vote Thursday, the PUC rejected a recommendation from its administrative law judges to dismiss the petition because the company is not a public utility. The commission argues Sunoco Logistics and its Mariner East project are the product of a merger between two pipeline companies that had public utility status since the 1930s.
At issue now is whether the buildings that would shelter the pump and valve control stations should be exempt from local zoning laws — not the facilities themselves.
“To answer this question, we must decide whether it is in the convenience or welfare of the public for Sunoco to enclose the planned facilities with walls and roofs, even if those enclosures may conflict with local zoning ordnances,” Commissioners Pamela Witmer and John Coleman wrote in their motion.
That will be the only subject of hearings to be scheduled by the PUC’s administrative law judges.
In a statement, Sunoco Logistics CEO Michael Hennigan said the company is “pleased that the Public Utility Commission has confirmed that we are a public utility corporation in Pennsylvania as we have maintained, and recognized that Mariner East will provide a critical service.”
The commission dismissed eight other preliminary objections from environmental and community groups fighting the project, which is why Commissioner James Cawley said he voted against the motion.
“It is prudent to give a full airing to the objections raised using accepted and longstanding administrative procedures,” Cawley wrote in his dissenting opinion. “I fully understand that doing so will take time, but we owe it to the people affected to take that time.”
Sunoco Logistics has proposed facilities in 31 townships along the pipeline’s route, but the battle has been especially bitter in West Goshen, Chester County.
“It is unfortunate that the industry is given such a wide berth when it comes to the rights of the Commonwealth’s citizens,” said local activist Tom Casey in an email.
The Mariner East pipeline would bring natural gas liquids developed in western Pennsylvania for delivery to local propane markets and to supply a demand for ethane overseas.
Read the PUC’s full motion here: