Several environmental groups have asked the Commonwealth Court for an injunction to halt Sunoco/Energy Transfer Partners’ Mariner East 2 pipeline construction.
The Clean Air Council, along with the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and Mountain Watershed Association, say a settlement reached between Sunoco and the Department of Environmental Protection earlier this month amounts to a breach of contract reached by all parties last summer.
It’s the latest legal challenge to the controversial natural gas liquids pipeline, which has faced opposition from landowners challenging eminent domain, and residents frustrated by dozens of environmental violations.
The groups filed an appeal with the Environmental Hearing Board, opposing the Feb. 8 settlement agreement between DEP and Sunoco, which allowed construction to resume after the agency ordered a halt early last month.
In January, DEP withdrew its water-crossing and earth moving permits after repeated damage to wetlands, streams and aquifers, calling the company’s actions “willful and egregious.” Residents in several counties along the 350-mile long pipeline route have had to find alternative drinking water sources after construction damaged well water.
The environmental groups also filed a breach of contract complaint with the Commonwealth Court, seeking a halt to construction.
Alex Bomstein, an attorney for the Clean Air Council, says he discovered last week that the settlement reached in February between DEP and Sunoco undid environmental protections that all parties had agreed to last summer after the environmentalists brought a suit challenging DEP’s original permits.
“The parties entered an agreement,” he said. “The agreement specified that certain environmental protections would be put in place. Then months down the road, some of the parties, not the environmental groups, changed the environmental protections that would be used going forward to make them weaker.”
Bomstein says altering the environmental protections violates the August agreement.
“I think it’s very important for the public to trust the DEP,” Bomstein said. “If we can’t trust DEP not to go back on an agreement and undo environmental protections, then we are in a very bad place.”
A DEP spokesman says the agency does not comment on litigation.
Energy Transfer Partners spokeswoman Vicki Anderson Granada says the company believes the suits lack merit.
“We remain fully in compliance with all agreements and permits and are committed to doing so throughout the remainder of our construction,” Granada said. “This is a disingenuous attempt by the opposition to continue to try to find a way to slow down this important infrastructure project that is 94 percent complete on mainline construction, with 84 percent of drills completed or underway.”
Granada said the pipeline is still on target to be operational in the second quarter of this year.
On a recent earnings call, Energy Transfer Partners President Matt Ramsey said the company has DEP’s approval to proceed on 24 drilling sites, while another 16 await approval. Ramsey said the company has a “good working relationship” with DEP, and the two sides meet weekly to discuss outstanding ME2 issues.