Some Democrats call for halt to Mariner East following charges, but don’t expect action from legislature | StateImpact Pennsylvania

Some Democrats call for halt to Mariner East following charges, but don’t expect action from legislature

  • Rachel McDevitt

The top Democrat on the state senate’s environmental committee says the legislature likely won’t take any action on pipeline safety.

That’s even after the Attorney General charged Energy Transfer with environmental crimes for issues along its Mariner East route. A grand jury report released last week detailed problems along the route, including spills of thousands of gallons of drilling mud in streams and lakes.

Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester) joined eight other state lawmakers from southeastern Pennsylvania to call on the Wolf Administration “to halt the Mariner East Pipeline project, revoke the company’s permits to operate in Pennsylvania [and] issue a moratorium on all future permits.”

The project is nearly complete, with construction remaining in Chester and Delaware counties. The pipeline will carry volatile natural gas liquids from Marcellus shale fields in western Pennsylvania to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex near Philadelphia. Parts of the line are already in service.

When AG Josh Shapiro announced the criminal charges Oct. 5, he called on the state legislature to toughen enforcement standards and fines.

Comitta, the Democratic chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, is sponsoring a bill that would create a pipeline safety and communication board, but it and other pipeline bills have yet to be called up for a vote.

Other bills would establish siting procedures for the construction of new pipelines, require legislative approval for new projects, govern safety information for schools and first responders, and mandate automatic shut-off valves in high-risk areas.

She said the AG’s charges help raise awareness of pipeline risks and the need for new rules.

“But I do not see legislation regulating pipeline safety moving forward in this legislature at this time,” Comitta said.

She noted the Public Utility Commission is working on new regulations for natural gas liquids pipelines.

“So this, in my opinion, is the most significant parallel path that we are actually moving forward with on pipeline safety,” Comitta said.

The PUC began a review of its safety regulations for hazardous liquids pipelines in 2019 in an apparent response to concerns about the Mariner East project.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s office says it will review the charges against Sunoco and determine if any additional actions are appropriate.

Republican leaders did not respond to requests for comment.

Recently, the Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee, chaired by Sen. John Yudichak (I-Carbon), and the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee held a joint hearing on the impact of failing to invest in energy infrastructure. People invited to testify focused on fossil fuel infrastructure, noting several times that pipelines are very safe once in operation.

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