What’s the fastest way to get approval to build a hotly contested, demonstrably volatile 299-mile gas liquids pipeline through numerous densely populated suburban Pennsylvania municipalities?
First, elevate your corporate status to Public Utility. Then, claim the right of Eminent Domain to bulldoze over local zoning restrictions and the objections of local residents. At least that’s how former Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Michael L. Krancer, would like to see construction of Sunoco Logistics Mariner East Pipeline proceed. In fact, he’s leading the charge.
Litigate, Baby, Litigate
For a brief moment, it appeared Sunoco Logistics Partners was listening. Angry Chester County residents had literally “Boo’d” the company’s request for an expedited permit to erect a large pumping station at Rt. 202 and Boot Road in West Goshen Township. After that remarkable meeting, the public’s interest and participation only grew more intense.
West Goshen crowd boos Sunoco plan, Kendal Gapinski, Daily Local News, April 4, 2014
Sunoco Pipeline plan draws political resistance, Andrew Maykuth, Philadelphia Inquirer, April 5, 2014
West Goshen Township Proposed Natural Gas Pumping Station Controversy, Chris O’Connell, Fox29 Philly, April 14, 2014
Sunoco reps meet with angry community, Kendal Gapinski, The Daily Local, April 23, 2014
250 grill Sunoco on pumping-station plan, Michaelle Bond, Philadelphia Inquirer, April 24, 32014
On April 29, 2014, Kendall Gapinski reported in The Daily Local, Sunoco withdraws West Goshen zoning request: “According to township manager Casey LaLonde, Sunoco has withdrawn its application for special exception for a public utility status that was before the zoning hearing board. No reason for the application’s withdraw has been given, LaLonde said.”
But there was a reason, and soon it was obvious. Sunoco Logistics and its partners had simply gone to get a bigger bat.
Unwanted, Up and Down The Line
Sunoco LP’s plans for The Mariner project include over 299-miles of pipeline across southern Pennsylvania, plus an additional 17 sub-stations for pumps and compressors. Objections have been raised by people scattered across several communities along the route, almost wherever Sunoco LP has attempted to seize the power of Eminent Domain and condemn people’s land for their own industrial use. The land grab began last summer in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, at the other end of the line.
Timothy Puko reported on the turmoil in TribLIVE, July 2013, in Sunoco set to take land for pipeline: “Sunoco Logistics Partners LP has notified landowners in several communities that it will try to take land for a pipeline running from Washington County to an export terminal near Philadelphia.
“Its partners, primarily Range Resources Corp., plan to export half of the natural gas to Europe. Philadelphia-based Sunoco Logistics filed its first eminent domain claim in Westmoreland County this month — an attempt to compel landowners to allow a pipeline easement on their property in return for a fair-market payment.
“The oddly drawn border by Penn and the duke puts a small part of Sunoco Logistics’ gas terminal in Delaware. After snaking for nearly 300 miles within Pennsylvania, the last half-mile of the pipeline edges into Delaware.
“That half-mile is key, experts said, because any inch of a pipeline that crosses a state border qualifies as interstate commerce, giving Sunoco the power to take land for the project, even if it’s designed to ship gas overseas.”
A Half A Mile Is All They Need
It’s sneaky, but not illegal, to bend Interstate Commerce laws the way Sunoco Logistics has. Landowners, environmental stewards and careful observers took note. Sunoco was clearly ready to fast-track the Mariner East portion of the project, which had been in the works for years. The legal shenanigans were about to begin. So whether it was a shake up at corporate, or a planned parting of the ways, when Sunoco LP announced in late April that it was switching its official legal representation to Blank Rome in Philadelphia, it made headlines.
In Harrisburg law firm withdraws from high-profile pipeline case, StateImpactPA, April 30, 2014, Marie Cusick reported:
“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. 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.”
The story was more than just another media distraction. It was an indication that Sunoco LP would come out swinging. And, indeed, a few days later the news was flowing out of Philly:
Sunoco switches strategies for pipeline, Andrew Maykuth, The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 1, 2014
Sunoco Pipeline is leaving a trail of litigation Andrew Maykuth, The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 4, 2014
In The Philadelphia Inquirer on May 4, 2014, Maykuth reports: “Last week, Sunoco Pipeline appeared to be regrouping to settle the legal uncertainty, and it hired big law firms to take over critical cases. A Blank Rome team that includes Michael L. Krancer, Gov. Corbett’s former environment secretary, will take over a pending matter before the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. And Sunoco also retained Obermayer, Rebmann, Maxwell & Hippel to manage a contentious eminent-domain case in Washington County.”
Now, the recently former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary is leading the legal team who is working to win Sunoco LP some special utility status, thereby stripping Pennsylvania landowners of their local zoning protections. If this seems ethically challenged to you, maybe it’s because Krancer is now profiting directly from the free-wheeling gas drilling permit policies he enacted while in public office little more than a year ago. Again, it’s sneaky, but it’s not illegal.
It’s remarkable, too, how this same pubic official once testified to Congress that the states, and only the states, know best when it comes to regulating the gas industry. How is it the state knows everything, but individual municipalities know nothing? Obviously, these profiteers aren’t working in the public interest, and Sunoco doesn’t meet the legal criteria. The company’s primary goal is not to provide an essential public service, but to improve their own bottom line. Quite simply, Sunoco must export large amounts of gas liquids in order to be profitable. Selling a little propane to the locals on the side does not a public utility make.
In reality, people living in the path, up- or downwind, of the Mariner East project aren’t willing to be sold out so easily. Chester County citizens certainly know their rights, and the full value of their celebrated scenic, natural beauty. And it’s actually not legal to ride roughshod over tax-paying citizens and dismiss a tradition of local zoning control with clever machinations; Nor is it moral to force heavy industrial pollutants and increased risks of leaks and explosions on established residential communities.
With some urgency, the talk around town has shifted from “sacrifice zones” to “evacuation zones.” Thankfully, there are attentive citizens and environmental groups poised to take action.
As Delaware riverkeeper, van Rossum uses the law, Sandy Bauers, The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 23, 2014
On April 23, 2014, David E. Hess published the news in PAEnvironmentDigest, Environmental Rights Amendment: Delaware Riverkeeper Challenges Sunoco Pipeline:
“It is vitally important that the impact to local communities, zoning, environmental resources, historic resources, public lands and community quality of life be given due consideration by local officials; it would be unfair and unwise to allow Sunoco to be the arbiter of what is right. It also would be setting dangerous precedent to allow Sunoco to evade compliance with the law and with local review,” states Maya van Rossum, The Delaware Riverkeeper.
Environmental groups file to intervene in Sunoco Pipeline case, Andrew Maykuth, The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 25, 2014
The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Clean Air Council, the Pipeline Safety Coalition and the Mountain Watershed Association have filed requests with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to intervene in the Sunoco LP case. They’re joined by West Goshen and East Goshen Townships in Chester County, as well.
Visit the Chester County Community 3c Coalition for current news and information about the Sunoco Logistics PUC proceedings, and to join this rapidly growing community organizing effort.