Shapiro announces 48 criminal charges against Energy Transfer over ME East II pipeline; officials call for project to be halted

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times @mikemcgannpa

Pennsylvania Attorney general Josh Shapiro, with Marsh Creek Lake as his background, announces 48 criminal charges against Energy Transfer for alleged misconduct in construction of the Mariner East II Pipeline, as Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan looks on.

DOWNINGTOWN — Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced Tuesday 48 criminal charges including a felony brought in a grand jury indictment against Energy Transfer — the company building the Mariner East Pipeline — alleging various acts of water contamination and failure to report incidents to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

With Marsh Creek Lake as his background, Shapiro detailed charges ranging from unreported leaks of chemicals — some of which were unapproved by DEP for use in drilling the pipeline — to contaminating the wells of residents who live along the pipeline, which runs through 17 Pennsylvania counties, including Chester County.

At least three local officials, state Sen. Carolyn Comitta and State Rep. Diane Herrin (D-156) and Danielle Friel Otten (D-155), called for an immediate revocation of Energy Transfer’s DEP permits to build Mariner East II, effectively halting construction of the pipeline, which is planned to transport fracked petrochemicals to a Delaware-County facility.

Otten, who has been among the most outspoken critics of Mariner East II – and won her campaign for state representative strongly running against the pipeline project — made it clear she thinks it is time to stop the pipeline project immediately and called on Wolf to do so:

“Now that the attorney general and the grand jury have done their job, there should be no question: It is time for an immediate halt of the Mariner East pipeline project,” Otten said in a statement Tuesday. “I am once again calling on Governor Wolf, the DEP, and the PUC to revoke Energy Transfer’s permits to operate in Pennsylvania, hold the polluters accountable for their dangerous, negligent, and willfully unlawful actions, and protect Pennsylvanians’ constitutional right to clean air and pure water.”

“In light of these serious criminal charges against Energy Transfer Partner, I am calling for an immediate halt to the Mariner East pipeline project and for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to issue a moratorium on all permits,” Comitta (D-19) said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Herrin Tweeted her support to revoked the permits shortly after Shapiro’s press conference:

When asked whether Energy Transfer should have its construction permits cancelled — essentially ending the pipeline project — Shapiro deferred, suggesting that was a decision for Gov. Tom Wolf and the DEP.

The charges against Energy Transfer are detailed and revolve around various leaks fluids — some not permitted for use by DEP — that are alleged to have contaminated local groundwater and wells. Last summer, such an event appeared to contaminate Marsh Creek Lake. Sinkholes have been an regular problem in the area around the pipeline and neighbors of the project have complained since at least 2017 about excessive noise, dust, disturbance and issues with pipeline employees harassing local residents.

Local environmentalists say DEP and Wolf have failed to enforce the laws of the commonwealth and looked the other way when Energy transfer violated the law or the conditions of its permits repeatedly.

“Today’s announcement confirms, once again, that Sunoco’s dangerous Mariner East pipelines pose an ongoing threat to communities across our state,” said Food & Water Watch organizer Ginny Marcille-Kerslake in a statement. “The Wolf administration championed Sunoco’s corporate interests over the health and safety of neighborhoods that have been turned into sacrifice zones. We have lived with sinkholes, water contamination, construction disturbances, property destruction, and the degradation of rivers and streams.

“The Mariner East disaster is Gov. Wolf’s responsibility. He must stop this right now, and we will continue to fight to make sure that he does. Our communities should not be jeopardized so that a major polluter can have another pipeline to ship dangerous liquids that will be turned into plastic junk.”

The criminal charges represent the most serious level of enforcement against Energy Transfer, previously, civil fines had been issued.

Specifically, the grand jury recommended that Energy Transfer be charged with 22 counts of Prohibition of Discharge of Industrial Waste under the Clean Streams Law; 22 counts of Prohibition Against Other Pollutions under the Clean Streams Law; two misdemeanor counts of Unlawful Conduct under the Clean Streams Law; and one felony count of Unlawful Conduct under the Clean Streams Law.

The initial criminal referral came from the Delaware County District Attorney’s office — and Shapiro offered thanks to DA Jack Stollsteimer. Other counties became involved and actively worked on the case, including Chester County DA Deb Ryan, which had been working since last year to enforce apparent violations environmental laws in the county.

“We thank the Office of the Attorney General for their important work in holding Sunoco Pipeline L.P./ Energy Transfer accountable for these continuing and devastating environmental violations,” Ryan said in a statement. “Although my office filed a civil complaint against these perpetrators to stop their egregious behavior, we made the referral to the Office of Attorney General to assist us with these issues because of their vast resources and expertise in environmental law. We are grateful for our partnership in protecting the environment and the safety of our citizens.”

Shapiro promised that the case would go to trial, but under state law, punishments for Energy Transfer, if found guilty, are limited. The worst that the company can face are criminal fines, he called for the state legislature to toughen environmental laws for such behavior.

“Under our state laws, if convicted, this company will be sentenced to fines and restitution,” Shapiro said. “There is no jail time for these environmental crimes, and fines are not enough. That’s why we are, once again, calling for stronger laws to hold these companies accountable and protect Pennsylvanians’ health, and demanding DEP toughen up the independent oversight we need them to provide for the industries they regulate.”

Otten echoed those calls for stronger legislation.

“These criminal and felony charges against Energy Transfer are just a first step in holding Energy Transfer accountable,” she said. “If convicted, they will be sentenced to fines and restitution. It is imperative that the House and Senate work together to pass stronger legislation to address gaps in our laws, protect the health and safety of Pennsylvanians, and stop these multi-billion-dollar corporations from playing by their own set of rules.”

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