February 9, 2019
Pa. halts permits for Texas-based pipeline company building Mariner East
The company building the series of Mariner East pipelines has once again run afoul of state regulators.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection on Friday suspended all reviews of clean water permit applications and other new construction permits for Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners and subsidiaries until further notice due to non-compliance after an explosion in a pipeline in Beaver County.
ETP, along with its subsidiary Sunoco Pipeline LP, is building the Mariner East pipelines carrying hundreds of thousands of barrels of highly volatile liquid gases from the state’s Marcellus Shale region through Chester and Berks counties to a facility in Marcus Hook.
“ETC Northeast Pipeline, operated by ET, failed to comply with the Oct. 29, 2018, order issued following the explosion along the Revolution pipeline on Sept. 10, 2018,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “This hold will continue until the operator corrects their violations to our satisfaction.”
The move will not halt the flow of gases through Mariner East 2, which went online the last week of December. Mariner East 1 has been shut down since a sinkhole exposed the pipeline in the backyard of a home in West Whiteland, Chester County. Sinkholes that formed in the same neighborhood last winter caused the state to shut down the pipeline then as well. Mariner East 2x remains under construction.
The company can continue work where it does not need new permits. It currently has at least 27 permit requests pending for Mariner East 2. The permit halt could result in new delays for the completion of the full 20-inch Mariner East 2 line. It has been operating since the last week of December with a mix of older, smaller pipes filling in gaps where the 20-inch pipe had yet to be installed. Construction of the full line was expected in 2020.
DEP issued the order to ETC Northeast Pipeline, LLC (ETC) in October 2018, with instructions that the operator stabilize disturbed areas and prevent further erosion from the construction area. Multiple inspections by DEP staff, most recently in January 2019, found that ET had not fulfilled the terms of the order and was not progressing toward compliance.
“In October, DEP cited ETC for sediment-laden discharges into waterways, improperly maintained erosion controls, and failure to stabilize disturbed areas,” said McDonnell. “Disappointingly, many of these issues persist.”
Gov. Tom Wolf, who has been targeted by pipeline opponents for a perceived soft stance on pipelines, issued a strong rebuke of ETP and urged the PUC to review the company’s entire operation across the state.
“The Department of Environmental Protection has acted swiftly and decisively to hold this operator accountable to the conditions of its permits,” Wolf said. “The permit bar by the Department of Environmental Protection is the latest step my administration has taken to ensure pipeline operators and builders are accountable for the work they do in Pennsylvania. There has been a failure by Energy Transfer and its subsidiaries to respect our laws and our communities. This is not how we strive to do business in Pennsylvania, and it will not be tolerated.”
The governor added, “Today, I am calling upon the Public Utility Commission to compel ET to address lapses in communication by immediately providing county and municipal agencies responsible for public safety along the Mariner East Project route any and all information required under state and federal law to enable the preparation of robust emergency preparedness and communication plans. I have directed the Pennsylvania’s Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) to coordinate with county and local leadership to assist with review of emergency management plans, and this engagement has already begun.
“I am also calling upon the PUC to require that a remaining life study of Mariner East 1 be completed and reviewed by independent experts. Such a study should thoroughly evaluate the safety of the existing pipeline and prepare a plan to implement the findings of that study as soon as possible.”
West Goshen resident Tom Casey, a longtime critic of the Mariner East project, was pleased by the action taken by the state.
“Everything we’ve been screaming about for the last five years is now being realized,” Casey said.
As part of an email, Sunoco/ET spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger said they have been in contact with state officials and are vowing to bring the project into full compliance.
“We have communicated to the DEP and to the governor’s office that we are committed to bringing this project into full compliance with all environmental permits and applicable regulations,” Dillinger said. “This action does not affect the operation of any of our in-service pipelines or any areas of construction where permits have already been issued. We look forward to continuing to work with the DEP throughout this process.”
The permit hold will likely delay Energy Transfer’s ability to get the Revolution pipeline, where the Beaver County blast occurred, back online, as well as completion of the full, 20-inch Mariner East 2 pipeline being constructed by Sunoco Pipeline LP (SPLP) Mariner East 2 pipeline. Energy Transfer is the parent company of ETC and SPLP. Mariner East 2 is in service, however there are additional approvals needed for additional pipeline infrastructure as part of the project. There are 27 approvals currently under review by DEP for Mariner East 2.
The permit hold will not apply to any approvals needed for ET to comply with the order, and mitigation and environmental restoration work along Mariner East 2.
The grassroots organization Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety said the actions prove state officials and agencies have been lax in their oversight of pipeline construction and operation.
“The governor’s statement today shows growing recognition that both he and his Department of Environmental Protection have been on the wrong side of the pipeline safety issue for his entire administration,” the group said in a release. “The suspension of Mariner East permits is a good start and should be made permanent. But it doesn’t go nearly far enough, because Sunoco’s cobbled-together workaround pipeline (Mariner East 2) is still transporting industrial quantities of dangerous materials next to our homes, schools, and businesses. Every day that the governor allows any part of Mariner East to stay in operation without the credible emergency plan required by existing regulations is a day our communities are left just hoping for the best.”
DEP may also take additional enforcement action in the future to address these ongoing violations.
State Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-19 of West Whiteland, perhaps the fiercest pipeline critic in the state Legislature, also welcomed the movem, but noted it does not stop the concerns of pipeline opponents.
“Nothing the Department of Environmental Protection or the governor has done today stops the flow of highly volatile, hazardous natural gas liquids through Chester and Delaware counties,” Dinniman said. “In fact, today’s statements further acknowledge our concerns – that an 80-year-old, cobbled-together pipeline should not be running through geologically questionable terrain and within feet of schools, high-density residential neighborhoods, and communities. While it’s good to see the governor and DEP asserting some authority, we hope that in the days ahead they assert it more by ordering a shutdown of the Mariner East 2 (including the 12-inch line) in the interest of public safety.”
Those comments were echoed by Delaware County Sen. Tom Killion, R-9 of Middletown, who has teamed with Dinniman on a package of pipeline safety bills.
“DEP has done the right thing by suspending permit reviews of Energy Transfer pipelines,” said Killion. “This agency should continue to demand that the pipeline company takes all corrective environmental measures outlined in their original order and that operations not resume until full compliance is strictly followed,” he added.
Killion was especially pleased by Gov. Wolf’s call for a renewed emphasis on pipeline safety.
“Gov. Wolf has called for the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to take a series of long overdue actions to help ensure the public’s safety near pipelines, and he voiced support for new pipeline legislation in the General Assembly. I thank the governor for his strong words today,” said Killion. “With the governor’s statement today, I hope the PUC finally understands that they can and should do more to protect pipeline communities, and that the legislature starts passing pipeline safety bills.”
In January, Killion and Dinniman announced a legislative package of 12 pipeline safety bills that are awaiting action, including the following:
• Senate Bill 258 (Pipeline Emergency Notification) – Requires public utility facilities transporting natural gas or natural gas liquids to meet with the county emergency coordinator entrusted to respond in the event of natural gas release and provide vital emergency response and evacuation information.
• Senate Bill 260 (Pipelines Located Near Schools) – Outlines types of information that pipeline operators must share with schools that fall within 1,000 feet of hazardous liquids and natural gas pipelines, including how to respond to a leak. Currently, pipeline operators are not required to provide this information.
• Senate Bill 262 (Pipeline Siting Review) – Requires pipeline companies to submit a detailed application to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) prior to construction of a new pipeline.
• Senate Bill 263 (Pipeline Safety Valves) – Calls for incorporating automatic or remote shutoff valves on pipelines that impact high consequence areas throughout Pennsylvania
Dinniman also is calling for a two-year moratorium on the following:
• The permitting and licensing any hazardous liquids pipelines in the commonwealth.
• The eminent domain authority of hazardous liquids pipeline projects in the commonwealth.
“Pipelines are a serious matter and, if not constructed and operated properly and carefully, can pose a serious threat to the safety of our environment and our communities, families, and children,” Dinniman said. “It’s time that we take them seriously and follow that with a commitment to real reform and corrective action.
The senator urged the public to join him in a rally for pipeline safety in Harrisburg on Tuesday, March 19, from 10 to 11 a.m. in the Main Capitol Rotunda.
State Rep. Kristine Howard, D-167, also applauded the governor’s action.
“These pipelines pose a major public safety risk, and I have demanded better oversight of these organizations,” Howard said. “I am happy to see the administration taking steps to address this serious issue.This problem has a substantial and direct impact on my district and my constituents. The permit bar hopefully provides better scrutiny and greater accountability.”
In a joint statement, Chester County commissioners Michelle Kichline, Kathi Cozzone and Terence Farrell offered their support for the move
“We completely welcome the DEP’s actions to suspend all reviews of clean water permit applications associated with Energy Transfer, which impacts the Mariner East 2 pipeline,” the statement said “Clean water is a right of all of our citizens, and advocating for clean water and protections is why Chester County established a Water Resources Authority decades ago.
“The DEP’s actions are understandable given Energy Transfers’ and Sunoco’s lack of compliance, lack of regard, lack of communication and lack of respect. But we also commend the citizens of Chester County who have been taking an effective stand against the shoddy practices of Energy Transfer and Sunoco. They too are instrumental in this fight for health and safety.”
Democratic candidate for county commissioner Ginny Kerslake urged the governor to take further action.
“This is a good start from Gov. Wolf, but it does not go far enough,” Kerslake said. “Every day that Mariner East remains in operation without a credible emergency plan, is another day that our communities are relying on luck. Luck is not a plan.”
Food & Water Watch Pennsylvania Director Sam Bernhardt called once again for a shutdown of Mariner East 2.
“For years, local communities have appealed to Gov. Wolf to stop Sunoco’s dangerous Mariner East pipeline system, which has already wreaked havoc on communities in the form of spills, sinkholes, and water contamination,” Bernhardt said. “With today’s action, the Wolf administration is only beginning to do what is necessary to rein in this reckless company. No Energy Transfer project is safe for Pennsylvania residents, including the currently operating ‘Frankenpipe,’ a hodgepodge of new and old piping stitched together as replacement capacity for the delayed Mariner East 2. Gov. Wolf must shut down this ‘Frankenpipe’ and all components of the dangerous Mariner East system, once and for all.”
Activist Rebecca Britton hailed the move as a win for safety advocates in the state.
“Today’s announcement included some big wins for safety advocates. While it by no means is the end game when it comes to protecting our communities, the announcement directs PEMA to help make safety plans, the PUC to conduct an end of life study on ME1,” Britton said. “This is a solid step forward and long overdue. As Pennsylvanians we are entitled to safe schools, safe communities and we will continue to demand what is rightfully ours.” Source
February 5, 2019
Schwank raises concerns over mushrooms from China
News in brief
WRITTEN BY READING EAGLE
Sen. Judy Schwank, a Ruscombmanor Township Democrat, has sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue about imported mushrooms hurting Pennsylvania growers.
Mushrooms are big business in Pennsylvania, which grows 63 percent of U.S. mushrooms, according to pamushrooms.com. Local growers include Ontellaunee Mushroom Farm in Temple, Oley Valley Mushroom Farm and Giorgio Fresh.
Farmers contend that mushrooms originating in China are allowed to be labeled “product of the USA,” according to wire reports. These days, consumers prefer a homegrown vegetable. Mushrooms are cultivated on logs made of grain and sawdust. But since mid 2018, Chinese log-makers have undercut the prices of American-made logs.
Schwank said she is “greatly concerned about the economic impact on our commonwealth’s mushroom farmers.”
“I think people are unaware of how difficult it is to deal with trade issues in agriculture,” Schwank said in a phone interview Feb . 1. “The problem that this brings us is the specialty mushroom, which commands a much higher price,” Schwank said. “This was a niche that Pennsylvania growers have found for themselves.”
Schwank and others say that U.S. cultivating of specialty mushrooms has been displaced by the innoculated logs imported from China, even though they are finished in the United States. They argue that American consumers are being duped into thinking they are buying a vegetable grown entirely in the U.S.
Schwank agreed that the practice of starting a food in one country and finishing it in another is a trend in food production.
“This situation is a clear example of an exploitation, or a ‘loophole’ in USDA labeling regulations,” writes Schwank, who is requesting fine-tuning of the USDA labeling criteria for mushrooms.
The letter is dated Jan. 30 and also signed by Sen. Andy Dinniman. Source
January 31, 2019
ATF: Sprinkler off at time of deadly Barclay fire
PHILADELPHIA — The cause of the deadly Nov. 16, 2017, blaze at the Barclay Friends Assisted Living Center has been ruled “undetermined,” according to a Thursday release from The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Philadelphia Field Division and the Chester County Fire Marshal’s Office.
One startling conclusion in the report: When investigators first visited the site, the main sprinkler valve was found in the “off” position.
“Despite extensive testing and interviews, investigators were unable to determine when the valve was turned off,” reads the ATF news release. “Based on the totality of the investigation, it is the belief of the investigators that it was off during the fire.”
The cause of the deadly inferno was ruled “undetermined.”
More than 60 ATF agents investigated over the Thanksgiving weekend.
“After more than 300 interviews, a systematic fire-scene examination and re-creation, the review of witness photos, videos and observations, as well as extensive scientific testing at the ATF Fire Research Lab in Beltsville, Maryland, the cause of the fire has been ruled ‘undetermined.'”
On Nov. 16, 2017, at approximately 10:45 p.m., first-responders from West Chester Fire and Police Departments, as well as numerous surrounding fire departments in the area, arrived on scene shortly after the first call was made to 911. They found a large portion of the Woolman building fully involved with fire upon arrival.
The responding police officers and fire departments acted swiftly in assisting with the evacuation of 152 residents and staff members and then turned efforts to fighting the fire.
Four residents, including a husband and wife, were killed by the fast moving five–alarm blaze. Many first responders said that the tragedy could have turned much worse without the valiant work and dedication of first responders.
About 35 ambulances lined borough streets as firefighters fought the blaze that was still smoking at first light.
Barclay staffers received the go-ahead from the borough to add 60 little apartments, or one-bedroom apartments and studios, including 20 beds dedicated to memory care.
A 61,000-square-foot, two–story structure, with a basement built below grade, will be constructed from steel and concrete. It will replace the 48-bed, 38,000-square-foot building. The new building will add another 12 units and the entire structure will be interconnected.
Based on the investigation and witness statements, the ATF determined the origin of the fire to the rear garden room, an outdoor patio, located beneath an overhang. The exact origin is unknown due to the extensive damage caused by the flame.
The ATF reported: “According to initial fire alarm data and witnesses, the smoke and fire alarms acted as designed with audible sirens and strobes activating upon smoke impingement on the smoke detectors within the garden room, causing the fire doors to shut. Residents and staff reported hearing these alarms and quickly started to evacuate the building.”
High winds fueled the flames and the flammability of the vinyl siding on the building and absence of exterior sprinklers, which are not currently required by code.
“The fire was able to intensify and spread rapidly to the roof and other parts of the building,” according to the ATF.
State Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-19th Dist., a member of the Pennsylvania Emergency Preparedness Committee, said he will work to ensure such a tragedy never occurs again.
“While we may never know what caused the fire at the Barclay Friends that fateful night, we do know that the main sprinkler should have been on,” he said. “I am committed to working with the local codes, fire, emergency response, and law enforcement community, as well the Office of the State Fire Commissioner, to consider and develop legislative, policy, and regulatory changes to help to ensure that this never happens again. Just as the community pitched in to save and assist residents on the night of the fire, our continued work to prevent such tragedies must be a collaborative effort.”
The ATF reported that there is no indication that the fire was intentionally set.
“Investigating a fire of this size is truly a team effort,” said ATF Philadelphia Field Division Special Agent in Charge, Donald Robinson. “We appreciate the dedication of our personnel as well as all of the state and local partners who worked tirelessly to thoroughly investigate this fire in an attempt to determine the fire’s origin and cause.”
Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan stated, “From the roaring flames of that night, to the grim months of investigation that followed, we have never forgotten the four Chester County citizens who died in that fire. Working together, we exhausted every avenue of investigation possible.
“We appreciate the heroism of the first firefighters on the scene as they saved countless lives, the diligent efforts of ATF and the Fire Marshal’s Office in the investigation, and the patience and fortitude of the victims’ families as this investigation concluded.”
“Five West Chester uniformed officers were the first to arrive on scene, entered the building without any protective equipment and evacuated many residents,” West Chester Police Chief Scott Bohn said. “These officers acted heroically.
“I am grateful to all of our first responders, police/fire/EMS, as well as the community response that evening. My thoughts and prayers remain with those who lost their lives and those impacted by this tragic event.”
Chester County Fire Marshal John Weer stated: “Because of the extensive efforts of the West Chester Fire Department, many lives were saved that night. With the intensity of this fire prior to notification, many heroic efforts were carried out.
“Heavy hearts are with these men and women for the losses of life and our sincere thoughts are with their families.
“It is because of the training and daily working relationship of agencies federally, state and locally that this investigation was conducted as a team effort. This commitment in Chester County has proven that teamwork on all levels proves that working together provides the best for our residents.
“With the overall magnitude of this fire investigation, the knowledge and assistance from the ATF both locally and nationally was a huge aid to the overall investigation of this tragic fire.”
The families of the four elderly citizens who died in the fire were previously advised in person about the results of this investigation and had the opportunity to discuss the event with the investigators, according to the ATF.
While Philadelphia law firm Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett and Bendesky P.C.’s case against the Barclay has been “resolved confidentially,” the law firm is still pursuing a case against maintenance company Johnson Controls.
Lawyer Bob Mongeluzzi said that the critical element leading to the four deaths was the lack of an alarm to warn that the sprinkler valve and tamper switch were shut off.
“It’s an issue of both the design and operation of the fire suppression system,” Mongeluzzi said. “We had indicated that the valve to the fire suppression system was shut off.
“The ATF report substantiated it.”
While the ATF ruled the cause as “undetermined,” the law firm’s investigation turned up a probable cause, Mongeluzzi said.
“We believe that we will still be able to prove that the fire was likely a result of cigarette smoking,” he said.
All of the agencies involved have pledged to continue assisting these families with any information they need. The fire investigation was a collaborative effort and worked in coordination with the Chester County District Attorney’s Office, Chester County Fire Marshal’s Office, Pennsylvania State Police, West Chester Police Department, Chester County Sheriff’s Office and Chester County Department of Emergency Services.
Anyone having information regarding this fire is urged to call the ATF 24/7 hotline at 1-888-ATF-FIRE (1-888- 283-3473), email: A TFTips@atf.gov (l ink sends e-mail) or submit a tip anonymously by using the Reportlt App on your mobile phone. More information about ATF’s fire investigation expertise or the NRT can be found at www.atf.gov. Source
January 9, 2019
Local lawmaker taking action on robocalls
WEST CHESTER—Following reports that Americans received 48 billion robocalls last year, state Senator Andy Dinniman is introducing legislation to target the practice.
“I know that for many residents, myself included, sometimes it seems like all 48 billion calls came to their own homes,” Dinniman said. “These automated phone calls basically bombard you to the point of harassment. And some even employ legally questionable practices and serve as a haven for scammers targeting the elderly.”
Dinniman said he is drafting legislation that will target and rein in robocalls by:
•Allowing consumers to permanently sign up to the “Do-Not-Call” list without requiring them to re-register every 5 years.
•Prohibiting telemarketing robocalls on legal holidays.
•Requiring telemarketers to set up procedures to allow residents to immediately opt out of calls via automated procedures at the beginning of the call. If a robocall is left on voicemail, telemarketers must provide a call-back number and way to opt out.
•Working to crack down on spoofing, in which telemarketers use equipment to mimic local numbers or even the recipient’s own number to make distant calls display as local numbers on caller ID.
Dinniman said he will also work with the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office to find new and innovative ways to crack down on robocalls and enforce existing legislation. He also said he plans to lobby for stronger Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fines and penalties for illegal robocalls and violations.
According to YouMail, a robocall management company that tracks the volume of calls, robocalling surged 60 percent in the U.S. last year. In December 2018 alone, Pennsylvanians received an estimated nearly 160 million robocalls – that translates to 60 calls per second and about 10 calls per person. Scams make up an estimated 40 percent of those calls, according to YouMail.
“The fact that consumers pay for telephone service only to have it co-opted by aggressive telemarketers, shady sales pitches, and scammers is reprehensible,” Dinniman said. “The massive influx and skyrocketing growth of robocalls calls for stronger measures, effective enforcement, new authentication and blocking technologies, and better procedures to stop unwanted calls and hold illegal callers and scammers accountable.”
“We have a right to live our own lives in our own homes without annoying outside intrusions,” he added. Source
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