June 25, 2019
Senate moves to give independent voters a voice in Pa. primary elections
The days of independent voters sitting on the sideline during Pennsylvania’s primary elections could be coming to an end.
The Senate voted 42-8 to open primaries to allow the 785,000 unaffiliated voters to cast votes on either the Republican or Democratic ballots, starting with next year’s primary.
This is the first time this landmark bill that would move away from closed primaries ever got this far in the legislative process.
The measure, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, now goes to the House for consideration. But it could get folded into a broader election reform bill that includes a number of voting-related measures that are still being negotiated between the House, Senate and Gov. Tom Wolf as part of the overall budget package.
Wolf has signaled his interest in supporting open primaries.
“We’re thrilled to see the tremendous progress made on primary reform” said David Thornburgh, president and CEO of the Committee of Seventy, a nonpartisan better government advocate. “Our closed primaries were never fair to the voters who were shut out of these important elections, and the consequences of partisan bases gaining a disproportionate impact on who enters public office and their agendas has also been harmful to the effectiveness of government as a whole.”
Pennsylvania would join 16 other states that open their primaries to unaffiliated voters, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-Chester County, noted that the number of independent voters is the fastest growing segment of Pennsylvania’s voters.
“We need to respect those voters,” he said. “This is the great middle in both parties including the independents feel they’ve been left out of the political process and that the extremes have taken over. This bill gives a voice to that great middle.”
Right now, independent voters can only vote on ballot questions in primaries and so many don’t turn out to the polls.
Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Lehigh County, said she has been calling for this change for over 20 years.
“Frankly, our democracy doesn’t work if our citizens can’t participate,” she said. “We need to do all we can to encourage voting. Our election law often does the opposite.”
Sen. Katie Muth, D-Montgomery County, failed in her attempt to allow third-party voters to cast votes in primaries as well. Scarnati said those voters have made a choice as to which party they want to be affiliated with and have a voice in picking their party’s nominee.
Among those voting against the move to open primaries were five Republicans and three Democrats. Sens. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York County, said she opposed it because her constituents told her it made them uncomfortable. Sens. Pat Stefano, R-Westmoreland County, said it would make primary elections more costly for candidates because they would have to reach out to a broader audience to ask for their vote.
In a separate measure, the Senate voted 30-20 on a bill Boscola sponsored to eliminate straight party voting. She said over the last decades, nine states have removed this option from their ballot and now Pennsylvania is one of only eight states to still allow straight-ticket voting.
“Straight ticket voting promotes the election of a party not the election of a candidate,” Boscola said. “Straight ticket voting makes it more difficult for independent and minor party candidates to complete against the two major parties and I think that’s bad for our democracy.”
Several of her Democratic colleagues, however, opposed the bill, including some that supported it when the Senate State Government Committee considered the legislation. Senate Democratic spokeswoman Brittany Crampsie said her caucus is committed to modernizing elections but “election reform is a broad umbrella; open primaries and ending straight party voting are just two issues where our members aren’t all in the same place philosophically.”
Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott said the governor is still evaluating the elimination of a straight-party voting option.
The chamber also voted to approve a bill to reduce the number of ballots that have to be printed to at least 10 percent of the highest number of ballots cast in any of the three previous like election. Source
June 13, 2019
Amid anger, Lockheed agrees to meet with pols over doomed Sikorsky helicopter plant
These people are not happy. And I’m not talking about the 465 helicopter factory workers about to lose their jobs in Chester County.
The anger I found bubbling over this week near the decimated former steel town of Coatesville was coming from the politicians and deal-makers who thought they were owed more. The civic stewards who spent years mixing cocktails of handshakes with taxpayer-backed financial sweeteners to keep Lockheed Martin and its Sikorsky chopper plant healthy and happy on a rural campus on Old Lancaster Pike west of Philadelphia.
The whole mess — Lockheed putting a bullet into its Sikorsky site without a trace of manners beyond what one would expect from a narcissistic teenager — is a metaphor for the brand of cold and unaccountable capitalism that insists, even after receiving public aid, that it owes close to nothing to most anyone at the end of the day.
The planned shutdown, which became public last week, is a blow to a state that has been hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs for decades. It’s also a blow to common decency.
Officials have scrambled over the past few days to create a SWAT team to bring Sikorsky to the table for a possible Plan B. One member of that rescue group, U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, told me that the company on Wednesday promised to send a high-level official to meet with her and others one day next week in Chester County.
“There is a way you can make business profitable and also do good by the people that are in your community,” Houlahan, a recently elected Democrat with credentials from Stanford, MIT, and the corporate sector, told me from Washington, where she was working on budget matters before the Armed Services Committee, of which the former Air Force officer is a member. “I’m just disappointed with how this has transpired.”
Houlahan’s assessment was markedly diplomatic. Others’ were less so.
“We had a good relationshIp with the company, and the corporate people who make that decision did not pick up the phone,” said Gary Smith, who has led the Economic Development Council for 43 years in the formerly Republican-dominated county. “We had this strong relationship over many, many years. They were very much involved with us. I’ve not gotten even a call back yet from my contacts there.”
The angriest of all was longtime State Sen. Andy Dinniman.
In no way is it OK that Lockheed, which bought the Sikorsky plant that manufactures civilian choppers in Sadsbury Township, pulled the plug without a single conversation with the community in which the company was birthed, under a different owner, more than 50 years ago, the Chester County Democrat said.
“If you go out of your way to help someone, and then that person slaps you in the face in the end, you’re disappointed,” Dinniman said. “We did everything we could, and we understand [a company’s allegiance to] the bottom line. But here’s the difference. If you want to believe in the free marketplace, then don’t come to the state for help. But if you come to the state for help, you have a responsibility back to the community.”
Lockheed’s shocking announcement that it will close by year’s end its operations on a gleaming, two-dozen-acre campus might be easier to swallow if questions about why were clearer.
What we do know is that yet another manufacturer is leaving Pennsylvania because its owner decided to push the work out of state. Though orders for civilian aircraft were down, the Coatesville plant had a nonunion workforce and, according to Smith, a reputation for exceptional work and productivity.
A downturn in oil-rig business had slowed demand for some of Sikorsky’s Coatesville aircraft. The company also makes choppers for the Office of the President of the United States. But local officials had thought that Lockheed was planning to reposition the plant for growth. With defense business booming under the Trump administration, they saw the potential to convert the plant to a defense aircraft site.
Lockheed has offered few details.
“To improve customer affordability,” spokeswoman Callie Ferrari said in an email Wednesday, “we must close our Coatesville facility to balance our footprint and workforce with customer and market requirements.”
Eleven years ago this August, a jubilant Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and other officials publicly celebrated at the chopper plant. The state had just awarded $1 million in incentives. Six years before that, Republican Gov. Mark Schweiker had thrown the company $1.3 million to help it move to the gleaming facility it occupies today.
Adding insult to injury, an additional $2.5 million state grant for improvements to the campus and the adjacent county airport has not yet been spent.
Sure, business is business. But in this age of record-breaking corporate profits, it might be a good time to remember that there’s also this thing of being a human being.
April 23, 2019
Dinniman To Introduce Consent Education Bill
WEST CHESTER (April 23, 2019) – State Senator Andy Dinniman announced today that he is introducing legislation to require consent education in the school curriculum.
Dinniman, who serves as minority chair of the Senate Education Committee, said the curriculum would include the definition of consent, the importance of receiving consent in daily interactions, and the consequences to individuals for acting without receiving consent from others involved.
Dinniman also emphasized that the importance and value of consent should be imparted to students broader and early on – as a life skill – rather than strictly through curriculum or conversations on health or sexuality.
‘All too often, any discussion of consent in our schools comes too little, too late,’ he said. ‘Meanwhile, consent is a skill young people need to successfully navigate adulthood. Beginning in elementary school, we should lay the foundation that consent is a fundamental value in human relationships through age-appropriate instruction. For example, in first or second grade, that could include the importance of asking someone for permission before playing with their toy or video game.’
Dinniman said under his bill, each school district would decide how and through what part of curriculum consent should be taught.
‘We ask for things every day and don’t realize it, but very few states require schools to address consent at all,’ he said. ‘When we focus on requiring consent education in middle/high school alone and in terms of relationships that involve intimate behavior, it may not be as effective as teaching our students these fundamental skills early in their education.’
Dinniman first announced his plans for a consent education bill early this month when he joined staff and volunteers at the Crime Victims Center of Chester County to officially mark April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month in Pennsylvania. The theme for Sexual Assault Awareness is ‘I Ask.’
Dinniman also signed on as a co-sponsor of Senator Judy Schwank’s legislation to require schools to establish specific policies regarding dating violence, including reporting procedures for students, parents, legal guardians, or third parties; disciplinary procedures and penalties for students perpetrating dating violence against other students; and information regarding the Protection from Abuse law.
In recognition of his efforts, Dinniman was recently honored with the Guardian of Victims’ Rights Award by Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania and the Crime Victims Center of Chester County. The award is presented to individuals who have served as advocates and ambassadors for crime victims across the state, working to ensure that they are treated with dignity and respect.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experienced sexual violence involving physical contact during their lifetimes. Source
March 17, 2019
At the request of state Senator Andy Dinniman, the Senate Democratic Policy Committee will hold a public hearing next Thursday in Chester County on ways to curb robocalls.
The hearing is set for Thursday, March 21 at 10 a.m. in the East Whiteland Township Building, 209 Conestoga Rd, Frazer, PA 19355.
The panel is expected to discuss legislative solutions to restrict and reduce robocalls, which are automated, recorded phone advertisements. The YouMail Robocall index estimates that Americans received 48 billion robocalls in 2018 – an astounding 57 percent increase over the previous year.
“Apart from robocalls being annoying and intrusive, it is estimated that 40 percent of these calls are scams,” Dinniman said. “The explosive growth of robocalls cries out for a legislative remedy that would step up enforcement, improve authentication and give consumers a simple means to block these calls.”
Dinniman has introduced legislation, Senate Bill 306, that would enable consumers to opt-out of robo calls, prohibit such calls on holidays, and require telemarketers to give consumers easy opt-out options. He has also called for cracking down on deceptive technology that enables telemarketers to mimic local phone numbers.
The policy committee is chaired by Sen. Lisa Boscola.
Boscola said, “Rallying public and legislative support behind combatting robocalls will be the easy part. The difficulty will come with finding workable solutions that specifically curb robocalls without hampering reasonable and legitimate ways to reach consumers.” Source
March 12, 2019
Chesco, Delco lawmakers urge Wolf to halt Mariner pipeline operations
WEST CHESTER — Pennsylvania lawmakers representing 11 House and three Senatorial districts across Chester and Delaware counties have signed a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf asking him to impose a moratorium on the transmission of natural gas liquids products through the Mariner East pipeline system until the mandated protocols are in place for local responders to properly manage a pipeline emergency.
Chester County Emergency Services and local school districts along the pipeline, including Downingtown Area School District, Rose Tree Media School District and West Chester Area School District have requested Energy Transfer Partners’ subsidiary SPLP to provide its Emergency Response Plan for the Mariner East project, which the responders and school districts need to complete their comprehensive All Hazards Emergency Response Plans and fulfill their statutory requirements under Title 35 of state law.
The letter urges Wolf to preserve the health, welfare and safety of constituents who live, work and raise their families in the high-consequence areas of Chester and Delaware counties within the impact radius of Mariner East. The pipeline also runs through Berks County.
“We have pipelines currently transporting highly volatile products through our communities, and our local first responders are not able to adequately plan their emergency response or mitigate our risk because the operator has failed to cooperate with repeated requests for their Emergency Response Plan,” said state Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, D-Chester County. “Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco are risking a catastrophe, which is a criminal offense.
“I am grateful to my colleagues for their collaboration on this request. The bipartisan support for this moratorium underscores how important it is to take every possible step to ensure the safety of our communities and our first responders.”
The letter was signed by the following state representatives Rep. Steve Barrar, R-60 of Concord; Rep. Carolyn Comitta, D-156 of West Chester; Friel Otten, D-155 of West Whiteland; Rep. Kristine Howard, D-167; Rep. Tim Hennessey, R-26; Rep. John Lawrence, R-13; Rep. Chris Quinn, R-168 of Middletown; Christina Sappey, D-158; Rep. Melissa Shusterman, D-157; Rep. Dan Williams, D-74; and Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, D-161, as well as state Sens. Andy Dinniman, D-19; Katie Muth, D-44; and Tim Kearney, D-26 of Swarthmore.
Mariner East spokesmen did not return a call for comment as yet.
The company is building and operating the controversial Mariner East project, transporting volatile liquid gases across the full width of Pennsylvania, from the Marcellus Shale region to a facility in Marcus Hook.
Residents have opposed the project for years, saying the pipeline never should have been routed through densely populated neighborhoods, in close proximity to schools and senior centers.
Mariner East 1, which is a decades old smaller pipe that has been retrofitted to carry the new materials, has been shut down for weeks since a sinkhole formed in a Chester County neighborhood for the second time.
Mariner East 2 came online the last week of December, albeit not in the form Energy Transfer originally proposed. Mariner East 2 was proposed as a 20-inch pipe, but because of constant delays and other problems, Energy Transfer plugged in a hybrid version of several smaller pipes to fill in the gaps. Completion of the full Mariner East 2 pipeline now likely will not take place until 2020.
Mariner East 2x remains under construction.
In February the state Department of Environmental Protection halted all permits for the Mariner East 2 project, saying Energy Transfer had failed to take proper actions after an accident that caused an explosion in western Pennsylvania.
Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan last month announced he was launching a criminal investigation into the construction of Mariner East 2, noting his belief that state officials had not adequately protected citizens rights and safety. He now is impaneling an investigative grand jury to hear testimony from witnesses and review documents.
March 6, 2019
Local lawmakers announce formation of pipeline safety caucus
WEST CHESTER—State Senator Andy Dinniman, State Representative Danielle Friel Otten, fellow lawmakers, community groups, residents, and families from across Pennsylvania will hold a Rally for Pipeline Safety and Environmental Protection on Tuesday, March 19 from 10 to 11 a.m. in the Main Capitol Rotunda of the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg.
At the rally, residents will lobby for the passage of a package of comprehensive pipeline safety bills introduced by Dinniman and others in the wake of various environmental violations, public safety concerns, geologic problems, threats to private property and water rights, and other wide-ranging quality-of-life issues brought on by Sunoco/ETP’s controversial Mariner East project.
“Mariner East may have brought area residents together and opened our eyes to the lack of strong pipeline public safety and environmental protection regulations in Pennsylvania, but this is a statewide issue and one that demands real, immediate and lasting reform,” Dinniman, who serves on the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee said.
“Residents are coming to Harrisburg by the busload on March 19 to demand immediate relief and real action from the legislature so that no one in Pennsylvania will have to have their home and their safety held hostage by a pipeline project again.
The rally is being coordinated by volunteers from nearly 50 organizations across the Commonwealth. Local residents interested in transportation should contact Jerry McMullen at firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a seat on a bus scheduled to leave the Exton Square Mall early that morning.
In addition, Dinniman will announce the formation of a bipartisan, bicameral Pipeline Safety Caucus that he is forming in conjunction with Friel Otten, a fellow Chester County legislator. Following the rally, members of the caucus will hold a news conference expressing their commitment to the passage of pipeline public safety legislation.
“Energy Transfer Partners’ Mariner East project has triggered sinkholes, exploded a Pennsylvania family’s home, and destroyed personal water sources. We are negligent if we fail to act,” Friel Otten said. “The time has come for public safety, private property rights, and environmental protection to guide economic development in Pennsylvania. I am grateful for the support of our colleagues as we take the fight to protect our communities to the next level.”
Dinniman, who has long voiced safety and environmental concerns related to the Mariner East project, said the movement he helped launch several years ago has now grown into a full-fledged, statewide grassroots initiative. With rising support from both parties within the legislature and that of a number of new representatives, like Friel Otten, who were elected on the pipeline issue, he said Pennsylvania is moving closer to legislation that will provide a regulatory safeguard for our residents.
He pointed to mounting pressure on the PUC to take action on Mariner East, including a number of school districts, municipalities and counties filing as intervenors in a public safety complaint on Mariner East. And most recently, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection barred all future ETP pipeline permits, and the governor publicly expressed support for four of Dinniman’s pipeline safety bills.
“Change can take time. And now is the time,” Dinniman said. “We’ve worked hard and we’re gaining the numbers we need to make this happen. However, highly volatile natural gas liquids continue to flow in our area through a hodge-podge of antiquated pipelines, and Sunoco still has the power of eminent domain.”
He said that’s why he has introduced legislation calling for a two-year moratorium to give the legislature time to develop a stronger regulatory process regarding the safety of pipelines carrying highly volatile liquids, as well as a better approach to the use of corporate eminent domain by companies like Sunoco/ETP. Source
February 25, 2019
Energy Transfer CEO: ‘We’ve made mistakes’ in building Mariner East
Energy Transfer, the parent company of Mariner East 2 pipeline builder, Sunoco, works at Snitz Creek in West Cornwall Township, Lebanon County after a drilling mud spill during the summer. (Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania)
Sunoco’s parent company admitted it made mistakes in building the Mariner East pipelines through Pennsylvania, and told investors that it will do better in future, but its assurances failed to persuade critics that the project will become any safer for the public or more protective of the environment.
During a Feb. 21 conference call with financial analysts to discuss results for the fourth quarter of 2018, Energy Transfer’s chief executive, Kelcy Warren, appeared to acknowledge the succession of spills, shutdowns and sinkholes that have bedeviled the project during the two-year construction.
“We’ve made mistakes and we are correcting those mistakes and will not make those mistakes again,” Warren said, in answer to an analyst’s question on whether the company has any “learnings from the past to execute better.”
Warren acknowledged the problems the project has faced in Pennsylvania, and said that going forward, the company will “complete good projects” in a way that will control costs.
“We’ve learned so much,” he said in a recording of the call on the company’s website. “We’re going to take our medicine and fix those mistakes and complete good projects going forward. We’ve made some mistakes we’re not proud of, so you’ll see that improve and when we don’t make those mistakes again then our costs are going to improve and the predictability of those costs are likewise going to improve.”
He also implied that the company faces stricter regulation in Pennsylvania than in its home state of Texas, saying: “Every place is not Texas.”
Warren did not specify any of the mistakes, describe the corrective action, or say what prompted his decision to admit the company’s mistakes during the construction project.
In early February, the Department of Environmental Protection issued its latest sanctions on the project, halting the issuance of water permits for unfinished sections of the pipelines, on grounds that Energy Transfer failed to comply with an earlier DEP order for environmental restoration following the explosion of its Revolution Pipeline in western Pennsylvania in September last year.
The DEP’s latest action was accompanied by a statement by Gov. Tom Wolf accusing Energy Transfer of failing to respect Pennsylvania’s laws and communities, and saying the company’s behavior “will not be tolerated.”
In mid-February, the Public Utility Commission told an appeals court that state Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester) should be allowed to argue his case to the PUC that the project should be shut down until its safety can be assured, in part because, the commission said, the pipelines pose a “substantial risk to the safety of residents.”
On Sunday, ET spokeswoman Vicki Granado didn’t provide any more details about Warren’s comments, but repeated that the company recognizes its mistakes, and is talking to state regulators about corrective action.
“Mr. Warren’s comments on our earnings call acknowledged that we made mistakes on our projects in Pennsylvania, and that we must do better,” Granado said. “He has been very clear both internally and externally that those mistakes will not happen again. Our executive management team has communicated to Pennsylvania’s leadership and its regulatory agencies, and now publicly, that we are committed to correcting those mistakes and to working with them on a path forward.”
Critics dismissed ET’s statement, saying that any improvement in its construction record wouldn’t make it any safer to run the high-pressure natural gas liquids pipelines through densely populated areas like the Philadelphia suburbs.
“It’s nice to think that a magic wand will be waved and from this point forward Sunoco will be a good neighbor when it comes to pipeline safety and environmental protection,” Dinniman said. “But we’re not naïve enough to believe that a few lines in the context of a quarterly earnings report are going to make much difference in how Sunoco/ETP operates.”
Dinniman said Chester County residents are still living with Sunoco’s mistakes such as the sinkholes that opened up at a pipeline construction site on a suburban development in West Whiteland Township, first in early 2018 and again in January this year.
Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety, an activist group in Delaware and Chester Counties, said Sunoco’s admission of past mistakes doesn’t mean it will operate safely in future.
“Energy Transfer wants investors to believe it’s going to try to do better, but we think the company’s established pattern of unlawful behavior speaks for itself,” Del-Chesco said in a statement.
On Dec. 29 last year, Sunoco began pumping natural gas liquids from southwest Pennsylvania to a terminal at Marcus Hook in Delaware County using a string of different-diameter pipelines that it calls Mariner East 2. That name was originally given to a 20-inch pipe that was due to run across the state but which remains unfinished in some parts of Delaware and Chester Counties.
Mariner East 2 is part of a three-stage project: Mariner East 1 involved reversing the flow of an existing line; the company has plans to build Mariner East 2x. All three lines will run along the same right of way.
February 20, 2019
Senators propose bill to substantially extend family medical leave
WEST CHESTER — Senators Tom Killion, R-9, and Andy Dinniman, D-19, have introduced a bill to substantially extend family medical leave provisions in Pennsylvania.
The bipartisan legislation would expand family medical leave rights to siblings, grandparents and grandchildren for the first time ever in the state.
Under the bill, up to six weeks of protected, unpaid leave would be provided to an employee in order to care for a terminally ill sibling, grandparent or grandchild. This would only apply if the ill relative does not have a living spouse, child over the age of 17 or parent under the age of 65 to care for them.
“Terminally ill individuals need all of the family support they can get,” said Killion. “We must ensure that siblings, grandparents and grandchildren can take time to care for loved ones if no one else is able to do so. This kind of family care is the hallmark of any compassionate society and is long overdue in our state,” he added.
Dinniman said, “Pennsylvanians shouldn’t be forced to choose between their jobs and their families when it comes to caring for a terminally ill sibling, grandparent, or grandchild. We should be supporting those relationships and responsibilities – not making an already difficult time more challenging. We’ve worked diligently and carefully to make this legislation as specific and as business-friendly as possible. And it’s high time that it becomes law.”
The family medical leave reform legislation has local roots in Chester County, resulting from the experiences of West Goshen resident Anne Marie Pearson.
In 2009, Pearson’s sister, Joanne, was diagnosed with late stage gynecologic cancer and needed around-the-clock care. Joanne Pearson was unmarried, did not have children, her father was deceased and her mother was elderly.
Anne Pearson applied for family medical leave to care for her sister, but was denied because she was a sibling, which does not fit the strict definition of “family” under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Her only option to care for her sister until she passed away was to leave her job of 17 years, which she did.
“I often thought who would have taken care of Joanne if I didn’t sacrifice my job and my livelihood? No one should have to ever choose between keeping their job or taking care of a sick family member,” said Pearson.
Pearson added, “Decisions like these can be devastating to Pennsylvania families. The traditional family unit of ‘mother-father-child’ doesn’t always exist in today’s world and no one single law can specify who is considered family. It’s time we have some real legislation and policies that reflect our communities. Expanding the family medical leave law is good for both businesses and families.”
The family medical leave legislation authored by Killion and Dinniman has officially been introduced as Senate Bill 140. Source
February 9, 2019
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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