Lawrence in the News

March 12, 2019
Chesco, Delco lawmakers urge Wolf to halt Mariner pipeline operations

Mariner East 2 pipeline project

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.

February 27, 2019
GOP lawmakers spar with Secretary Topper on Farm Show, HealthChoices in budget hearing

The Pennsylvania state House Appropriations Committee hearing Wednesday on the Department of General Services (DGS) started contentiously.

State Rep. John Lawrence, R-West Grove, started the questioning of DGS Secretary Curt Topper by asking about the Farm Show financing agreement, which was the subject of combative talks last year between Republican lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration.

The complex agreement, which wasn’t approved by the legislature, used the Farm Show property to secure $200 million in revenue for the 2017-18 fiscal year budget. In return, the state will pay down the debt over the course of 29 years, with the total repayment amount expected to top $390 million.

The financing plan calls for an $88 million payment at the end of the term. Lawrence wanted to know if that could be paid down early and if the state could refinance at a rate lower than the current 5 percent. Topper reiterated that the deal was not a bond but that it could be refinanced.

“The Commonwealth is in a position where [Municipal Real Estate Funding] then holds all the cards and would have to agree to accept a lower interest rate,” Lawrence asked.

The two men disagreed whether the financing agreement was a “good deal,” and in a second round of questioning near the end of the hearing, Lawrence grilled Topper regarding the terms of the agreement that state DGS shall make the payment. If the lawmakers fail to appropriate funds, Lawrence asked, would DGS be in default on the deal?

Topper reminded lawmakers that every expenditure it makes is made through the State Treasury, as is the case with other state offices.

“So, if the treasury makes the payment is that a violation of the contract,” Topper said, who chided Lawrence for his “nonsensical” position.

Finally, the two bickered over what is covered in the deal. Topper told Lawrence it covers the Farm Show building and parking lot, but he said he did not know if it included adjacent lots.

“With all due respect, it astounds me you signed off on a $200 million deal, and you can’t tell me what the term ‘premises’ means in the deal,” Lawrence said.

Other Republican committee members focused their questioning on another contentious topic, the state’s Medicaid managed care initiative, called HealthChoices. The procurement process for it has led to multiple protests and rebids, with another round of proposals likely, although Topper did not know when the next solicitation might take place.

The GOP lawmakers said they feel most of the blame fell to the Department of Human Services, but since DGS oversees the procurement process in the state, it fell on Topper and his staff to be more involved in the matter.

“I’m looking at you for leadership on this,” state Rep. Keith Greiner, R-Lancaster, said. “How will you ensure that DHS follows the procurement code here in the future?”

DHS led the procurement process because it has the expertise necessary to score most of the proposal, Topper said. However, he told lawmakers that DGS officials would be more involved in the process.

Like lawmakers, Topper said he’s met with potential bidders about the program and that he wants to make sure it is an open and fair competition.

“I think it’s critical really for the integrity of the whole system that we get it right the next time,” he said.    Source

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