For Immediate Release
PHILADELPHIA, PA - In advance of a critical vote that could determine the fate of the contentious Mariner East 2 pipeline, a new report questions the impartiality of several Public Utilities Commissioners.
The PUC could make a pivotal decision as soon as tomorrow about re-starting construction on the highly controversial pipeline. The new report reveals startling and troubling connections between the commissioners and an array of fossil fuel interests, including the very company that stands to gain from their decision.
The report from Public Accountability Initiative shows that 4 of the 5 commissioners have substantial ties to the fracking industry. Commissioner Norman Kennard’s former law firm is representing Sunoco in the proceedings before the PUC, and his former partner is acting as co-attorney for Sunoco Logistics. Another commissioner, David Sweet, was a partner at Pepper Hamilton, which has represented Sunoco numerous times. Several attorneys from that firm went on to work directly for Sunoco. Sweet also lobbied for major oil and gas corporations.
Three commissioners have close ties to the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the most prominent industry trade group, and one -- Andrew Place -- helped found the pro-fracking Center for Sustainable Shale Development. One commissioner, John F. Coleman Jr, is currently a board member and officer at SilcoTek, a company that makes coatings for the fossil fuel industry.
"The ties of some commissioners to the oil and gas industry, and also to Sunoco, are quite striking,” said Derek Seidman, a research analyst at Public Accountability Initiative who authored the report. "Given that a majority of commissioners have built careers tied to oil and gas interests, it’s important that the public be aware of any potential conflicts as the PUC gets ready to decide on the Mariner East project.”
The scope of ties between the commissioners and fossil fuel interests raise questions about the PUC’s ability to properly protect citizens and the environment. “The fate of Pennsylvania communities will be at stake when these commissioners vote on whether or not to expose the West Whiteland community to serious pipeline-related risks,” said Food & Water Watch Pennsylvania Director Sam Bernhardt. “At times, the PUC has acted to protect Pennsylvania communities. However, as this new information makes clear, some commissioners have clear conflicts of interest when it comes to Sunoco and their pipeline. We call on these commissioners to recuse themselves from this and any future votes related to the Mariner pipeline system..”
In May, PUC Administrative Law Judge Elizabeth Barnes ordered a halt to construction on the Mariner East 2 pipeline, as well as operations on the existing Mariner East 1 pipeline, citing an array of serious safety concerns that present a danger to public safety. However, the five PUC commissioners could vote to override her order at its June 14 meeting.
The PUC’s role as a regulator has been at the center of the statewide debate about this dangerous pipeline. In response to requests for a study assessing the risks posed to Pennsylvania communities by Mariner East 2, Governor Tom Wolf has said such a risk assessment is in the purview of the PUC. More recently, when Wolf was confronted by a Chester County community member asking why he had failed to protect her community from Mariner East 2 pipeline, he deferred to the PUC. Wolf has either nominated or renominated each of the five commissioners.
The Mariner East 2 is a 350-mile pipeline designed to carry volatile gas liquids derived from fracking. The materials will be mostly exported to Europe to be made into plastic.