Governor Wolf: Protect Our Schools and Communities Under PA Health and Safety Statute
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Governor Tom Wolf:
Texas-based Sunoco Pipeline/Energy Transfer Partners has taken advantage of so-called certificates of public convenience, issued in the 1930s, to claim public utility status and the awesome sovereign power of eminent domain for its troubled “Mariner East” project. Sunoco proposes to construct up to three hazardous, highly volatile liquids pipelines, to transport industrial quantities of liquid ethane, propane and butane through densely populated Pennsylvania counties for the purpose of shipping these materials overseas for plastics production. No agency of the state or federal government has exercised authority over the route selected by Sunoco for its own maximum convenience. If these materials are released for any reason, they become odorless, colorless heavier-than-air gas which is extremely flammable or explosive. These materials present a unique set of public safety hazards which have not been adequately evaluated.
The Health and Safety Statute of Pennsylvania (Title 35, Chapter 77) identifies the Governor and all state agencies responsible for disaster prevention. Municipal authorities across Chester and Delaware counties have acknowledged the new and unique hazard to its citizens from Mariner East. Many townships and school districts have sent Resolutions of Concern to Governor Wolf regarding the dangers of the Mariner East project and the need for intervention with no response. Under Commonwealth law, when a new threat is identified at the local level, Governor Wolf has the authority to direct all appropriate state agencies to conduct comprehensive hazard assessments so that emergency preparedness plans and appropriate emergency response procedures are developed.
Sunoco has a risk assessment for this project that it refuses to release. The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency handbook states that elected officials will work with, and support, county emergency management coordinators to ensure that the community is prepared to respond to disasters. This includes a mitigation plan with a hazard analysis and vulnerability impacts—and yet, no such document has been provided.
Separately, school districts are required to file an emergency preparedness plan that is reevaluated yearly under Pennsylvania school code Title 22 Safe Schools. School districts must put all emergency preparedness plans on file with the county offices by September 30th. Our school districts are grossly unprepared without a hazard assessment to fully understand the risks as they exist of running highly volatile liquids pipelines in unsafe proximity to at least forty schools and many more child care centers. Our most vulnerable members of society, our children, have virtually no chance of proper evacuation without formal, expert-led preparedness to identify the most efficient and safe route based on topography and wind direction in real time. Sunoco's suggested plan for homes, schools, businesses and senior living facilities? Self-evacuate immediately: on foot, uphill and upwind, to a minimum initial distance of one-half mile. This is simply not a credible plan, and schools have already been out of compliance for two years, as “Mariner East 1” has been operational since 2014, experiencing three reported leaks of highly volatile liquids over the space of less than one year. Sunoco reported that each of these leaks occurred in a “High Consequence Area;” Governor Wolf, we’ve been lucky so far. Will it require “high consequences” to get your attention?
Governor Wolf, Sunoco’s reckless Mariner East project is not essential infrastructure, nor is it about fuel or energy for Pennsylvanians. The proposed project is not necessary to the kind of life we want to lead, as you recently put it—in fact, the project is antithetical to our core values of public safety, property values, and private property rights guaranteed under the Constitution of Pennsylvania. We, the concerned citizens of our Commonwealth, ask that you fulfill the duties of the office we have entrusted to you, in compliance with your responsibilities under Pennsylvania statutes, to protect our society—especially its most vulnerable members, including children, our senior citizens, and the physically challenged. We call on you to direct your Department of Environmental Protection to revoke the deficient permits the agency hastily issued to Sunoco. And we call on you to issue an immediate safety-based halt to Mariner East construction until your duty to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of all Pennsylvanians has been fulfilled.
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