The news that the FBI has been investigating how Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration issued a construction permit for a $5.1 billion project to construct a cross-state pipeline carrying highly volatile gas liquids is a grim reminder that when it comes to energy policy, Pennsylvania is moving in the wrong direction.
Last week, the Associated Press reported that for at least six months, the FBI has been investigating whether Wolf administration officials have pressured the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to approve the Sunoco Pipeline LP’s Mariner East 2 project — which traverses 17 counties — despite potential shortcomings in the permitting process. The Wolf administration has made natural gas a staple of its economic development plans and the project has garnered the support of labor unions and the energy industry.
The federal investigation is the latest in the mounting challenges that include a joint investigation by the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General and Delaware County District Attorney’s Office, as well as an investigation by the Chester County District Attorney’s Office. The Clean Air Council has challenged in court several water and air quality permits that the state issued to Sunoco. Environmental activists and residents near pipeline construction sites have long been protesting the project — an opposition that intensified following gas leaks, spills, and odors.
Last week, the governor said he had nothing to hide and welcomed investigations.
Frankly, though, these questions are not the most troubling aspect of the project. As we face a moment of reckoning to address climate change, instead of moving toward renewable energy, Pennsylvania is battling to grow the commonwealth’s dependence on fossil fuel.
Mariner East is not the only example.
A June fire at Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery put the entire region at risk of exposure to deadly gasses. As a part of its court bankruptcy proceeding, it is accepting bids for the property; two of the 15 potential bidders propose using the site to produce fuel. Others would repurpose the site as a fuel terminal.
In the western part of the state, the Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex is soon to be completed in part due to billions in tax credits. Instead of rolling back the footprint of the gas industry in an area of the state that is already seeing a cluster of rare childhood cancer — similar to Louisiana’s “cancer alley” next to refineries and petrochemical plants — the state is expanding it.
According to a USAToday report, Pennsylvania could expect to see 24 new natural gas plants over the next decade, only two fewer than Texas, which leads the nation.
The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is clear: The only way to avoid irreversible damage to our planet is through “rapid and far-reaching” transition that would reduce emissions by 45 percent before 2030.
With every new pipeline, refinery, or plant, Pennsylvania is making that transition more difficult. Instead of having the vision to start transforming Pa. economy away from its dependence on fossil fuels, lawmakers and leaders are myopically chasing economic development in the short term at the expense of the future of our commonwealth — and of the planet.