PA attorney general announces slew of environmental charges against pipeline developer

PA attorney general announces slew of environmental charges against pipeline developer
Image via Screengrab.

Pennsylvania's attorney general, the man behind the explosive investigation into the Catholic Church's decades-long cover-up of sexual abuse of over 1,000 children, and who took Postmaster Louis DeJoy to court, arguing that DeJoy's cuts could damage citizens' trust and confidence in the mail, announced a slew of environmental charges against a notorious energy company on Tuesday.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro held a news conference Tuesday at the location where Energy Transfer, the corporate successor to Sunoco Pipeline LP, spilled thousands of gallons of drilling fluid last year. Shapiro announced 48 criminal charges against Energy Transfer related to the construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline—most of them for releasing industrial waste at 22 sites in 11 counties across the state, including contaminating the water supplies of at least 150 families.

Additionally, one charge is a felony for willfully and consistently failing to report the releases to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

The Mariner East pipeline project crosses 17 counties in the southern tier of Pennsylvania and moves natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field to an export terminal near Philadelphia. The spill took place during the construction of the pipeline.

"There is a duty to protect our air and water, and when companies harm these vital resources through negligence — it is a crime," AG Shapiro said at the press conference. "By charging them, we can both seek to hold them criminally accountable and send a clear message to others about how seriously we take protecting the environment and public health."

According to the Associated Press, Energy Transfer acknowledged that Shapiro was investigating alleged criminal misconduct involving the construction and related activities of the Mariner East pipeline.

Energy Transfer has paid more than $16.4 million in fines for polluting waterways and contaminating water wells, including a $12.6 million fine in 2018, one of the largest ever imposed by the state Department of Environmental Protection, AP reports.

"Under our state laws, if convicted, this company will be sentenced to fines and restitution," Shapiro said in a statement. "There is no jail time for these environmental crimes, and fines are not enough. That's why we are, once again, calling for stronger laws to hold these companies accountable and protect Pennsylvanians' health, and demanding DEP toughen up the independent oversight we need them to provide for the industries they regulate."

The Delaware County District Attorney's office was the first to refer this case to the attorney general and assigned a prosecutor from its Environmental Crimes Unit to work with the Pennsylvania DA's office on this case.

"Pennsylvania's criminal prosecutors have made it clear that the environment and our communities will be protected, using the tools that the criminal justice system offers. I have established a unit dedicated to Environmental Crimes prosecutions that have supported this investigation and we will continue the fight for environmental justice," Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said in a statement.

Of course Mariner East 2 pipeline is just one in a long line of reasons why environmental changes need to be made. Just last weekend, millions of beachgoers were likely exposed to toxic pollutants after local officials made the decision not to notify the public about a mammoth oil spill that took place the night before, just off the Southern California coast. You can read the full story about that spill here.

Huntington Beach city officials closed the beachfront from Huntington Beach Pier down to Newport Beach and Dana Point to begin cleanup on the 5.8-mile oil plume—about 13 square miles in size.

Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley writes on Twitter that dead birds and fish continue to wash ashore. The pipeline leak, connected to an offshore oil platform know as Elly, reportedly seeped into Talbert Marsh in Huntington Beach, home to about 90 species of birds, according to the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy.

On Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency due to the spill.

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