In the weeks prior to local elections, activists worked to change the future of Sunoco’s pipelines by canvassing for anti-pipeline candidates, rallying and bringing postcards from concerned citizens to Governor Wolf at the state capitol in Harrisburg, Pa.
Kaitlin Battiste, a fourth-year English major and psychology minor at West Chester University, volunteered with non-governmental organization Food & Water Watch to halt the pipeline and elect anti-pipeline candidates Mary R. LaSota and Robin Stuntebeck for township supervisors in West Goshen Tuesday, Nov. 7.
“Our first mission was to canvas around town and the university and inform people about the candidates,” said Battiste. “I’ve been speaking out in my classrooms, with the permission of my professors, to warn them about the pipeline. A lot of people didn’t know about it.”
Battiste and Food & Water Watch, whose mission is to stand up to corporations that put profits before people, accomplished their first goal: LaSota and Stuntebeck were elected.
Other anti-pipeline candidates endorsed by activists have also won the elections: David Shuey in East Goshen, Theresa Santalucia in West Whiteland, Mayme Baumann and Bill Miller in Uwchlan and Sandy D’Amico in Upper Uwchlan, among others.
“I think local politics can help raise awareness about the pipeline,” said Kelsey Killion, third-year history major and political science minor at WCU. “Local politicians may also be able to put pressure on Governor Wolf, since he’s been pretty reluctant so far to talk about the potential dangers of the pipeline.”
Residents and activists have tried to reach out to Gov. Wolf to question the legitimacy of the permits and public utility status that Sunoco has been granted. 150 residents went to Harrisburg on Oct. 17 to ask Gov. Wolf to uphold the oath he made to promote the “health, safety and welfare” of Pennsylvanians and revoke the DEP permit to stop the pipeline.
They marched into Gov. Wolf’s office joined by around 20 children who delivered decorated shoe boxes containing 1,200 postcards from Chester and Delaware county residents with pictures of the devastation caused by the pipeline and requests to make pipelines safer.
The activists were told the governor was not present. They delivered the postcards and a petition signed by 6,000 residents to the deputy chief of staff. Residents and elected officials also spoke about their concerns at a press conference in the capitol. State Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-19, who has also served on the faculty of WCU, talked about the need to introduce legislation to regulate pipelines.
“We’re here today to demand that a regulatory process be put in place,” said Dinniman in a video of his speech posted on his website. “We’re probably the weakest of any state when it comes to regulating pipelines.”
Dinniman explained that the regulatory process failed citizens when the Public Utility Commission, a governing body that regulates the rates and services of a public utility, granted eminent domain status not only to the pipeline which already exists, Mariner East 1, but also to Mariner 2.
“Who in the PUC made the decision that eminent domain could apply here based on a letter of conveyance decision that goes back to the 1930s?” asked Dinniman.
Mariner East 2, the 350-mile pipeline that will carry highly flammable natural gas liquids across Pennsylvania, is the second pipeline being built alongside the already existing Mariner East 1 pipeline.
ME1 was built in the 1930s to carry products from the former oil refinery in Marcus Hook to Western Pennsylvania. It was refurbished, and the flow reversed in 2014. ME1 has now been shipping ethane and propane to Marcus Hook from Western Pennsylvania. The eminent domain agreement dates back to the 1930s and does not place restrictions on the amount of land Sunoco can use.
According to Ashlie Delshad, WCU professor of political science, “The fifth amendment to the constitution allows the federal government to ‘take’ private property for uses that benefit the public good so long as the owner is provided just compensation.’”
However, Pennsylvanians believe Sunoco has not been clear on how the pipelines will “benefit the public good.”
“Sunoco has the potential to generate both short and long term public harm from soil and water pollution, not to mention the greenhouse gas emissions,” said Delshad. “And they have not, to my knowledge, produced a convincing and detailed estimate of the positive effects their project would yield.”
WCU student Killion has concerns as well. “Sunoco is a private for-profit company, so I think using eminent domain is problematic. Especially because it’s debatable to what extent the pipeline is for ‘public use,’” said Killion.
In response, Sunoco Pipeline Communications Manager Jeff Shields said, “Our public utility status is based on the fact that we provide an economical, safe and more dependable way to provide propane to markets, including Pennsylvania.”
Shields did not specify the percentage of natural gas liquids that is being exported, but he said that the pipeline is “a direct benefit to the 190,000 Pennsylvania households who use propane to heat their homes.”
According to Shields, Sunoco regards eminent domain as a last resort. “Energy Transfer projects typically require the use of eminent domain proceedings in fewer than 10 percent of the properties we traverse,” said Shields.
State Sen. Dinniman also talked about the need for preventive measures and how schools need to have drills if pipelines are located near them.
“Every school in this state is supposed to put in a protocol by Oct. 1 on how they’re going to have protection,” said Dinniman. “And I don’t think many schools have done that.”
According to Jon Brill, Interim Director of Public Safety at WCU, “Emergency management planning is now done on what we call all hazards approach.”
Brill explained that West Chester University does not have a specific protocol or preventive measures to deal with ME1 and ME2. He said they’ve developed plans on what they’d do if they had to evacuate our campus and the plans of the university fits the plans of the municipalities.
More information about campus safety can be found on WCU Public Safety’s website and Facebook page. To sign the petition to Gov. Wolf to stop the Mariner East pipeline, you can text ME2 to 69866 or go to the Food and Water Watch website.
To give your support or oppose the pipeline, you can contact Gov. Wolf’s office at (717) 787-2500.
“Activists should absolutely continue to contact Governor Wolf in all possible ways—write to him, show up in Harrisburg, call his office,” said Delshad. “These actions both at the gubernatorial and legislative levels must be persistent and not one-time emails or petition signing events—they need to receive a flood of communications on a daily basis.”
Kelly Witman is a fourth-year student majoring in English with minors in linguistics and journalism. She can be reached at KW860698@wcupa.edu.