3 monkeys

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has shown itself remarkably unwilling to protect the environment, in the face of pipeline-building abuses by Sunoco.

In spite of two dozen “Notices of Violation” from the DEP, Sunoco goes merrily along doing whatever it feels like as it continues to build the Dragonpipe (Mariner East 2 pipeline). In a revealing interview, StateImpact recently got a DEP spokesperson, Neil Shader, to say that “additional enforcement is certainly something that we are looking into but I can’t comment as to what that might look like.”

Great.

We’re eager to see some actual action. In the meantime, Sunoco’s drilling and trenching continues, tearing up the landscape and damaging wells, streams, wetlands, and aquifers. The DEP has shown great reluctance to actually discipline Sunoco. The best thing to be said about the performance of the DEP is that the Public Utility Commission has been worse.

There are two big problems with the DEP’s behavior.

  1. Permit enforcement. Permits from the DEP are an important constraint on Sunoco’s behavior. The DEP should, at the very least, suspend all of Sunoco’s pipeline permits until Sunoco fixes the ones that have been identified as clearly deficient, and presents a credible guarantee for its future adherence to all of them.
  2. Agreement enforcement. The August 9 agreement (and its corrected version dated August 10) between Sunoco and three plaintiffs (the Clean Air Council, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and the Mountain Watershed Association) involves the DEP as the agency to which Sunoco must submit reports and from which Sunoco must receive permission to continue drilling in many cases. But the DEP, although it knows Sunoco has violated the agreement repeatedly, has been unwilling to act—or even to state publicly that the agreement has been violated.

A public statement of violation by the DEP would be very bad publicity for Sunoco, and would help the court cases of Sunoco’s opponents. But if that statement is not followed up by actual enforcement, it would also be very bad publicity for the DEP. It would be an acknowledgement that the DEP is willing to stand idly by while its rules are blatantly violated.

It baffles me that the DEP won’t stand up for the environment and its own rules. In the StateImpact interview mentioned above, this unwillingness to address violations of the agreement is referred to obliquely:

“We can’t show up at Sunoco’s door and say, ‘You violated the August 10th settlement,’” Shader said.  “We just don’t have any sort of authority or enforcement mechanism to go after them for violating the agreement itself.

“I think it would be fair to say that they violated permit conditions altered by that August 10th settlement. To say that it violated the settlement takes it into this weird, legally nebulous area that I know our lawyers always push back on,” he said.

Get a backbone, DEP. Get new lawyers if you need to. That agreement was arrived at by your own Environmental Hearing Board. Why bother, if you are unwilling to see that it is enforced?

Sunoco is turning your oversight into a joke, and ruining the very environment that it is your whole mission to protect. You are watching them do it and yet you do nothing. What will it take to get some action from you?