An investigation by The Guardian provides new details about the way Sunoco was able to get the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to issue construction permits.
It was clear from the start that there was something fishy about the way the DEP issued Sunoco’s pipeline permits in January 2017, in spite of the fact that numerous deficiencies in the permit applications had been pointed out. Last year, text messages implicating the Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Yesenia Bane, surfaced. They showed that Bane had pressured the DEP to issue the permits, apparently at Sunoco’s request. Based on those messages, a Chester County resident filed an ethics complaint against Bane. It has not yet been resolved.
Now, the Guardian story has provided additional detail about what went on. The DEP had prepared “deficiency letters” to be sent to Sunoco, requiring additional information for the permits, but DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell cut the process short and kept the letters from being sent. Instead, the permits were issued. McDonnell was talking regularly with Sunoco CEO Mike Hennigan at the time. According to the Guardian reporting, McDonell told Bane, “If I need to talk to Mike five times a day, that’s what we will do.” In a legal deposition, a DEP senior official confirmed that McDonnell had ordered the permits to be speeded up.
We still don’t know what led the Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff to intervene in the DEP process. Was the Governor aware of the situation? If so, to what extent did he approve of the bypassing of the DEP permitting process? We don’t know yet, but we’re getting closer to answering those questions.