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Follow the Leader: The Extreme Hazards of Delco's Single Party Politics

There is a big elephant in Delaware County. The county tried to do something great by attempting to revitalize the defunct Sunoco refinery in Marcus Hook. They had an independent market study done to examine alternative uses for the industrial complex. The market study came back with options. The intentions were good.

The decision to repurpose Marcus Hook as a storage and export facility for so called Natural Gas Liquids absolutely required debate. It required independent technical input. However, with every decision maker along the route “in alignment”, little due diligence was done to consider something as basic as public safety.

As a result, the project was put on a set of rails without due diligence. No independent hazards assessment, no public safety risk quantification, no emergency planning assessment. These very basic analyses were not done. Why? Good question.

Delaware County is home to many high-tech companies with engineers and scientists. The hazards associated with liquefied gas infrastructure are so off-the-charts that someone with the right background would need about five minutes to assess them as unacceptable. In fact, the Government Accountability Office has been warning not to have artificially liquefied gas infrastructure anywhere near densely populated areas since 1978.

But how severe are the consequences? The county team (including the local governments) will tell you they don’t know. No one has done a hazards assessment at any level of government. One can only speculate that they haven’t done such an assessment because they already signed off on the project and knew they wouldn’t like the answers. Instead, each government entity has chosen to ask Energy Transfer Partners if it’s safe. Guess what the company that stands to make billions has to say about all this: “it’s safe.”

Pipeline industry regulator PHMSA’s guidelines for these materials clearly state a one-half mile evacuation radius. In Delaware County, the number of people (according to 2010 municipal census data) within such an evacuation zone can range from 500 to 3,000 people. This doesn’t include school populations that are within such an evacuation zone (there are more than a few). It is not realistic, or fair to our emergency crews, to assume an evacuation of this magnitude is possible. Not when the heavier-than-air gas cloud can migrate hundreds of feet per minute and ignite so quickly that people may have just a few minutes to evacuate, if any time at all.

So, the question is why? Why did the county choose not to have the hazards assessed? Why has every township along the route chosen not to have the hazards assessed? Why have all levels of government adopted the Sunoco marketing materials and public relations responses as fact without seeking unbiased input from an independent technical advocate?

The answer goes back to the big elephant in the county. The Republicans have owned Delaware County for decades just as the Democrats have owned Philadelphia. Too much of anything is not good. We need public discussion. We need ideas to be challenged. That does not happen when a single party runs the show. That kind of “alignment” disrupts the checks and balances that are supposed to be embedded in the structures of our government. Good debate that takes place between a diverse body of elected officials could have prevented bad ideas like Mariner East from getting started. Or at least led the idea in a different direction that considered the safety implications.

No one knows a locality better than the locals. When the state throws its weight around in a way that threatens people’s safety, it is the responsibility of the local governments to stand up and challenge. They are the voice for their locality. However, when all the townships in Delco have been politically “aligned”, no such challenge is made, or if it is, it is not very sincere.

Our local leaders have claimed impotence. They claim their hands are tied. At every single level. How can that be? Especially given the fact that the pipeline route has not been assessed for public safety AT ANY LEVEL. As a result, we have eminent domain granted by the state (decades ago, for a different project) now misused to construct a recklessly conceived hazard. We clearly have a violation of our constitutional right to public safety. Any other public infrastructure, yes, even utilities with eminent domain, must meet basic public safety requirements. Yet municipalities like Middletown that actually have zoning ordinances for pipeline setbacks have elected not to enforce them. Instead, private citizens are taking Energy Transfer Partners to court to enforce township zoning themselves.

This isn’t about Democrats or Republicans. Really, I could not care less. At the local level, the national party ideals are irrelevant. But you simply cannot have single party rule. When you do, local leaders do not stand up when we need them, even when given every single opportunity to do the right thing. Their hands are tied. Not by the system, but by their own “alignment.”

Single party control: It is not good in Philly. It is not good in Delco. It is not good anywhere. Vote accordingly.

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