At the April meeting of the Federation of Northern Chester County Communities, Ron Bailey, Executive Director of the Chester County Planning Commission, presented an update on the Chester County Pipeline Information Center. Below is a summary of the presentation.
Chester County has the highest number of pipelines of any county in Pennsylvania. Our location where lines converge for transmission to New York, Philadelphia and northern New Jersey markets has always made us a target for expansion. Now with the Marcellus Shale Project producing product, more pipelines will be needed to feed into the distribution network. Additionally, the increased production of natural gas from fracking changes the international picture. The U.S. is switching from being an importer to an exporter. The Marcus Hook Refinery, for instance, is being converted from petroleum to gas and exporting it. The picture is the same in portions of Virginia on the Chesapeake Bay. Gas will go from there through the Panama Canal. If we can supply eastern Europe it will lessen their dependence on Russia. This may lead to additional export centers on the Delaware River, which is being dredged to accommodate supertankers. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission controls the location of interstate pipelines. This is considered a transportation function under the Department of Transportation. The National Environmental Protection Act safeguards us to some degree. The PUC regulates intrastate safety, but there is no agency to regulate location. Federal actions do not apply. There is no responsibility for overall safety.
In response to these developments, Chester County has established a Pipeline Information Center. Counties have no regulatory authority. The function of the Center is to provide information to residents of Chester County, to help municipalities with regulatory agency access and provide information to the pipeline companies who are unfamiliar with the needs of our locale. Municipalities will need information on legal developments, model ordinances, and challenges to Act 13 establishing pre-emption of municipal authorities which invoke the 1968 Environmental Rights Amendment. This is a part of the Pennsylvania Constitution and a strong mandate which has not been used until the Act 13 court challenge in which municipal rights were asserted. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court applied the Equal Rights Amendment to protect a quality environment, ruling that municipalities have both a right and duty to protect the environment for their residents.
Action on Act 13 and the court decision is crucial. It gives municipalities potentially powerful authority, but we can only deal with the impacts to citizens as a result of pipeline development by using local ordinances to attempt to relocate pipelines or mitigate impact.
The Pipeline Information Center can be accessed via www.chescopagreen.org.
25% of Chester County is preserved. Hopewell Big Woods is an especially unique area, but companies can force eminent domain. There are going to have to be ongoing negotiations with pipeline companies. It is hoped that Chester County can create a position to be a point of contact person for the pipeline companies. The Department of Transportation has authority where pipelines cross water or wetlands. The Mariner East project of Sunoco will carry material east across Pennsylvania. This will require additional pumping stations from western Pennsylvania to Marcus Hook. They have filed an action with the PUC. A Certificate of Convenience from the PUC would exempt Sunoco from local ordinances. This is in direct conflict with Act 13 regulations and pre-empts municipal authority. It will be crucial for municipal officials to be aware of ongoing developments.