HARRISBURG (May 8, 2019) – State Senator Andy Dinniman today was prevented from getting answers to questions regarding the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) involvement with and oversight of the problem-plagued Mariner East pipeline project.
Dinniman raised a series of questions about the project at the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee’s hearing on the reconfirmation of DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell.
McDonnell refused to answer the questions citing ongoing litigation into the matter, including criminal investigations being conducted by the Chester County District Attorney and the Pennsylvania Attorney General (at the request of the Delaware County District Attorney).
The committee voted to move forward McDonnell’s reconfirmation with Dinniman and state Senator Daylin Leach voting no. The confirmation now goes to the full Senate for a vote.
“I tried to do this fairly through the Senate reconfirmation procedures that are in place. I have a duty to represent my constituents and their very real and very serious concerns about Mariner East,” Dinniman said. “The questions were provided in advance to Secretary McDonnell. He outright refused to answer them today, just as he and the department have failed to adequately address them in the past.”
Last week, Dinniman was joined by Leach, state Senator Katie Muth and state Senator Tom Killion in raising a series of ten questions to McDonnell related to DEP’s management and oversight of the Mariner East pipeline project. They asked to have answered in detail prior to consideration of his reappointment. The questions included concerns regarding DEP’s sharing of pertinent environmental information, management of public and environmental safety issues, response to impacts local water supplies and geological stability, and approval of various permits.
Dinniman pointed out that McDonnell refused to answer any questions whatsoever having to do with Mariner East at today’s hearing. McDonnell even declined to answer when asked by Senator Leach if he would agree that the allegations made in recent news reports were “serious.”
“Everyone has a right to due process, but that’s entirely the point,” Dinniman said. “I don’t know how the committee could vote today considering there are ongoing investigations and many, many serious unanswered questions. There is just so much we don’t know that has direct bearing on these decisions. I would have preferred for us to hold off.”
State Senator Gene Yaw, the committee’s chair, said that the committee has 25 days from the time the governor renominated McDonnell to hold a hearing. They added that if the committee did not act, McDonnell’s nomination would have been automatically approved.
Leach pointed out that the governor had the ability to withdraw the nomination and allow McDonnell to serve as acting secretary until the investigations were satisfactorily concluded.
The committee could have recognized the need for more information and moved the nomination forward without any recommendation, Dinniman said.
“This is just the latest example of how government puts protecting itself ahead of protecting citizens,” Dinniman said. “We’ve seen the same thing happen at the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission where important questions go unanswered, so I’m forced to pursue legal action to get answers, and then they cite ongoing litigation as an excuse for not providing answers.”
“Today was just another Catch 22. Supposedly, the purpose of the hearing was to ask questions, but then I was prevented from getting answers to those questions. So, you have to wonder what’s the purpose of having a hearing? It appears that these important decisions are just going to continue to be pushed through without complete information,” he added.