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Secrecy, poor planning leave Mariner East towns in dark


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Sarah Anne Hughes
October 15, 2020
Pipeline safety investigation, poll watchers 101, no charges against Lancaster officer, and looking to cookies. Thursday! It's like Friday's appetizer.

Today, Spotlight PA published part one in a massive, must-read investigative series on the Mariner East pipeline system, one of the most controversial projects in Pennsylvania history. Reporter Rebecca Moss spent a year trying to answer one seemingly basic question: Are we prepared for an accident?

She found many residents, community leaders, and emergency managers are still in the dark about what to do in the rare case something goes wrong. That’s in large part because pipeline operators have wide authority to withhold critical safety information from the public with little oversight by the state, she found.

What's more, her deep and incisive reporting reveals a fractured system of emergency preparedness that relies first and foremost on under-staffed and poorly resourced volunteer fire departments, many of which are trained for emergencies generally and not for the unique challenges of Mariner East.

The Context: While there are other pipeline systems in Pennsylvania that carry natural gas liquids, Mariner East is by far the largest in scale. Stretching through 17 south-central Pennsylvania counties, the roughly 350-mile system pumps natural gas liquids from Ohio, West Virginia, and Southwestern Pennsylvania to a storage and processing facility just outside Philadelphia.

Experts said the likelihood of a fatal accident is low. Residents near the line are more likely to die in a car crash or house fire. But the nature and amount of the chemicals running through these lines, and their proximity to some highly populated areas, pose a unique challenge for the state and those in charge of planning for a worst-case scenario.

The more than $5.1 billion project has been marred by a litany of environmental and other violations, undermining many residents' trust that its being built in the safest and most effective manner. Most recently, in August, the company released 8,000 gallons of drilling fluid into Marsh Creek Lake during construction, and state regulators ordered Sunoco to halt construction and reroute part of the pipeline.

Coming tomorrow, part two of the investigation, looking at how emergency plans fail to consider the pipeline's unique characteristics, and how those most vulnerable would evacuate in case of a leak.


"The dispossession of Native people in Pennsylvania is real and deep, so there isn’t a core group around which to have larger conversations about Native people and their presence today."

–– Julie Reed, an associate professor at Penn State University and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, on the lack of federally recognized tribes in Pa.
POST IT: Thanks, Melissa B., for this snapshot of Sachs Covered Bridge in Gettysburg. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems, or tag us on Instagram at @spotlightpennsylvania.
THE WATCHERS: By now, you've likely heard about "poll watchers" and President Donald Trump's calls for his supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully.” You're also probably pretty confused about what these people can — and can't — do. We've got you covered.

'FALL RESURGENCE': As Pennsylvania begins to consistently report more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases a day, Health Secretary Rachel Levine said there are no plans at this time to institute new business closures or stay-at-home orders, PennLive reports. Still, she cautioned that "it's impossible for me to predict the future."

'NO QUESTION': Lancaster County's district attorney will not bring charges against the city police office who fatally shot Ricardo Muñoz, LNP | LancasterOnline reports. DA Heather Adams said Wednesday there was "no question" the officer was justified.

PUBLIC HEALTH: Attorneys for eight state abortion providers argued in Commonwealth Court in favor of allowing Medicaid dollars to be used for the procedure. At the moment, just 16 states cover abortion through their public health coverage programs, WHYY reports.  

AN INVESTIGATION: The Pennsylvania State Police are investigating a racist attack that targeted the state's Second Lady Gisele Barreto Fetterman. Earlier in the week, Fetterman posted a brief video clip that showed an unidentified woman calling her the "n" word. 

» DON'T MISS THIS: Register now for our upcoming live interview with Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar on ensuring a fair and accurate election in Pennsylvania. You can also submit your questions.

LOST, NOW FOUND: Are you ready for some good news? (Yes, actual good news!) After more than 100 years, divers have identified eight species of freshwater mussels in Western Pennsylvania's Kiski River. After years of coal mining and other industrial pollution, the river's health is improving. 

LOOK TO THE COOKIE: Tired of polls? Why not get your presidential predictions from ... cookies! This Montgomery County bakery has accurately predicted the last three presidential elections based on sales

WHAT, NO ELSA? This Halloween, my plan is to sit on my couch and watch really dumb movies that are supposed to be scary. It seems like other people have more exciting plans that include not wearing sweatpants. According to Google’s Frightgeist, some of the most popular costume searches in the state are bumblebee, mermaid, Sheriff Woody, Tinker Bell, and monster. 

WHAT TO LISTEN TO ... If you want to remember a legend. Pittsburgh-based jazz trombonist Harold Betters died last weekend at the age of 92. If you haven't heard his work, listen to this song to get to know a local legend.

MORE PA DUTCH RECIPES: Faithful newsletter readers will — of course — remember when I recommended making a chocolate kraut cake recipe I found in a 1971 Lancaster County cookbook. Well, now I'm back with another selection: sausage fruit cake. (You heard me!) Tragically, the exact Pennsylvania Dutch recipe isn't online but this one is pretty close.

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out the winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Yesterday's answer: Groceries

Congrats to our other winners: Chris W., Thomas B., John C., Annie P., Brandie K., Irene K., Edward M., Patricia R., Craig W., Lynne E., Dianne K., George S., Irene R., Jenn C., Ron P., Kim C., Karen W., Joel S., Lex M, and Ann and John. 
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