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Agreement Will Lead to Restoration of Marsh Creek Lake

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced Thursday it has approved Sunoco Pipeline LP’s (Sunoco) request for a major permit amendment for restoration activities after a spill of drilling fluid near Marsh Creek State Park in Chester County.

The restoration activities are required under the terms of a Consent Order and Agreement (COA) entered into between DEP, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and Sunoco on December 6, 2021, after Sunoco spilled approximately 8,000 gallons of drilling fluid that impacted a wetland, two tributaries, and Marsh Creek Lake in August 2020.

The accident happened during construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline, which is now complete.

As outlined in the COA, Sunoco is required to dredge portions of the lake to remove drilling mud and sediment present as a result of the spill.

That amendment was requested to support the dewatering of sediment dredged from Marsh Creek Lake. Sunoco requested a 4.06-acre increase to the limit of disturbance to conduct those activities. Upon completion of the project, all areas will be restored.

The DEP additionally issued Sunoco a Temporary Discharge Authorization associated with the dredging and dewatering activities which will allow Sunoco to return water to the lake after it has been processed.

“While steps were taken to protect natural resources immediately after the spill occurred, DEP, in coordination with a number of federal and state agencies, pursued a binding agreement to ensure a thorough and complete cleanup of the lake,” said DEP Southeast Regional Director Pat Patterson. “The level of oversight, involvement, outreach, and coordination has been unprecedented, but has been necessary in order to restore this area.”

In accordance with their Impact Assessment and Restoration Plan for Ranger Cove, Sunoco and its third-party contractors commenced this week with turtle trapping to relocate Northern Red Belly Cooters, a state-listed threatened species of turtle, from the identified work areas. Turtle traps will be baited and deployed for a period of 20 days and will be monitored once per day; captured turtles will be released into another part of the reservoir before the dredging commences.

Additionally, a turbidity curtain will be installed to prevent turtles from entering the project area. Sunoco received the necessary clearances from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before beginning the activities.

The Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance had testified at a hearing on the matter. “Pipeline construction can be disruptive. But once that construction finishes and restoration occurs, hardly anyone even knows that a pipeline exists beneath their feet, except for a few above-ground markers,” said Kurt Knaus, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance. “Work on Mariner East has finished. With this permit, the restoration work can finish quickly, too. From both an environmental and economic standpoint, Pennsylvania is finally starting to realize the full benefits of this important energy infrastructure project.”

Rep. Danielle Friel-Otten (D-Exton), who represents the Marsh Creek area and has been very vocal in her opposition to the pipeline, did not respond to a request for comment.

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PA DEP Eyes Higher Standards for Forever Chemicals in Water

With the opening of a public comment period on Feb. 26, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) took a step closer to establishing thresholds for per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water–chemicals linked to multiple health problems.

If enacted, those standards would be tighter than those in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2016 health advisory and bear relevance to the struggles of residents in Montgomery and Bucks Counties, where PFAS chemicals infiltrated groundwater supplies due to decades-long military base operations.

The proposed DEP rule would set maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for two classes of PFAS chemicals, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which have the most numerous associations with damaging health conditions, including kidney cancer, developmental disorders, and high cholesterol.

PFAS chemicals in firefighting foam used at the Naval Air Warfare Center in Warminster and Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Willow Grove (both now closed) are considered the principal source of PFAS contamination in these communities.

Hope Grosse, a co-founder of the Buxmont Coalition for Safer Water, has lived most of her life near the bases. She drank the local water and as a child used to enjoy watching the thrice-weekly military firefighting drills, during which plumes of chemical-laden smoke drifted across into her neighborhood.

She blames the numerous health problems in her family, neighbors, and lifetime acquaintances on the prevalence of PFAS compounds in water supplies in Bucks and Montgomery Counties.

“I have had a lifetime exposure to PFAS and a lot of other chemicals, and the combination of these is frightening. I had stage IV melanoma cancer, my father died of a brain tumor, and all of our animals died (prematurely). Our federal government should be handling this as an emergency,” she said.

To better understand the health effects of PFAS exposure for base area residents and personnel in Bucks and Montgomery Counties, a team of investigators is leading the Pennsylvania PFAS Multi-site Health Study, which, among other things, will evaluate the connection between disease prevalence and blood serum PFAS levels in study participants.

Enrollment began in late 2021 but is lagging for children and families who have been difficult to recruit, according to study investigator Linda Morris Brown, MPH, DrPH, an epidemiologist. Participation involves one-time blood and urine sample collection and answering a set of health questions. Individual results will be provided to participants. Brown encourages peoples who lived or worked in the area between 2005 and 2017 to sign up. The phone number is (877) 267-2890.

“There have been very few studies in communities that had distinctive exposure sources, where they have somewhat elevated exposures relative to background levels that are more typical; this is one of the sites around the country that was selected for doing this research. What it will do is address directly the question of health effects from the levels of exposure” Brown said.

The DEP draft rule would set an MCL of 14 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and an MCL of 18 ppt for PFOS. The EPA’s drinking water guideline, which is nonbinding, established a health advisory level of 70 ppt combined for PFOS and PFOA. The DEP’s proposed standards are very similar to ones established by the New Jersey DEP in June 2020. The Garden State has seen extensive PFAS contamination from military base activities and chemical plant production.

PFAS chemicals are carbon-chain compounds that are useful for their indestructible and non-slip qualities. They repel water and grease and resist heat degradation. Therefore, those substances are used in many industrial and consumer product applications and are present in a multitude of products, including clothing, carpeting, cooking pots and food liners. There are more than 4,700 PFAS compounds in existence.

“PFAS describes not just one chemical, but a whole array of different chemicals that have certain similar chemical structures and properties,” said David Savitz, Ph.D., an investigator with the Multi-site Health Study and a Brown University professor of epidemiology.

Rep. Todd Stephens (R-Montgomeryville), a resident of the Willow Grove area, described the groundwater contamination as being “largely under control,” due to water filtration and other mitigation measures carried out partly with grant money he sought from the Military Installation Remediation and Infrastructure Authority (MIRIA).

“These chemicals, once they’re in the ground, they don’t stay put. They travel in the aquifer. It’s not isolated to just one community. There’s a lot of remediation that’s been underway in the surrounding communities as well,” he said.

The EPA has faced criticism for its failure so far to take a tougher stand on PFAS chemicals. In 2021, the agency moved toward establishing a national drinking water standard for PFAS and improve monitoring, testing, and data collection for the compounds.

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McGILLIS: California Has It Wrong on EV Mandate; Pennsylvania Shouldn’t Follow Suit

Notorious for its crime and its outrageous cost of living, California seems an odd choice for Pennsylvania to mimic. And yet, with the adoption of California’s onerous electric vehicle rules, the commonwealth would be doing just that.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has submitted a proposal for wholesale adoption of the California Air Resources Board’s electric vehicle (EV) program. The California rules import would impose new requirements on automakers and dealerships to stock lots with EVs.

In essence, the combined California-Pennsylvania mandate would command automakers to deliver increasing numbers of EVs for sale in Pennsylvania each year. Should they fail to meet the quotas, automakers will be required to buy credits from others that have banked them, like EV-only Tesla. There’s little doubt that adopting the California program would result in more EV proliferation. In the most recent data year, more than 7 percent of the new cars sold in California were EVs, leading the nation as a percentage of sales and pushing the cumulative number of EVs on the state’s roads to nearly half a million. But does the value-add of the program exceed the additional costs to the auto industry that eventually filter down to all of us? The evidence says no.

One commonly peddled myth about California’s EV program is that it increases consumer choice. The truth is there’s no barrier to EV purchases as it is and EV sales are already growing. In the last three years, the number of EV registrations in Pennsylvania has tripled.

While for some families, especially those with smaller budgets or more kids, EVs make little sense; for others, EVs are a smart choice, particularly if they have the luxury of another longer-ranger vehicle for road trips. In the open market, EVs have already earned a significant share of sales and are here to stay. They don’t need more help.

The great irony is the world’s leading electric vehicle mogul, Elon Musk, agrees. According to Musk, the government should “get out of the way and not impede progress,” serving more as a “referee” and less as a “player on the field.”

Of course, Pennsylvania’s adoption of California’s rules would be just one small part of a larger government push for EVs. Other parts of this agenda include the existing $7,500 tax credit for the wealthy car buyers who choose to go electric and the proposed $7.5 billion of spending on subsidized EV charging stations.

“Rules and regulations are immortal,” Musk said at The Wall Street Journal’s December CEO Council event. “They don’t die. The vast majority of rules and regulations live forever … there’s not really an effective garbage collection system for removing rules and regulations, so this hardens the arteries of civilization where you are able to do less and less over time.”

Convoluted programs like California’s EV rules are prime exhibits of this odious phenomenon, clogging our economy with red tape that only drives up costs.

No state shows the harms of government tangles like California. Ranking 48th in the Cato Institute’s state economic freedom list, California also has the highest poverty rate in the country and is among the states with the highest levels of income inequality.

EV subsidies and requirements do nothing to resolve these issues, and likely make them worse. With its requirements on automakers and dealers and its extensive state subsidies for buyers, California policy is shifting the cost of expensive EVs onto the general public, despite the fact that EV buyers are far richer than average.

While just over 30 percent of U.S. households have an annual income in excess of $100,000, more than 55 percent of new EV buyers do. Even looking at the used car market, the EV purchases skew severely towards the rich. In California for example, the average income of a used EV buyer is 66 percent higher than the average income of someone buying a conventional used car.

Adding insult to injury, EV evangelists like Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tout the savings a household will benefit from in the absence of weekly tank fill-ups, seemingly forgetting that the average household cannot afford the delta in upfront purchase costs between expensive EVs and more affordable, comparable, conventional cars. Compounding this injustice, California taxes gasoline purchases at the highest clip in the nation while giving wealthy EV drivers a free pass to use the same infrastructure shared by everyone.

EV policies are a microcosm of California’s two-tiered society. It’s not a model Pennsylvania should follow.

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