Senate Panel Endorses Rafferty’s Property Owner’s Bill of Rights

HARRISBURG – The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation today that would help landowners better understand their rights when facing eminent domain claims, according to the bill’s sponsor, Senator John Rafferty (R-44).

The legislation would help clarify the rights of landowners like those impacted by the Sunoco Mariner East pipeline construction. Many landowners in southeastern Pennsylvania have cited an inadequate response by the company regarding reports of sinkholes, private water well pollution and waterway contamination.

Senate Bill 1199 would establish a Pennsylvania Property Owner’s Bill of Rights that details the rights of a property owner whose property may be acquired by a governmental or private entity through eminent domain authority.

“Pipeline construction can lead to a number of economic benefits, but a number of extremely troubling problems have been reported with the installation of this particular pipeline,” Rafferty said. “In too many cases, the company has demonstrated a total disregard for the rights of homeowners. It is critical for lawmakers to do our part to ensure these landowners can use every option at their disposal to have these problems addressed.”

Eminent domain laws allow a government or private entity to go through a legal process to acquire private property for public use. The process can be extremely overwhelming and frustrating for landowners, Rafferty said.

“Property rights are protected by both the United States and Pennsylvania constitutions.  However, when the Public Utilities Commission (“PUC”) granted Sunoco, a private corporation, the right of eminent domain for the building of their Mariner pipelines these rights were ignored.  The citizens of Pennsylvania need and deserve to have a Pennsylvania Property Owner’s Bill of Rights,” said Senator Andy Dinniman, a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 1199.

“Many landowners do not have the financial resources to consult an attorney when facing an eminent domain claim,” Rafferty said. “At the very least, any Pennsylvania landowner facing eminent domain should be provided with an adequate explanation of the process so they can understand all options that may be available going forward.”

Under Rafferty’s bill, the Pennsylvania Property Owner’s Bill of Rights would be prepared by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office and made available publically online. A copy would also be presented to each affected landowner before any entity acquires the property.

Rafferty also sponsored Senate Resolution 373, which was approved by the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee last week. The measure would create a bipartisan, bicameral legislative commission that would be charged with recommending improvements and developing legislation to enhance the safety, oversight and interagency coordination in the transport of oil, natural gas and other hazardous liquids through pipelines in the Commonwealth.

 

CONTACT: Sean Moll 717-787-1398

Senate Panel Approves Rafferty Bill To Examine, Improve Pipeline Construction and Operations in PA

The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee today approved SR 373 sponsored by Senator John C. Rafferty, Jr. (R-44) and Senator Andy Dinniman (D-19) that would establish a bipartisan, bicameral legislative commission that would be charged with recommending improvements and developing legislation to enhance the safety, oversight and interagency coordination in the transport of oil, natural gas and other hazardous liquids through pipelines in the Commonwealth.

“Natural gas extraction has increased dramatically over the last decade, resulting in the construction of new pipeline infrastructure to transport hazardous liquids, gases and other byproducts in large quantities through densely-populated areas of Pennsylvania,” Rafferty said.  “As a result, many landowners and communities have experienced the negative aspects associated with poorly-managed pipeline construction, including sinkholes and spoiled wells.”

He added that the high-pressure pipelines also present a major safety hazard since they are in close proximity to homes, schools and population centers.  Rafferty specifically pointed to continued problems with the Sunoco Mariner East Pipeline Project, which forced the state to repeatedly suspend construction due to safety concerns.

“These recurring incidents demonstrate a clear need for exploring legislative measures that will improve management, increase safety and advance oversight of pipeline construction and operations,” Rafferty said.  “Knowing that more of these major pipelines may be built, and the issues we have with the Sunoco Pipeline, it is crucial that we form a value-adding commission to ensure the residents of this Commonwealth have a right to safe communities and benefit from regulations and laws that enhance their safety and protect the environment.”

Senator Rafferty commended the Chairman for his efforts to bring this important piece of legislation up for a vote and thanked his colleagues, including Senator Andy Dinniman, who provided an affirmative vote.

“While the Sunoco Mariner East Pipeline Project has brought the issue of pipeline regulation, or lack thereof, in Pennsylvania to the forefront, it’s only the tip of the iceberg as more and more pipeline projects are either on the horizon or already underway,” Dinniman said. “I appreciate Senator Rafferty’s cooperation and support on a number of pipeline safety bills currently advancing in the legislature. The commission offers an opportunity to build on that progress and for lawmakers to work together in the spirit of bipartisanship to ensure that the pipeline safety concerns of residents throughout our region are heard and addressed.”

Senate Resolution 373 now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Rafferty Calls for Stronger Laws, More State Oversight to Ensure Pipeline Safety

At a joint hearing today on pipeline safety in Pennsylvania by the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee and the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, Senator John C. Rafferty, Jr. (R-44) raised major concerns regarding the mismanagement and misconduct by Sunoco Pipeline’s executives, stressing that stronger laws and more state oversight are needed for the safety and well-being of people and their private property. 

Rafferty urged members of the committees to move quickly on a bipartisan package of bills he introduced that would centralize pipeline safety inspection within the Commonwealth, establish notification requirements to residents, mandate pre-construction hydrological studies and implement other safeguards to improve pipeline management. 

“The sheer volume of permit and environmental violations along this 306-mile stretch of pipeline has led to numerous lawsuits, spoiled wells, sinkholes and polluted waterways,” Rafferty said.  “Sunoco Pipeline’s seemingly wanton disregard for the safety of our constituents living in these communities demonstrates their inability to appropriately manage the laws, regulations, permits and logistics associated with their pipeline projects.”

Rafferty noted that other pipeline operators have received little or no landowner complaints and environmental violations.  He also pointed to a lack of transparency and communication by Sunoco Pipeline’s executives that has jeopardized the security of families, schools and property.  Other testifiers, including Rebecca Britton of the Uwchlan Safety Coalition, shared similar concerns and stressed the importance for swift legislative action.

“If this Administration, the Commonwealth agencies and the Sunoco Pipeline continue to undermine safety, additional corrective legislation will be launched for the safety and well-being of our communities across the state,” Rafferty concluded.

The above-mentioned bills and other pipeline resources are available at a new website, www.SenatorRafferty.com/pipeline, dedicated to pipeline oversight and management.

CONTACT:  Nolan Ritchie, 717-787-1398