A Supposed FBI Investigation of Mariner East Decision? Where’s the Beef?

Tom Shepstone
Shepstone Management Company, Inc.

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An FBI investigation of the Wolf Administration regarding their decision to approve the Mariner East 2 pipeline? Says who? And, who’s behind it all?

I’m no fan of the Tom Wolf Administration or the FBI for that matter given its recent corruption at the top, so the news this week that the latter was investigating the former wouldn’t ordinarily upset me. This particular news, though, involves Mariner East, which has been the subject of a bi-partisan smear effort by some Southeast PA pols. Not much happens by coincidence and news of a supposed FBI investigation is little too convenient, making me wonder what in Hades is going on here.

I strongly suspect there is something going on and here’s why:

  1. There is no official confirmation of any FBI investigation. All we have is the anonymous word of “three people who have direct knowledge of the agents’ line of questioning.”  That is the modern parlance for a leak, of course, and leakers always have their own agendas. There are several possibilities as to who they might be. The first inclination, of course, is to suppose they are DEP staff members who have been questioned. That could be.
  2. But, it’s also possible the leakers are the district attorneys from Chester and Delaware Counties plus Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, all of whom have been demagoguing the Mariner East project for Southeast PA votes and all of whom might be initiators and/or cooperators in the investigation. Likewise, it could easily be three individuals from the FBI itself (the FBI has done a whole lot of leaking as we’ve learned the last three years) or U.S. Attorney David Freed’s office. He declined to comment but that doesn’t mean three of his staff didn’t leak. What we do know for sure is that all leakers have motives and we don’t know what they are in this instance. Could the motive simply be to undermine the Mariner East project? You bet. Or, could it be a desire to undermine the Governor or to send a message to DEP? There are numerous possibilities and we simply don’t know.
  3. FBIThere is also strong reason to believe this is not about criminal activity. There was already an investigation by the State Ethics Commission, which closed the case against a senior Wolf Administration aide with no charges. See here and here for more on that. Moreover, there is no pipeline project subjected to more scrutiny than Mariner East. There is virtually nothing that has not be litigated already. Mariner East has also been subject to heavy regulation and oversight by both DEP and the PUC. State Impact Pennsylvania, in fact, tells us Mariner East pipelines have been assessed more than $13 million in civil penalties by DEP. What is possibly left to investigate by the FBI?
  4. Then, there is the question of why the FBI would be involved at all. This is a strictly Pennsylvania matter and Josh Shapiro is already on the case. We know the FBI can investigate when bribes are involved, but are we to believe Tom Wolf took bribes? I can’t stand the guy’s policies or his manner of governance, but even I don’t believe that. Likewise, DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell, with who I am extremely disappointed for kowtowing to Wolf on the DRBC issue is, nonetheless, a thoroughly decent fellow who I simply can’t believe would be involved in taking bribes or the like. And, as frustrating as DEP bureaucrats are, I’ve never known one to act improperly from a criminal perspective. We are not New York and Tom Wolf is not Andrew Cuomo. So, why the FBI?
  5. Senator Andy Dinniman (“Absent Andy” here and a fellow who could play “good old boy” politician in any movie) might seem a likely candidate for pushing an FBI investigation. After all, he recently came out with this statement:“From the very beginning and many times along the way, we have raised serious questions about the permitting process of the Mariner East pipeline project. I hope that this development sheds a bright light on those questions and more.” Andy has been a vicious foe of the Governor on this issue even though they’re both Democrats. Still, he says his poodle has never had a better friend than Governor Wolf, so it’s hard to believe Andy would really go so far as to try to orchestrate an FBI investigation of his dog’s best friend. The dog thing could be a ruse, though.
  6. There is still another possibility, obliquely referenced above. It involves Delaware County DA Katayoun Copeland and Chester County DA Tom Hogan, both Republicans in southeastern Pennsylvania counties where voters are trending Democratic and Republicans are eager to find issues to appeal to members of that party. Republican US Attorney David Freed, who could easily orchestrate a FBI investigation, was Cumberland County DA before being taking his new job and is presumably very friendly with Hogan, his former Republican colleague from their time together as part of the DA association. Freed also ran for Attorney General several years ago. He’s a political animal. Did he do a favor for Hogan and/or Copeland?
  7. There is, too, Mariner East opponent Daylin Leach, a Democrat State Senator from Southeast PA who Governor Wolf asked to resign. He’s certainly a candidate for making a FBI complaint, but, honestly, who would take him seriously?
  8. Finally, there is true-green enviro John Quigley. PennLive points out “some project critics see other red flags, like the ouster of Wolf’s first Environmental Protection Secretary, John Quigley in May 2016, ostensibly after a flap over a strongly-worded memo he wrote exhorting environmental groups to work harder for Wolf’s policies that some Senate Democrats construed as an attack. Quigley was considered by many as a hard-liner on the Mariner East permitting process.” Quigley arguably has a vindictive high-strung nature and maybe he’s involved. Who knows?

Where does all this leave us? It tells us someone is talking. We not only don’t now who they are, but we’re also in the dark as to why they’re talking. We only know this AP story got a lot of traction, being picked up by several journals and there were several people with an interest in seeing it happen.

The story also included the requisite photo of the pipeline under construction, of course. We never see finished pipelines because that wouldn’t fit the template; a story about some big evil company ripping the heart out of a community.

Someone had an interest in producing that story. It fits someone’s agenda with regard to Mariner East and/or Governor Wolf. Other than that, the story tells us nothing. Where’s the beef? Well, it’s not clear there is any.

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