Governor Tom Wolf said he was surprised when, late Tuesday evening, he began hearing reports that the FBI is conducting a corruption investigation into the permits his administration issued for construction of a major natural gas pipeline.
Wolf, a Democrat, addressed the situation for the first time Wednesday afternoon, saying he is not aware of any wrongdoing.
According to the Associated Press, the FBI has been interviewing current or former Wolf administration employees about the permitting process for the Mariner East 2 project. The multimillion-dollar pipeline began operating last year, and carries natural gas liquids from Marcellus Shale fields in Ohio and western Pennsylvania to an export terminal near Philadelphia.
The AP says the FBI is trying to determine whether Wolf or his administration tried to force the Department of Environmental Protection to approve construction permits, and whether Wolf or his administration received anything in return for doing so.
“I welcome anybody to look at what’s going on in the administration, and if something’s not right then people shall be held to account,” Wolf said of the reported investigation. “Openness and transparency and integrity are absolutely important to me.”
Greg Vitali, a Democratic Representative from Delaware County and vocal pipeline critic, said he doesn’t have firsthand knowledge about the FBI probe, but has heard rumors regarding the permits.
“I was generally aware that people felt DEP came under some pressure to get these permits,” he said.
The Mariner East 2 project has been plagued by sinkholes and drilling mud spills. Regulators halted construction multiple times, and Sunoco has been repeatedly fined.
Wolf said he willingly called for those shutdowns, but added that he supports the pipeline on principle.
“As long as they follow the rules that are in place, I think they should be allowed to proceed with their project,” he said.
Vitali said he is less sure that the rules have all been followed.
“I think questions have been raised with regard to the speed at which that was approved and the process by which it was approved that really justify inquiry,” he said. “I can say that with confidence.”
Counting the reported FBI probe, the Mariner East project is now the subject of three criminal investigations.
Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan started a criminal investigation in December 2018, and later impaneled a grand jury. In March 2019, Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun Copeland asked the state Attorney General’s office to help it with an investigation into the project.
Those investigations are focused on Energy Transfer, the parent company of Mariner East 2 builder, Sunoco.
The company called Hogan’s investigation “meritless” and said that “Energy Transfer has not engaged in any form of criminal activity, and the issues referenced have already each been thoroughly investigated, reviewed, and ultimately resolved by the appropriate government agencies.”