In his final attempt to torpedo Pennsylvania’s Mariner East II Pipeline, now-former Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan filed criminal charges last month against security contractors hired to secure pipeline construction sites. Sadly, the accusations are merely another publicity stunt in the DA’s crusade to upend the permitted project rather than an honest effort to serve the public. Pennsylvanians deserve better than this kind of gamesmanship that puts political agendas ahead of residents’ welfare.
The charges accuse several security personnel employed by Mariner East of paying state constables to provide security for the pipeline during construction. The constables’ authority, Mr. Hogan alleges, was used as a “weapon” to “intimidate citizens.” But the facts of the situation tell a different story—one that when coupled with the DA’s record of claims against the Mariner East point a finger back at Mr. Hogan for politicizing his public office.
It’s not uncommon for businesses of all industries to employ private security. That’s especially true for energy developers and operators, who regularly hire personnel to not only protect their investments, but also to ensure individuals are not inadvertently injured by equipment or ongoing construction around infrastructure sites.
Long before the Mariner East developers contracted the security personnel now under scrutiny, they consulted local law enforcement about the possibility of using state constables. Those authorities raised no concerns. And it’s hard to imagine why they would.
Pipelines have become targets for environmental extremists, and reports of sabotage and other criminal activities against energy infrastructure have grown in recent years. In fact, one disgruntled Central Pennsylvania landowner even lured bears to pipeline work sites, set fires near equipment, and harassed workers in an unlawful attempt to halt the pipeline. Another group admitted to sabotaging equipment in Southeast Pennsylvania. It’s a sad reality that pipeline operators often need extra security to prevent senseless attacks, and based on past criminal activity, it’s necessary for the Mariner East builders to take additional precautions.
It’s also important to understand the function of Pennsylvania’s constables. Like a sheriff, a constable is an elected or appointed position in the executive branch of government. Primarily, they serve at the direction of the courts to issue summons and warrants and the like, but they are fully empowered to enforce both criminal and civil laws.
Unlike most law enforcement officials, constables do not receive a set salary. They are compensated by assignment at rates established by state law. As public peace officers, constables are employed by a third party—never directly, as a security guard would be. In that way, Mariner East’s situation is not unusual: The developer hired a private contractor to secure the construction sites. The contractor then enlisted the support of state constables.
John-Walter Weiser and Philip Intrieri, the president and the solicitor of the Commonwealth Constable Association, respectively, recently called out the absurdity of the Chester County DA’s claims. “It is frankly offensive to accuse a constable of ‘selling his badge,’ when he is only operating under a fee-driven system he did not create, and which is intended to save our tax dollars,” Weiser and Intrieri wrote last month. “Filing felony charges of law when that law is unclear is a grievous abuse of power.”
It’s impossible to reconcile the precautions taken to add extra security around the Mariner East Pipeline with the charges now being leveled. Instead, the evidence points to a pattern of abuse of public office to wage an ideological campaign against midstream energy infrastructure. Mr. Hogan has criticized Mariner East of environmental crimes and has promised that other charges are “coming down the line.” In his statement announcing the most recent allegations, Mr. Hogan goes so far as to accuse Governor Wolf of being “asleep at the wheel.” All this was said and done as Mr. Hogan was leaving office.
The DA’s attacks against the Mariner East Pipeline seem to peel back the true motives behind these latest charges—which are to derail energy infrastructure deployment in Pennsylvania. But these accusations are too serious for residents to accept as politics as usual. As Hogan’s successor Deborah Ryan takes office, it is critical that Pennsylvanians are afforded an open debate about the Commonwealth’s energy security—not policy by litigation that, apparently, will readily sacrifice those who find themselves on the wrong side of the agenda of those in power.