WASHINGTON – Despite a small victory earlier this month, opponents of a liquefied natural gas facility in Sparrows Point are gearing up to fight changes to the Endangered Species Act that could ease the way for the plant.
Protests prompted the Interior Department on Sept. 11 to grant another month for public comments on the ESA changes.
The Department of the Interior announced the ESA changes, which would reduce scientists’ environmental reviews of proposed infrastructure projects, in August.
Those lesser review standards, which would skip environmental reviews for projects the federal government deems non harmful, some opponents said, would only hasten the LNG plant’s arrival.
“This will severely decrease the public’s right to intervene and it can directly impact our oppositional fight in this LNG issue,” said Sparrows Point resident Russell Donnelly, an environmental specialist with the Dundalk community group LNG Opposition Team.
“What we’re seeing here going on is a systematic removal of environmental laws,” Donnelly said. “It’s all about money and (silencing) the pesky public.”
Donnelly said he and other activists would continue urging residents to write protest letters to the Interior Department.
In April, the Federal Regulatory Commission said it found “limited adverse environmental impact” in the plans of Virginia-based power company AES Corp. to build the LNG terminal and an associated 88-mile gas pipeline at Sparrows Point. If the commission’s final findings later this year are the same, AES Corp. will face fewer hurdles in building the plant.
AES did not respond to requests for comment. The company Web site emphasizes the safety of the liquified natural gas, which is not flammable in that form, and its low likelihood of fire even when the product is reconverted to gas.
An Interior spokesman said the point of the ESA revisions is simply to reduce bureaucracy.
“It’s to remove a lot of the backlog and red tape . . . and to clarify existing definitions,” spokesman Chris Paolino said. “So a butterfly flapping its wings in the rainforest can’t be said to harm a species in the northwest, for example.”
Maryland lawmakers, including Gov. Martin O’Malley, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Timonium, have long opposed the LNG plant, citing resident quality-of-life and safety concerns, including dredging portions of the Chesapeake Bay to allow passage of 900-foot-long gas tankers.
Members of the Greater Dundalk Alliance, which opposes the LNG plant in Sparrows Point, said they are calling for a series of public hearings in an effort to prevent the facility’s construction.
“We’ve been working on this for almost two years,” said Carolyn Jones, president of the organization. “And we’re going to continue to fight the situation.”