WASHINGTON – Both of Maryland’s senators, along with others from Connecticut, Washington and Oregon, are fighting to revoke federal authority over locating controversial liquefied natural gas terminals and returning that power to local control.
The senators, including Maryland Democrats Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski, submitted legislation Tuesday to repeal parts of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The act rescinded state siting powers, granting them to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The bill comes during controversy over plans to build a LNG terminal in Sparrows Point, a small, urban, densely populated peninsula in southeast Baltimore County jutting into the Chesapeake Bay.
Locals and Maryland lawmakers have long opposed these plans, citing the negative environmental impacts the location could have on the Port of Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay.
The bill is a big win for frustrated locals.
“That’s fantastic,” Sparrows Point resident and environmental activist Russell Donnelly said. “I’ve already called and complimented our delegation and the other states.”
Donnelly, the team leader and environmental coordinator of the LNG Opposition Team, said that this bill “is more or less a culmination of four years work…the wheels of justice turn slow.”
But others say the bill would actually set state and local governments back.
Bill Cooper, the president of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas, a LNG trade association, said that even though the bill’s intent is to give states more authority, they would actually be losing protections gained with the enactment of the Energy Policy Act.
“To repeal section 311 strips all these protections out of the act,” Cooper said.
Section 311 of the Energy Policy Act “grants FERC exclusive authority to approve or deny, according to specified procedures, an application for the siting, construction, expansion, or operation of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal.”
This section also “directs FERC to require a LNG terminal operator to develop an Emergency Response Plan, include a cost-sharing plan, in consultation with the United States Coast Guard and state and local agencies, prior to FERC approval to begin construction.”
FERC declined to comment on the bill.
If the bill is passed, the state’s Public Service Commission, which regulates public utilities, would take the power out of FERC’s hands.
LNG terminals chill natural gas to extremely cold temperatures to change the vapor to a liquid. According to FERC, this reduces the amount of space the natural gas occupies by 600 times, making transportation and storage more economical.
Donnelly said that while he is not a supporter of LNG, it is “OK as an intermediate step. It is a cleaner step — not much cleaner — but cleaner.”
Sparrows Point LNG plant is being developed by AES Corp., a Virginia-based power company. The project site will be on an abandoned 80 acres of the Sparrows Point Shipyard.
Maryland is already home to one LNG terminal in Calvert County. According to FERC, the Cove Point location was built in the mid 1970s, but deliveries were suspended in the 1980s due to the high price of LNG imports. In August 2003, delivery resumed.
Cardin actively supports the Cove Point location, said his spokeswoman Sue Walitsky, and is not in opposition to LNG or natural gas. He is against the Sparrows Point location is because of the safety and environmental risks the facility poses.
Mikulski supports neither location, said her spokeswoman Rachel MacKnight, because of national and community security reasons.
However, both senators as well as Sparrows Point locals agree that FERC handled the project incorrectly and that decisions like this should be left to those who understand the local communities.
“I found FERC all too eager to rubber stamp the project despite the significant and very real concerns of Baltimore residents and the State of Maryland,” Milulski said in a statement. “It’s time to restore the decision-making to the state and local residents who will be affected by it.”