Federal officials have determined that a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal at Sparrows Point in eastern Baltimore County would have "mostly limited adverse environmental impact" if constructed and operated with certain measures in place, according to a report released yesterday.
The final environmental impact statement, by the staff of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, comes months after a preliminary report, which recommended conditional approval for the project proposed by the Virginia-based AES Corp.
The company wants to use the facility to receive tankers carrying imported, super-chilled, liquefied natural gas, which would be restored to its gaseous state, then pumped through an 88-mile pipeline to southern Pennsylvania for distribution.
The latest report concludes that the plan - modified by federal staff recommendations and route variations, among other things - "is the preferred alternative that can meet the project objectives."
County and other elected officials, as well as community leaders, have protested the project, expressing concerns about security surrounding LNG transport. They also have questioned the proximity of the proposed facility and pipeline to homes and the potential for accidents or terrorist attacks.
The five members of the commission will use the impact statement and other documentation to make their decision on approval of the terminal, said Barbara Connors, a public affairs specialist with FERC. It is not known when the vote will take place, she said.
"Today, federal regulators have acknowledged that AES stands ready and able to meet the highest environmental standards," Kent Morton, the company's Sparrows Point spokesman, said in a written statement. "We are committed to providing the resources necessary to operate the Sparrows Point terminal as a clean, safe facility."
The final environmental impact statement comes almost two months after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider an appeal filed by Baltimore County to block the terminal proposed at the former Bethlehem Steel shipyard. The county was challenging a federal appeals court ruling that it had interfered with the Natural Gas Act by changing zoning regulations to ban such terminals in coastal areas.
The commission staff's earlier report said the facility could be "environmentally acceptable" with some additional work, such as addressing how to handle sediment dredged from the Patapsco River to accommodate large tankers carrying the liquid gas. The final statement recommends incorporating pipeline route variations to address concerns of congested residential communities and avoid a historic district and other areas.
Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. and his team were reviewing the implications of yesterday's announcement, spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said.
Reps. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Elijah E. Cummings denounced the report in written statements. "This is a tough setback, but I will not give up the fight," said Ruppersberger, whose district includes the proposed site. "The environmental impact statement ignores the safety of nearby residents who would live in the shadow of the facility."
Ann Paszkiewicz, whose 12-acre property in Harford County is in the pipeline's path, said she was disappointed. "It is a mistake for the whole state of Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay," said Paszkiewicz, who planned to build a home on her land.
Several labor unions have spoken in favor of the project, pointing to the jobs it would create.
"Careful study has been given to the project, the region, the community, safety and the environment," said Rod Easter, president of the Maryland State and Washington D.C. Building Trades Council. He said the project could produce 400 jobs.