State, Balto. Co. appeal LNG decision

The Baltimore Sun

State and Baltimore County officials have asked federal energy regulators to rescind approval of a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal at Sparrows Point in eastern Baltimore County and an 88-mile pipeline to Pennsylvania.

Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler called the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decision "hasty" and criticized the commission for issuing its approval order before the completion of critical environmental reviews.

"By all appearances, the order was issued as quickly as possible after the issuance of the final environmental impact statement in an effort to approve the project before the change in presidential administrations," Gansler wrote to the FERC yesterday.

The state also contends that the commission used outdated information about the project's benefits.

"We are saying that the decision was based on incomplete data, where there was the promise of full and accurate data," Austin Schlick, chief of litigation for the attorney general's office, said yesterday. "The commission also misapplied data and misread and understated environmental impacts of this project."

Ellen Kobler, a spokeswoman for Baltimore County, which filed its appeal Thursday, said, "We have said all along that the FERC process was flawed. We are in this fight until the end. It is a marathon, not a sprint."

The state and county are the only entities to file before the Tuesday deadline for such requests, officials said. But at least two other groups - the community-based LNG Opposition and the Brandywine Conservancy in Pennsylvania - said they would appeal. The commission will have 30 days to respond.

The FERC voted 4 to 1 to approve the request from Virginia-based AES Corp. Jon Wellinghoff, the commissioner who dissented, said AES failed to demonstrate the need for the project and did not adequately address adverse environmental impacts.

Wellinghoff has since been named chairman of the commission. "That appointment gives us hope that the new commission will take a fairer look at the proposal," Schlick said.

The decision, which rejected nearly three years of opposition from area officials and residents, was delivered with 169 conditions to address environmental and safety concerns raised by federal and state agencies. The state's appeal said those conditions should have been met before the approval was granted.

AES plans to construct the terminal on the site of the former Sparrows Point shipyard, and build a pipeline from there to Chester County, Pa.

Organized labor groups, which anticipate the project will bring as many as 400 jobs to the area, have been unwavering in their support.

Rod Easter, president of the Maryland State and Washington, D.C., Building Trades Council, said he was disappointed, but not surprised, at the opposition.

The attorney general's request slows down the process at a time "when economic development is what we're looking for," Easter said "It's going to put people that much further away from getting jobs."

Federal lawmakers, however, welcomed the appeals. "I am deeply disappointed that FERC rushed to judgment on a project that our state is adamantly opposed to and has subsequently raised red flags from other federal agencies," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger said, "Anything we can do to stop this project, I am for. ... AES has not done what it should to protect the health, safety and welfare of Maryland citizens."

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