Federal energy regulators reaffirmed Thursday their earlier decision to allow a company to proceed with a proposed liquid natural gas terminal at Sparrows Point in eastern Baltimore County and an 88-mile pipeline through Maryland and Pennsylvania.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission also denied requests from opponents of the project for additional environmental studies, saying the petitioners "raised no new specific issues." The commission initially approved the $400 million project in January, despite vigorous opposition from state, county and federal officials as well as several community groups in both states.
Virginia-based AES plans to construct the terminal on the site of the former Sparrows Point shipyard, and run a pipeline from there to Chester County, Pa.
Large tankers would transport the gas from overseas up the Chesapeake Bay to the terminal.
AES must still fulfill nearly 170 conditions, many of them related to environmental and safety issues, before it can break ground.
"Those conditions have not been met, particularly those related to safety," said U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger. "We will continue to maintain our arguments against this project. I understand the issues of energy, but Sparrows Point is not the right location. We have worked long and hard to revitalize the eastern end of the county and this project could affect the health, safety and welfare of those neighborhoods."
The commission voted 3-1 Thursday, with Chairman Jon Wellinghoff dissenting, to reaffirm its Jan. 15 authorization. Wellinghoff also voted against the project in January, saying AES failed to demonstrate the need for the project and had not adequately addressed adverse impacts on the environment.
Research and developments over the past year have "reinforced my concerns about these issues," Wellinghoff wrote in his dissent Thursday.
He reiterated his opinion that the Sparrows Point project is not needed for the energy requirements of the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic regions.
"I found that the future energy needs of these regions can be better met with alternative resources, such as domestic natural gas infrastructure and renewable and distributed energy resources," he wrote.
Russell Donnelly, spokesman for the LNG Opposition Group, a coalition of Dundalk residents, said the chairman understands the ramifications of the project.
"He knows this country should be exporting natural gas, not importing it," Donnelly said.
While state and county officials said they will review the decision before opting to take further action, the LNG Opposition Group said it was readying an appeal.
"We are appealing to the U.S. District Court and I am sure many others will do so also," said Bart Fisher, a Washington attorney who represents the opponents. "Fundamentally, this is an issue involving states' rights and authority with air and water quality."
Neither the EPA nor the Maryland Department of the Environment has granted AES the permits necessary for the terminal to proceed. AES did not respond to a request for a comment Thursday.
Sean Adamec, a spokesman for the governor, said, "We will review the decision. It is too early to say what we will do next."
Don Mohler, spokesman for Baltimore County, said officials remain firm in their opposition.
"Nothing in this ruling changes our opposition," Mohler said. "Obviously, our next step is to review our options."
AES can proceed with a number of studies required, which will likely take as long as the course of any court action, said Tamara Young-Allen, FERC spokeswoman.