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Environmental groups sue to block Cove Point natural gas export project

Environmental groups sue to block Cove Point natural gas export project
Lawsuit filed by three environmental groups challenges federal approval of a $3.8 billion project to begin exporting liquefied natural gas from Cove Point near Lusby in Calvert County.  Shown here is the little-used LNG import terminal owned by Dominion, an energy company based in Richmond, Va. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Environmental groups filed suit Thursday in a bid to block development of the East Coast's first natural gas export facility - in the Chesapeake Bay off Calvert County.

The lawsuit, filed by Earthjustice on behalf of three Maryland groups, asks the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia to rescind federal approval for the $3.8 billion Cove Point project planned by Dominion, an energy company based in Richmond, Va.

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The groups - Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the Patuxent Riverkeeper and the Maryland Sierra Club - contend that in approving the project last year, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission violated federal law by failing to consider how construction of the facility would pollute the air and water and contribute to global climate change.

"After months of delay, we will finally get our day in court to challenge the fundamentally flawed approval of Dominion's climate- and community-wrecking project," Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said in a statement.

Environmentalists contend that the federal commission has thwarted opponents' legal recourse to challenge the project by taking months to rule on their request for a re-hearing, while allowing construction of the facility to proceed. The commission announced its denial on Monday.

Opponents have argued that the construction of a gas liquefaction plant in Lusby could lead to a catastrophic explosion and fire that could endanger nearby residents.

They also contend that exporting gas would trigger expanded drilling for it in the Marcellus shale region, increasing air, water and climate-disrupting pollution. And they assert that the bay could be fouled by dirty wastewater from an influx of LNG tankers.

The commission concluded last September that with certain precautions it prescribed, the project poses no significant risks to nearby residents' safety and no major environmental impacts.

Dominion issued a statement saying it's confident the federal commission's approval will be upheld.

"The FERC recently denied appeals by these groups to stop the project, which has consistently been upheld in the courts as well as by federal and state regulators, so we expect a similar outcome," said Frank Mack, a company spokesman.

Dominion has said it expects to finish construction and begin exports by 2017. The new facility would support 75 jobs and yield tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue for the county, according to the company.

The U.S. Energy Department also announced Thursday that Dominion is cleared to export liquefied natural gas to countries that do not have a free-trade agreement with the United States.  Dominion has said it already has contracts to ship LNG to Asia.

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