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Federal regulators approve gas pipeline that had been target of protests in Maryland

Opponents protest a proposed natural gas pipeline in Annapolis in February. Federal energy regulators approved the pipeline on Thursday.
Opponents protest a proposed natural gas pipeline in Annapolis in February. Federal energy regulators approved the pipeline on Thursday. (Brian Witte / AP)

Federal energy regulators have approved a natural gas pipeline that Maryland environmentalists had called on Gov. Larry Hogan to block.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission signed off Thursday on a Columbia Gas line planned to pass through a sliver of Western Maryland near Hancock.

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The decision was not unanimous, though — two members said they did not think the commission had sufficiently explored the project’s potential impact on climate change.

The proposed pipeline would extend 3.37 miles from Columbia’s network in Pennsylvania, through Washington County and beneath the Potomac River, to reach the distribution system of Mountaineer Gas in West Virginia.

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Maryland regulators approved the project in March, despite calls from environmentalists for the state to conduct more thorough vetting of the pipeline’s potential ecological impacts. Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles said the state is holding the project to stringent environmental conditions beyond requirements imposed by the Army Corps of Engineers and the federal energy commission.

State officials are “taking a hard look” at a proposal for a natural gas pipeline under the Potomac River in Western Maryland.

The Potomac Riverkeeper Network, among the groups that had protested the project, expressed disappointment in the decision and said opponents are considering legal options.

“FERC continues to ignore its legislative mandate to only approve projects that are in the public interest, clearly favoring the gas industry over local communities,” Upper Potomac Riverkeeper Brent Walls said.

The commission voted 4-1 to approve Columbia’s permit application, but two members dissented in part, citing climate change concerns. One of the two still voted in favor of the project.

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