Amid protest of Potomac River gas pipeline, Maryland seeks delay of federal review

The same day protesters circled the governor's mansion in opposition to a gas pipeline proposed to run beneath the Potomac River, Maryland officials asked the Army Corps of Engineers not to give the project a permit until a state review is completed.

Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles told the Corps in a letter that the state “has identified potential water quality and public interest factors” that could warrant special conditions being placed on the TransCanada Corp. project.

“The state is completing a robust review of the pipeline application and over the coming weeks we will be developing provisions, conditions and safeguards,” Grumbles told The Baltimore Sun. “MDE is absolutely committed to ensuring any pipeline is subject to stringent environmental standards and requirements.”

The request came as environmental groups ramped up protests calling on Gov. Larry Hogan to order a more thorough review of the project’s potential impact on Potomac waters, the Chesapeake Bay and the region’s air. Hogan has so far waived the state’s right to conduct such an official study, but Grumbles said state officials are nonetheless looking closely at the project and plan to wrap up their review “in the coming weeks.”

The letter did not encourage Brent Walls, the Upper Potomac Riverkeeper. He said he sees it as a sign that Hogan will eventually allow the project to move forward. But he nonetheless welcomed it.

“It gives us an opportunity to say, ‘You need to do more of a review,’” Walls said.

Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, suggested that protests prompted the delay.

“Only at the last moment has the Governor apparently realized that this pipeline could be a big threat to the public, despite being told explicitly about the hazards for over a year,” he said in a statement. “Apparently it took activists encircling his house to get the Governor to finally realize the science here.”

The 3.4 mile, 8-inch-wide natural gas pipeline would stretch from Pennsylvania to West Virginia, and join a pipeline of Mountaineer Gas Co. It would cross Maryland near Hancock, in Washington County.

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