In First Step of Legal Battle, Groups Challenge Cove Point LNG Export Project’s Federal Approval
Environmental and community groups took the first step late yesterday in a likely legal battle against a controversial liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility. On behalf of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Sierra Club, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, Patuxent Riverkeeper, and Potomac Riverkeeper the environmental law organization Earthjustice filed a motion for rehearing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), demanding the agency withdraw its approval of an LNG export facility proposed at Cove Point in southern Maryland. The filing positions the groups to sue the agency to challenge FERC’s inadequate environmental review of the project.
Groups also filed a motion for a stay, urging FERC to halt further construction on the $3.8 billion project. The agency approved the project on September 29 over the objections of opponents who argued the massive facility, proposed by Dominion Resources, will spur air and water pollution from fracking across the mid-Atlantic region and, according to federal data, could contribute more to global warming over the next two decades than if the Asian countries importing the facility’s LNG exports burned regionally-sourced coal.
In the days following FERC’s approval, Dominion moved quickly to begin construction on the project, ignoring FERC’s requirement that their construction and emergency plans be made available for community review before requesting to proceed. Additionally, despite public outcry over the potential for a catastrophic explosion at the facility, Dominion filed an updated emergency response plan with FERC but insisted on keeping all of the details of the plan secret from the public—claiming this information, along with other details of their project, is “proprietary.” In statements to the press, Dominion explained that it is planning on building a new evacuation route, but has yet to provide the details to FERC.
“In neglecting to prepare a thorough review of the environmental impacts of Dominion’s controversial project, FERC is prioritizing the desires of a powerful company over the health and safety of the people of Calvert County, Marylanders, and communities throughout the Marcellus shale region,” said Earthjustice Associate Attorney Jocelyn D’Ambrosio, who filed the legal papers on behalf of the coalition. “The public deserves far more from the people tasked with regulating the energy industry. We are demanding that FERC go back and do the necessary review of this project and order Dominion to halt construction in the meantime. If they refuse, they should prepare to defend their reasons in federal court.”
“FERC is once again acting like it's above the law, effectively hitting the on-switch for Dominion's bulldozers before groups were able to exercise their legal right to challenge a widely contested ruling,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “Unless FERC hits the pause button on construction at Cove Point, Calvert County residents will face immediate and likely permanent damage to their environment and quality of life, all based on a fundamentally flawed review that could very well be overturned in the courts.”
“My neighbors and I are frankly appalled at the prospect of this project moving full speed ahead without a thorough review of the potentially catastrophic impacts to our community and environment. And the fact that Dominion is concealing its emergency response plan from the public only adds to our concerns and solidifies our belief that they are hiding the truth about the dangers of this project,” said Tracey Eno, a member of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community. “We’ve been blatantly ignored by most of our local, state and federal elected leaders. Now the people at FERC are acting as if we, the citizens of Lusby, are inconsequential and expendable. Our only hope could rest in the courts.”
“In its haste to accommodate Dominion's sense of urgency, FERC simply ignored and failed to consider numerous impacts of this massive construction project to the environment, quality of life and safety of people and communities. We as citizens are not only entitled to raise questions, we are just as entitled to get answers,” said Patuxent Riverkeeper Fred Tutman. “From the outside, it appears as if FERC was plainly designed and predestined to approve this project regardless of its impacts or implications. Citizens are now asking for nothing more than we were entitled to in the first place: a fair hearing and due consideration of our claims and concerns.”
“FERC cannot allow this project to proceed until FERC addresses fundamental flaws in FERC's analysis,” said Sierra Club Staff Attorney Nathan Matthews. “Most importantly, the agency failed to consider the simple fact that exporting LNG will mean more drilling and fracking, putting residents of the Marcellus and others at risk of air pollution, contaminated groundwater, and increased climate pollution.”
The Dominion Cove Point project would take gas from fracking wells across Appalachia and liquefy it along the shore of the Chesapeake Bay for export to Asia. The project would be the first LNG export facility built so close to so many homes, the first built in close proximity to Marcellus Shale fracking operations, and a potential trigger of more global warming pollution than all seven of Maryland’s existing coal-fired power plants combined. In spite of this, FERC’s highly limited Environmental Assessment omitted credible analysis of the project’s lifecycle global warming pollution, potentially catastrophic threat to hundreds of nearby residents, pollution of the Chesapeake Bay and risk to the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, along with all the pollution associated with driving demand for upstream fracking and fracked gas infrastructure.
Dominion's project has faced and will continue to face significant and widespread grassroots opposition. A coalition of state, national and community groups opposing the project submitted more than 150,000 comments to FERC by the June public comment deadline. In mid-July, more than 1,000 people marched on FERC’s Washington, D.C. headquarters calling on the agency to halt approvals of all LNG export projects, including the Dominion Cove Point facility.
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