Environmental and Community Leaders Denounce Federal Ruling on Cove Point LNG Export Facility

Feds approve massive $3.8 billion source of pollution without a full Environmental Impact Statement


Kathleen Sutcliffe, Earthjustice, (212) 845-7380

Environmental and community groups are bitterly denouncing today’s decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to approve permits for the controversial liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility proposed at Cove Point in southern Maryland. They said FERC’s decision defies the facts that the massive facility, proposed by Dominion Resources, will incentivize environmental damage from fracking across the mid-Atlantic region and, according to federal data, would likely contribute more to global warming over the next two decades than if Asian countries burned their own coal.

Groups that have intervened in the FERC case emphasized that they are assessing issues on which to file a motion for rehearing—a necessary step before appeal. They vowed to continue the fight to protect communities across Maryland and the region from the potentially unprecedented pollution and safety risks Dominion's Cove Point project would trigger.

They also called the Cove Point decision a simultaneous stain on the records of Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski, who failed to substantively challenge FERC’s reckless process—including the agency’s refusal to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement—despite pleas from voters and newspapers like the Baltimore Sun.

“FERC's decision to allow LNG exports from Cove Point is fundamentally flawed because the agency failed to consider the simple fact that exporting LNG will mean more drilling and fracking, and that means more climate pollution, more risk of contaminated groundwater, and more threats to the health of people who live near gas wells,” said Deb Nardone, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Natural Gas campaign. “FERC should be standing up for the public good, not the interests of dirty polluters.”

“FERC’s decision to approve Cove Point is the result of a biased review process rigged in favor of approving gas industry projects no matter how great the environmental and safety concerns,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “FERC refused to even require an environmental impact statement for this $3.8 billion facility right on the Bay. We intend to challenge this ruling all the way to court if necessary. For the safety of Marylanders and for people across our region facing new fracking wells and pipelines, we will continue to fight this project until it is stopped.”

“FERC's failure to demonstrate compliance with the most current safety standards in the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 59A 2013 is a fatal flaw in the Environmental Assessment that could cost residents and first responders their lives,” said Tracey Eno, a member of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community. “Members of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community (CCHC) believe that these new standards were a direct response to the horrific explosions that occurred at a Skikda, Algeria LNG export facility in 2004, resulting in serious casualties and extensive property damage. We have endured the betrayal of our own elected officials—most notably, our five Calvert County Commissioners, our federal representatives and Governor Martin O'Malley—who have all inexplicably refused to insist on the latest fire safety standards for the Dominion Cove Point LNG export expansion. We now call on the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Transportation to step in and insist on full compliance with NFPA 59A 2013 before Lusby becomes home to the first large-scale liquefaction train ever to be installed in a such a densely populated residential neighborhood in the history of the industry.”

“Potomac Riverkeeper is extremely concerned about the impact of this new LNG export facility on the entire Potomac and Shenandoah Watershed,” said Sarah Rispin, General Counsel for Potomac Riverkeeper, Inc. “We believe that FERC failed to take into account the cumulative impact that having a major export facility on the Chesapeake Bay will have on the watershed, by driving increased fracking activity in the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations, and the construction of new pipelines serving the facility that will crisscross the region.”

“We are carefully reviewing FERC’s decision to approve the Cove Point export facility with our clients and planning our next steps,” said Jocelyn D’Ambrosio, associate attorney at Earthjustice. “If FERC has refused to revisit its inadequate environmental review, we will have no choice but to petition FERC to reconsider its decision, and ultimately we may have to take the case to court.”

"FERC's decision today ignores the many diverse impacts that an LNG export facility will have on local communities both near and far away,” said Michael Helfrich, director of Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper. “LNG export threatens local communities' health and safety and waterways, and is simply not in the public interest."

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Earthjustice, the nonprofit law organization that has been representing the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, Patuxent Riverkeeper, Potomac Riverkeeper, Shenandoah Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club in the FERC proceeding, are poised to petition FERC and potentially to sue the agency to challenge an inadequate environmental review.

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 ever 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. Yet, in its final order, FERC affirmed its highly limited Environmental Assessment, which 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 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, followed the next day by a peaceful sit-in that led to 25 arrests.

Patuxent River.
The Patuxent River is a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. (Photo courtesy of John H. Gray)

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