speaking out against cove point
March 3, 2014
Southern Maryland residents filled the Patuxent High School auditorium in Lusby on Saturday afternoon for state regulators’ sole public hearing on Dominion Resources’ plan to build a $3.8 billion facility for liquefying and exporting fracked gas from the town’s Cove Point plant. Area residents urged members of the Public Service Commission to deny Dominion’s permit on the grounds that the project would benefit the gas industry but threaten local safety and property values as well as the Maryland economy. Ruth Alice White attended the hearing and testified on behalf of HoCo ClimateChange. Following is her account of the day. Chesapeake Climate Action Network staff also provided some material.
By RUTH ALICE WHITE
This is one for the history books. Will the people of Calvert County and Maryland be able to persuade the state Public Service Commission that a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility, the fourth-largest in the nation, is a bad idea for Cove Point?
The Public Service Commission (PSC), whose members are appointed by the governor with approval from the General Assembly, will just listen today. A sign says the room has 800-plus seats. Not every seat is filled but most are, and some people stand at the back and at the sides.
We know union members will talk about jobs. They have a huge food tent in the parking lot, which we anticipated because of a Facebook announcement.
Some arrived as early as 7 a.m. to line up for the noon hearing, because the testimony is in order of sign-ins. My goal was to arrive by 8 a.m., but I am later and already about 12 people are in line — all but one opposed to the facility. As the union workers come in from their parking lot breakfast, they are appalled to see us in line and protest the line. We hear police are in the area to keep order.
We sign in with relative order and a minimum of jostling. Finally, the commissioners start the hearing only a few minutes late and explain the ground rules: Each person will have five minutes to speak; commissioners will not comment or ask questions.
The first and second person to testify were not in line. The first is Calvert County Commissioner Gerald Clark, who says: “Good leadership is making decisions under duress from citizens.” He characterizes opponents as “emotional.” Someone says, “Who elected him?” Mostly the audience is silent. But as he drones on, people start to call out: “Five-minute rule.” Because of his position, he is apparently exempt from the time limit. He mentions jobs and tax revenues. He doesn’t mention the secret tax breaks the county commissioners gave Dominion.
Up next is the county sheriff, Mike Evans. He is confident that his office can handle security at proposed plant. He doesn’t mention a hearing in Annapolis last week when Sen. Roy P. Dyson’s expressed grave concerns about whether the Department of Natural Resources Police would be able to handle security threats at Cove Point.
Finally, those who waited in line and signed up to testify are called to speak. Patuxent High graduate Chiquita Younger, a Lusby native and program associate at Interfaith Power & Light, is first. “Congregations across Maryland feel called to protect our climate and our water, so they oppose Dominion’s plans to build a major climate polluter that will export fracked gas,” she said. “But I’m here to testify today because, for me, this is personal. I grew up in Lusby, and my family has deep roots here. I’m here to speak out for my niece, my sister, my mother, my grandmother, and all those in Calvert County who have not been able to get their questions answered about the pollution Cove Point will cause and the dangers it poses to their neighborhoods.”
Jorge Aguilar, the southern region director of Food & Water Watch, says LNG exports won’t help the middle class – a theme repeated frequently by those testifying. “Natural gas companies always fail to deliver on the rosy economic forecasts they make,” he said. “In fact, a recent Department of Energy study on LNG exports said that the net economic benefits will actually lead to lower real wage growth due to increases in the price of natural gas domestically. The Cove Point project is an environmental and economic disaster waiting to happen.”
Sitting next to me is Robin Broder of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. She testifies that exporting LNG from Cove Point will increase pressure to frack in the George Washington National Forest, the watershed that provides the drinking water for millions in the Washington, DC, area. “What happens here will have ripple effects across the region,” she says.
Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, says the project will have radical effects on the entire state and region. “The PSC is here to serve the entire Maryland public. … Economically, it is hard to argue this makes sense for the state,” he said, because everyone will pay higher prices for natural gas.
Jean Marie Neal of the Cove of Calvert Homeowners Association lives across the road from the proposed LNG export facility and she, of course, is concerned about safety. But she emphasizes fairness and process. How did Dominion evade the law that requires two years between project application and construction? Why did county commissioners waive zoning and building codes for the project? Who is safeguarding the citizens? Oh, and that six-story “sound barrier” Dominion has been talking about for months to “protect” citizens from noise at the site? A Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) document posted to its website this week shows it is also a barrier for containing flammable vapor clouds in case of an explosion. FERC has said the proposed wall is insufficient and needs to be expanded. Why did Dominion repeatedly say the wall was only a sound barrier? And the supposedly 3,000 jobs (1,700 to 3,000, Dominion said) are JOB YEARS, so if 1,500 people work two years that counts as 3,000 “jobs,” Neal says.
“As a resident living and raising a family very close to the Dominion Cove Point terminal, I am alarmed that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is on the verge of approving one of the first LNG export facilities ever to be built in the United States —within 4,500 feet of approximately 360 residences and next door to a public park,” says Sue Allison, a homeowner living within view of Dominion’s facility and a member of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community. “I call upon the Public Service Commission to demand that FERC produce a publicly accessible, rigorous, quantitative assessment of the risks that Dominion’s facility poses to those residents living, playing or attending school in close proximity.”
Greg Farmer, who lives in Calvert County and worked on economic development in the Clinton administration, testifies that this is NOT economic development.
University of Maryland student Ori Gutin explains how unpopular this proposal is with many at the College Park campus who long to work in clean-energy jobs. Those in favor of Cove Point argue that the plant is good for business. But Gutin and many others say solar and wind could provide so many more jobs now and in the future — if only we would invest that money now.
Tracey Eno, a homeowner living within 1.5 miles of Dominion’s facility and a member of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community, says some people say they are environmentalists but “I am a people-ist. I am worried about the people.” She mentions health and safety risks, decreasing property values, and the sound wall that is really a vapor cloud wall. This massive, unprecedented industrial plant would be next to where people live, she says.
David Harding talks eloquently about Little Cove Point Road and the planned overnight heavy traffic — to avoid traffic jams during the day.
I speak for www.HoCoClimateChange.org and echo common themes: air and water quality, beauty of the area, the sound/toxic vapor barrier, more compressor stations and pipelines throughout Maryland, increase in fracking (including the Taylorsville Basin, which extends north from Virginia to Annapolis), increase in gas prices, and the fact that gas is not a bridge fuel — it is a bridge to a cliff and fatal for our children and grandchildren. The whole gas process leaks methane, which increases climate change. So many friends in Howard County share these concerns. I feel their energy around me, and this helps me speak up and keep my voice strong in this huge room, standing at these intimidating microphones.
One woman testifies that she’s concerned about the facility’s proximity to the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant. She calls the plan a “privatization of profit and socialization of risks … and the local residents are left with all the risks.”
Cathy Mazur says Lusby is already a non-attainment area for air quality. Dominion will have to purchase carbon offsets in other areas in order to pollute the air here. But, she asks, how will offsets elsewhere help Calvert County residents who already have substandard air?
One man, questioning the wisdom of exporting the gas, testifies that propane exports have led to a shortage of heating fuel for homes across the country this winter.
The hall had been filled with union workers, but as they trickle out during the hearing the folks remaining are predominately those wearing red shirts and “NO COVE POINT” stickers.
Dan Craley asks whether some jobs and tax dollars are worth polluting our children’s future?
More testimony pro and con. A supporter of Dominion paints opponents as retirees who care nothing about the unemployed or the working class. But he ignores the hardworking Calvert citizens present who are obviously not of retirement age. He also ignores that Dominion is seeking maximum profits with short-term jobs rather than investing in solar and wind and green technologies that will provide many more jobs for many years to come. The weight of this unending recession on middle-income and unemployed people, on those foreclosed and risking foreclosure surfaces repeatedly in the testimony of those supporting this project. But this one project will not solve the job and money woes for Calvert County or this state. It will enrich Dominion and the gas industry, but impoverish residents in ways described so eloquently.
My head is spinning, but the next speakers do not reply to these attacks. They move on. Kelly Canavan points out that this project does not provide power for any Maryland residents and is not in the public interest. There is no trade-off with this plant. We get the pollution. Dominion gets the money. That’s it.
Janet Ashby tells the PSC members, “Your duty is for the necessity and convenience of MARYLAND.”
I am ready to leave – it is midafternoon and many people, mainly supporters are still here. But I stay to hear a few more. “Without health, money is meaningless,” Cathy Zumbrun says. She fears an accident and distrusts the gas industry.
As I walk out, the last speaker is trying to use black comedy – a last-gasp argument against all of us naysayers. She starts dramatically, almost yelling: “You will die.” Pause. “I will die, too. We will all die. Global warming – is this really real?” Her point is that all life has risk and that we have to live now and move forward. She pokes grim fun at everyone who has talked about real consequences from building this plant.
All I can think of as I walk out is the movie “Dr. Strangelove.” I guess I am punchy after all this. But I have missed time with my husband and haven’t spoken yet to my daughter or grandson today. Those I love pull me back. And in the hour-and-a-half drive back, I talk to an old friend from high school who grew up in Maryland but lives in Arizona. Can she understand what our state and region are facing now?