jailbird for justice

March 12, 2014

frederick four by ccan

The Frederick Four: me, Steve Bruns, Joanna LaFollette and Sweet Dee Frostbutter.
//photo by Chesapeake Climate Action Network

The police citation says I was charged with willfully obstructing and hindering free passage of others in a public place “against the peace, government, and dignity of the state.”

Along with three other activists, I blocked the doors to the Frederick County Courthouse last week as part of a peaceful protest against Dominion’s planned compressor station in Myersville, as well as its proposal to build a $3.8 billion giant facility on the Chesapeake Bay that would liquefy fracked gas and haul it off to Asia. We were the Frederick Four.

Dominion’s planned actions are far less peaceful and dignified than ours.

In Myersville, one division of Dominion wants to build an oversized, air-polluting compressor station for fracked gas against the wishes of the town’s residents and officials. In Cove Point in Calvert County, the scheme of another Dominion division involves a gas-fired power plant that would yield no power for Marylanders; storage tanks of toxic and combustible chemicals; a long list of air pollutants; and a six-story-tall-by-three-quarters-of-mile-long wall. The super-cooled gas in its liquid form would get to Asia on tanker ships fueled by the dirtiest of oils, bunker fuel, which coats and suffocates wildlife when it spills. This plan too has aroused resident fury, although Lusby officials seem happy to support and deal in secret with Dominion.

And the gas for both these facilities would come from fracking all over the Marcellus and other shales that lie under our homes, schools, businesses, farms, playgrounds, parks and rivers. Even though scientists and physicians are raising grave questions about the wisdom of allowing this industry to operate in our backyards, particularly because of the millions of gallons of water laced with toxic chemicals, the noise and countless diesel truck trips. And even though fracked gas is a bridge to a catastrophic 6 degrees F of warming on our planet.

But Dominion’s CEOs won’t be pondering their willful obstruction of our safe passage in our communities in a 7-by-11-foot dull yellow, concrete block cell anytime soon.

Our civil disobedience action was the second in as many weeks. Previously, four activists were arrested in Cumberland. We are making clear that — as much as Dominion denies it — Cove Point has everything to do with fracking and the connecting web of pipelines and compressor stations that would run through our communities. We are saying that rushing ahead with these plans without a thorough environmental review of health, environmental and climate effects puts us all at risk.

ann nau being interviewed photo by ccan

Ann Marie Nau being interviewed at the rally.//photo by CCAN

“We stand together,” Ann Marie Nau told a WFMD radio reporter at the rally. “We stand with Western Maryland. We stand with Lusby. We stand with Myersville. We stand with all the other communities that are impacted. Myersville matters, Lusby matters. Western Maryland matters. And we stand up for one another.”

At the rally before the arrests, we read our statements. Steve Bruns, who’s running for an at-large Frederick County commissioner seat, blasted the gas industry’s PR campaign to promote fracked gas as clean and safe, as well as Dominion’s lawsuit against Myersville and the Maryland Department of the Environment to force approval of the compressor station within a mile of the town’s elementary school and evacuation center. “This sort of contempt for the health and safety of the people of Maryland is unacceptable in a democratic society. If our government isn’t getting the message, then we’re just going to have to crank up the volume,” he said.

Sweet Dee Frostbutter, who grew up playing in the forests and fields of Calvert County and lives in Frederick, said: “This place and these people mean too much to me to stand by and just watch that happen. We have to resist, and I hope you’ll join us!” In June 2011, Sweet Dee was a cook on the weeklong, 50-mile March on Blair Mountain to stop another form of extreme energy extraction: the blasting away of that mountaintop to excavate the coal. The same mountain where, in the summer of 1921, 10,000 armed coal miners battled for the right to form a union against strikebreakers and lawmen hired by mine operators.

“Maryland could virtually turn into one large industrial zone and be sacrificed for energy being shipped overseas,” said Joanna LaFollette of Frederick. Joanna, who has asthma in a county that has a mortality rate from air pollution among the highest in the nation, was there in place of her son Dylan Petrohilos, whose arrest for civil disobedience at a frack-sand processing plant in Boone, N.C., was still being processed.

At a small rally in a plaza in front of the courthouse, we held signs and a banner, “Stop Cove Point.” We chanted, “Myersville is not for sale,” “Lusby is not for sale,” “Garrett County is not for sale” and “Allegany County is not for sale.” Sweet Dee made up the best chant, a syncopated “We gotta beat back, the frack attack, we gotta beat beat back, that frack attack.”

After about 30 minutes, one of the officers said we had to leave the plaza because we lacked a permit for a rally. Instead, the four of us risking arrest moved closer to the courthouse to block the doors. We chanted more and tried singing a verse of “This Land Is Your Land.”  Eventually, Sweet Dee and Joanna were given one more warning and then arrested. A few minutes later, police gave Steve and me our final warning. And then officers, who greatly outnumbered us, moved in and escorted us about 20 feet to the Frederick City police office, where we were quickly searched for weapons.

Sweet Dee and Joanna were booked first and never saw the inside of a jail cell. But Steve and I were put in adjacent concrete-block cells with sliding solid metal doors. Solitary confinement. The only opening on the door was a 4-by-6-inch window.

The cell had a metal bench with rings along the back wall, but I wasn’t handcuffed — or handcuffed to these rings. It also had a stainless steel toilet/sink combo on one side behind a partition. I was thirsty from all the yelling, but when I pushed the first of the three buttons on the sink, the toilet flushed. The only reading materials were the scratched messages on the bench from those who had gone before me under much more miserable circumstances. “Fox + Mel 4 Ever” was on someone’s mind. But so was “LSD” and “ebay.” And “This sux!”

My jail memoir will be short, as I was probably in the slammer about 35 minutes. Eventually, officers unlocked our cell doors and took us to an office for a mug shot and booking. They asked about our action. One officer had read a lot about global warming but said he hadn’t made up his mind about it yet. Another thought nuclear power was the answer.

post arrest by liz feighner

The Frederick Four, released from jail with our citations.//photo by Liz Feighner

And then we were free to leave.

My arrest was a small action. I was trying to help make the future come out differently from the way it’s headed, one small shove to help steer us from fossil fuels and their giant corporate pushers. The Frederick Four and the Cumberland Four are not alone. In August, more than 2,000 people participated in a days-long campaign against fracking in Balcombe in the United Kingdom, including 20 who blockaded the headquarters of energy company Cuadrilla and six who superglued themselves to the doors at the London headquarters of Cuadrilla’s PR firm, Bell Pottinger. Last June, in Zurawlow, a rural community in Poland, 150 farmers slept in fields and blockaded a drilling site with cars and trucks. In the fall, farmers in Pungest, Romania, cut cables laid for seismic testing, scooped them up and dragged them through the street to protest Chevron’s plans for fracking on their land. They also formed a human chain around the land where Chevron wanted to place test drills. “We have to do these kinds of things. It’s our duty,” one farmer said.

“We are Romania. We don’t want to sell our country,” they shouted, echoing our chants in Frederick. Or, here’s a new one: “Out you flea-ridden dirty dogs.”

They don’t want fracking for “schist.” Even though Chevron offered the Romanian farmers T-shirts and yogurt — a ploy wackily similar to the cheese pizza Chevron offered residents in Greene County, Pa., after a well pad explosion and fire that burned for days and killed one worker. Note to Chevron: Communities want clean water and a safe place to live, not free dairy products and clothing.

Also note: Schist and fracking. In any language, it sounds like a curse.

Sometimes, civil disobedience is our only currency. We don’t have millions to spend on disingenuous television, radio and Web ad campaigns about “clean” energy that really isn’t and “jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs” that are inflated and too often in the rescue, emergency and mopping-up industries. Sometimes all we can do is get in the way, slow the machinery, free our voices, give the science time to catch up and emerge.

maggies farm and pig

Fracking protesters locked themselves to a giant papier-mâché pig at a farm in western Pennsylvania. http://bit.ly/1qwMp0d //photo from the shadbush environmental justice collective

Just yesterday, at least 30 people were arrested in Philadelphia to protest the Keystone XL pipeline for tar sands oil. As were 398 students who either chained themselves to the White House gate or engaged in a mock human oil spill on a black tarp in an XL Dissent a week ago. In 2012, several protesters chained themselves to a giant papier-mâché pig at Maggie Henry’s western Pennsylvania farm 4,000 feet from a proposed Shell fracking operation. In Youngstown, Ohio, a nonviolent protest blocked the gate to an injection well for fracking waste. Last year, Sandra Steingraber and 11 other citizen-turned-activists spent 10 days in jail for blocking the entrance to a planned gas storage facility in salt caverns under Seneca Lake in New York. “My small, nonviolent act of trespass,” Steingraber said at her sentencing, “is set against a larger, more violent one: the trespass of hazardous chemicals into water and air and thereby into our bodies. This is a form of toxic trespass.”

At a Seneca in the Balance forum last night, Steingraber said that we each have to figure out our role in this movement and that “we can spend our bodies if we need to.” But, be clear, “we are way beyond the ‘every little bit helps’ stage. … When you think about what it is you are going to do next, know that it has be really big and something really heroic.”

Civil disobedience has been key to many justice movements, from Alice Paul and Martin Luther King Jr. to the many anonymous protesters who sat in at factories, lunch counters, nuclear facilities and treetops. As folksinger Anne Feeney would say, I’ve now “been to jail for justice” with the Frederick Four. The battle against fracking and Cove Point is now part of the justice movement to save life on the planet from catastrophic warming and, along the way, create energy forms that don’t bring sickness and misery to others. And the window for acting is small, not unlike the one in my jail cell door.

–by elisabeth hoffman

group foto of arrests by ccan

typhoon haiyan

Super Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines as a Category 5 storm, killed thousands and caused widespread destruction, is not unrelated to fracking, the TPP, KXL, Cove Point, compressor statons and climate change.//NOAA photo

But wait. There’s more.

If the Myersville compressor station is connected to exporting LNG from Cove Point is connected to more fracking is connected to a poisoned planet is connected to climate change is connected to all of us having to take on the extra job of making governments do their job, then this whole fracking mess is connected to the Trans Pacific Partnership. At least, I think it is. Hard to know because the whole thing is top secret. top secret image

The Trans Pacific Partnership is a wide-ranging deal among the United States and 11 other nations bordering the Pacific that would break down the few remaining barriers to free trade, mostly by undermining environmental and health regulations and labor protections. President Obama missed recent talks in Asia about the TPP because of the government shutdown, but Secretary of State John Kerry went in his stead. The TPP is high on Obama’s agenda, and his goal is to have it completed by the end of the year.

“It’s not really about trade, it’s not really free or about freedom and there’s not much agreement about it … so it’s a misnomer,” Lacey Kohlmoos from Public Citizen said.  Over the summer, Kohlmoos, along with Leslie Morrison from Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Ilana Solomon from Sierra Club spoke at several town halls about the TPP. “It’s designed to break down all trade barriers, but what is a trade barrier has changed definition,” Kohlmoos said. The TPP is a “corporate tool of unprecedented power.”

What is known about the TPP has been leaked. Of its 29 chapters, only five are about trade. “The other 24 chapters either handcuff our domestic governments, limiting food safety, environmental standards, financial regulation, energy and climate policy, or [establish] new powers for corporations,” Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, said on a recent Democracy Now! segment.

A few legislators who asked to review the treaty have been allowed to look at specific chapters but can’t take an aide, take notes, make copies, make a phone call or talk about it. The text is to be released four years after the agreement takes effect — or if talks collapse. Corporations, including Halliburton, Chevron, the Gas Technology Institute, General Electric, Monsanto and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, have a seat at the negotiating table, but environmental, labor and health groups do not. More than 600 corporate advisers have been working on the TPP for the last four years.

“It’s NAFTA on steroids,” Kohlmoos said.

halliburton rule image

The Halliburton loophole, corporate Wild West
on display.

It also sounds like the Halliburton loophole for the world, with corporations making all the rules. The Halliburton loophole, you will recall, was then-VP Dick Cheney’s escape hatch for drilling companies. In secret meetings with energy executives, he exempted fracking from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The TPP could also be called capitalism on steroids. Or, in activist and commentator Dennis Trainor Jr.’s words, a corporate coup. Economist Dean Baker has said on Democracy Now! that the TPP would “create a regulatory structure that is much more favorable to corporate interests than they would be able to get through the domestic political process in the United States and in the other countries in the pact.”

For example, any corporation that thinks its “rights” have been violated  — meaning, its profits have been diminished — by a new environmental or health regulation could sue the country involved. The judges in these so-called courts would be corporate lawyers, making corporations the plaintiff and the judge. We know how that will turn out.

The TPP “empowers individual corporations to directly sue governments—not in our courts, but in extrajudicial tribunals where three corporate attorneys act as ‘judges,’ and these guys rotate between being the judge and being the guys suing the government for the corporation,” Wallach said. “They’re empowered to give unlimited cash damages from us, the taxpayers, to these corporations for any government action— a regulatory issue, environment, health, safety — that undermines the investor’s expected future profits.”

Similar rules in effect under NAFTA already have led to one lawsuit over fracking. Under NAFTA, Lone Pine Resources, based in Calgary but incorporated in Delaware, sued Canada in fall 2012, seeking $250 million in damages, after Quebec imposed a five-year moratorium on fracking in the St. Lawrence Valley until more studies could be completed. Lone Pine claimed Canada had violated its “right to mine” for oil and gas and expropriated its profits.

And now the connection to fracking is clear. If corporations can sue for lost profits whenever governments try to protect people and the environment, if corporations have a “right to frack” and a “right to export” liquefied natural gas (LNG), such as at Dominion’s Cove Point facility, decisions will never be made in the public interest. In fact, exports would automatically be deemed in the public interest, Solomon of Sierra Club said. It would become “illegal to put any limits on exports.”

“We’d be required to conform our domestic laws to terms in TPP,” Kohlmoos said. “It really undermines our democracy.”

The countries involved are the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan — and other nations have expressed interest, including China.

Note that Dominion, via its proposed export facility at Cove Point, has contracts to supply LNG to Japan, one of the countries in the agreement. The United States doesn’t already have free trade agreements with Japan or India, but if the agreement goes through, Dominion wouldn’t need additional permission to send LNG to Japan.

Once the TPP is finalized, President Obama plans to ask to fast-track this treaty through Congress, meaning lawmakers could not amend or filibuster and would have to vote up or down within 60 days.

“Fast Track is not in effect,” Wallach said. “Fast Track is an extraordinary delegation of Congress’s authority. … So, we have to make sure that Congress actually maintains its constitutional authority to make sure that before this agreement can be signed, it actually works for us. … President Obama has asked for Fast Track, but it only happens if Congress gives it to him.”

That’s where we come in. Ask your U.S. senators and congressional representatives for their position on the TPP and express your concerns. The following are excerpts of emails about the TPP from three area lawmakers. (Several of us at HoCo Climate Change have received the same emails.)

Sen. Ben Cardin wrote:

I will not support any multilateral trade agreement that does not have robust protections for workers, consumers, and the environment, both in the United States and for our trading partners.  … [A]s a member of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade agreements, I look forward to extensive hearings on the TPP once the agreement is transmitted to the Senate.

Rep. Elijah Cummings:

Please know that I share your concerns regarding the commitments contemplated in the TPP that may affect patent and copyright law, food safety practices, environmental stewardship, health care, telecommunications, and the Internet, among other issues. I am also concerned by the limited consultation with Congress that has occurred during the drafting of this agreement. Given these concerns, I have joined many of my colleagues in a letter to be sent to the President urging broader consideration.

Rep. John Sarbanes:

You will be pleased to know that I joined a number of my colleagues in sending a letter encouraging greater transparency and oversight in the TPP negotiation process.  I strongly believe that U. S. trade agreements should address labor rights, human rights, and environmental protection.  … Unfortunately, our trade policies have long assumed that ‘free trade’ is the same as ‘fair trade.’ That assumption has touched off a race to the bottom where American jobs are shipped overseas to countries with non-existent labor standards and thread-bare environmental protections. 

To borrow from John Muir, when we try to look at anything by itself — whether fracking, the Myersville compressor station, the Cove Point LNG export facility, the TPP, the KXL pipeline, climate change and devastating Super Typhoon Haiyan — we find it all hitched together and “hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

So, bumpy ride ahead.

For more info on the TPP, Bill Moyers has a great interview with Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism and Dean Baker of CEPR about the TPP.

Other websites opposing the secret TPP are here, here and here.

— elisabeth hoffman



Some of Myersville is off in the distance in this image from Frostown Road.
//photo by Ann Nau

Federal  regulators have denied Myersville residents a rehearing on the permit for a planned compressor station in their rural community.

Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community (MCRC) had asked for a rehearing on Dominion Transmission Inc.’s planned 16,000-horsepower compressor station for fracked natural gas, saying in part that the environmental review was insufficient and the process was inadequate and unfair. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), however, agreed with itself. On every issue.

In its 35-page ruling issued today, it disagreed with each of MCRC’s points, from concerns about the need for the compressor station and the size of the facility to the noise, danger, air pollutants, environmental assessment and effect on property values. In a ruling summary issued this morning,  FERC said, “The order makes clear that the local laws and regulations upon which the Town bases its denial are preempted by the Natural Gas Act.”

Ted Cady, secretary for MCRC, said in an email that the group “is frustrated with the FERC decision.  It is not surprising that FERC denied our request along with the other 12 intervenors.  . . .It is amazing that each and every argument we raised was rejected.  FERC has never fully addressed why the compressor station is so large saying there’s no relationship to [export of liquefied natural gas] – but if LNG isn’t the reason for the overbuild, then what is the reason for it.  Also, FERC’s assertion that ‘the system works’ is entirely untrue and not based on the facts given the numerous procedural flaws.”

He said MCRC has 60 days to decide whether to appeal this decision. The group also lacks a hearing date for Dominion’s suit against the town, Town Council and mayor. And it awaits a ruling from a case heard this week, when Myersville got its day in court. Well, Myersville got its 15 minutes in court.

Monday morning, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a lawyer for Dominion argued before a three-judge panel that Robert Summers and his Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) should not be allowed to hold up the $112 million compressor station in Myersville.

FERC issued a certificate for the compressor station in December but stipulated that Dominion had to get required local and state permits before moving ahead.  MDE has said it won’t approve the air quality permit because Dominion doesn’t have the necessary local zoning. And Myersville won’t grant the local zoning in part because the town, nestled in a valley adjacent to I-70, is already out of compliance on federal air quality standards.  The proposed compressor station — which would spew volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, formaldehyde, carbon dioxide and the like — would only push the town more out of compliance.

The court allots 30 minutes for each case, so each side got 15 minutes to make its point. The lawyer for MDE gave the lawyer for MCRC some of its time. With so much to say and so little time to say it, everyone talked very quickly. (I note this because I am not a lawyer and I was forced to relinquish my laptop at the courthouse door. So keeping up was a challenge, but I got the gist.)

If not for this “one final stumbling block” – MDE’s failure to approve an air quality permit  – this compressor station could go forward, Dominion lawyer Christopher T. Handman argued.

Handman argued that Myersville’s zoning laws and the state’s air-quality enforcement efforts “certainly” couldn’t preempt the federal Natural Gas Act, otherwise utilities such as Dominion would have to consider local regulations on even the “right color brick.”  Which was an odd example, because Dominion had offered to make the compressor station look like a barn to blend in with the countryside.

“FERC has considered and rejected all arguments of Myersville,” Handman said.  The town was “holding things up,” he said, referring twice to the “radical nature” of Myersville’s appeal, which “puts local land-use regulations above FERC.”

He urged the court to give MDE direction and a deadline. Typically, states will say they need more time or manpower, Handman said, but MDE and its chief, Summers, “say they can’t go further.”   

Judge Thomas B. Griffith asked what MDE should be considering.  Handman said there “isn’t much left” because the Natural Gas Act preempts all local laws.

Griffith: “Have we been presented with all the land-use regulations that Myersville could rely on?”

Handman paused, then replied that the town had already raised whatever it could.

Roberta R. James, the lawyer representing MDE,  said the state has been involved in regulating clean air for the federal government since 1967. Without this federal-state partnership, the Environmental Protection Agency “would have all the regulatory burden.”

“The department has no real dog in this fight,” she said. Instead, Dominion “need[s] to get something from this  town.”

Carolyn Elefant, the lawyer for MCRC who specializes in energy and FERC cases, spoke with a passion otherwise absent from the roomful of fast-talking, case-name-dropping people in robes and suits. “This is a case about a gas company having made an imprudent decision to put a facility in a non-attainment  [air quality] area,” she said.  And now Dominion is “desperate because it needs a federal permit.”

Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh asked about the conflict with the Natural Gas law:  “It seems a little odd that a small town can prevent a facility.”

Elefant replied that the federal statutes — the Clean Air Act and Natural Gas Act — coexist. In this case, she argued, Dominion has the FERC certificate, but the FERC certificate says Dominion has to get local permits, including the air quality permit required under the Clean Air Act.  “Well, they haven’t gotten it. So they aren’t in compliance,”  she argued. “If you’ve got a loop, the tie goes to [upholding] the statute” rather than to presuming preemption of local laws. She also cited a similar case, involving Islander East Pipeline Co., in which FERC issued a permit for the pipeline to carry gas across Long Island Sound, but the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection refused to issue a water-quality permit, saying the project threatened aquatic life and was inconsistent with Clean Water Act standards. The courts upheld Connecticut’s position.

At one point, Judge Griffith asked the attorney for Dominion, “Isn’t there another way to thread the needle?”  After the hearing, Elefant and  Cady, the MCRC secretary,  said that question could indicate that the judges, instead of choosing between the National Gas Act, the Clean Air Act and municipal self-determination, will simply tell MDE to either grant or reject the air quality permit. At that point, MDE would  have to stand with Myersville and clean air — or cave.

Cady and Ann Nau, vice president of MCRC, said in emails after the hearing that Elefant had been “eloquent” in articulating their position. “If the Court were to side with DTI, it would undercut federal authority granted to the states in implementing the Clean Air Act,” Nau wrote. “DTI continues to attempt to portray us as radical because we continue to challenge their attempts to railroad state and local rights and to protect our community.”

Cady wrote: “DTI claims we are radical in our interpretation of the federal statutes where it is DTI that is taking the radical and rare step of filing suits against the Town and MDE. There are numerous faults with this process and suit.”

“The judges,” Cady wrote, “have a difficult decision and could take either position.  Hopefully we will get a decision in our favor within the next couple of months.  In one regard, we have been successful to get to this point since this started two years ago.  We continue to battle a seriously flawed governmental process and a multi-billion dollar company which has stacked the deck against local citizens and their local zoning to ensure our rural community survives.”

The compressor station battle has also sucked Myersville into Pennsylvania’s —and the nation’s — fracking frenzy.  Although Maryland is still deciding whether to allow fracking and under what circumstances, fracked gas from rural communities in Pennsylvania would flow through the Myersville compressor station on the way to customers in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast but also — if Dominion gets its way — overseas, via tankers, from the Cove Point LNG facility on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay in Lusby, Md.  Dominion has asked for FERC’s seal of approval  to turn the existing LNG import terminal into an export plant.

Also:  Myersville is mentioned in grist.org.

–elisabeth hoffman


Myersville residents protested the compressor station last year.
//photo courtesy of Ann Nau


myersville marches on

April 17, 2013

map of compressor station and town

The map shows the location of the proposed 16,000 hp compressor station in Myersville in relation to the town’s elementary school and the evacuation center at the fire station.//Information provided by Myersville resident Ann Nau.

Mighty Myersville should have caved by now.

Facing a Dominion Transmission Inc. (DTI) lawsuit, an order from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and a huge stack of documents, this rural town of about 1,600 could have been expected to back off, resigned and chastened, to await its compressor station.

But Myersville residents march on. To industry, they are the ants disturbing the picnic of abundant fracked natural gas that Dominion and company plan to lay out for the country. And so, industry is hauling out the DDT.

Last month, the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), whose members (including TransCanada Corp.) operate 200,000 miles of pipelines, piled on. It filed a friend of the court brief in Dominion’s January lawsuit against Robert Summers, head of the state Department of the Environment (MDE). Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community (MCRC) joined that suit as an intervener. That case will be heard May 14 in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington. In a separate suit in January, Dominion also sued the town, Town Council and mayor. MCRC and the town also have asked FERC for a rehearing.

As INGAA indicates in its friend of the court filing, FERC “routinely issues” certificates for compressor stations, which, come to think of it, it did in this case as well.  In INGAA’s view, if towns can thwart a compressor station, they will soon be stopping other fracking infrastructure, such as pipelines and plants for liquefied natural gas (LNG). Myersville residents and elected officials have refused to cave, and the state Department of the Environment is backing them up.

Turns out the Myersville battle is part of a growing revolt against routine FERC approvals amid a rudderless national energy policy, all while the global temperatures soar, the ice caps melt, droughts persist, coral reefs die and the weather goes crazy.  When FERC rubber-stamps compressor stations, pipelines, LNG terminals and the rest of the natural gas infrastructure, industry gets to be the decider. FERC’s role is not to figure out whether fracking, with its expanding infrastructure, is safe or sensible public policy. It doesn’t have to look at the big picture. Its mission is to make sure the energy flows. Given a lack of energy policy beyond the current “all of the above” strategy in Washington, communities such as Myersville can’t be blamed for wondering if FERC is acting in the best interest of communities and the nation or, more likely, the industry.  (A number of environmental groups are planning a day of action April 18 outside FERC’s monthly meeting to complain about its role. More information at wethepeoplematter.org.)

A bit of background on Myersville: After scaring several other towns, Dominion finally settled on Myersville for the 16,000-horsepower compressor station that would pressurize natural gas as it passes through pipelines from fracking sites in Pennsylvania to homes and businesses in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast (and perhaps beyond. More on that later). After several hearings in Myersville, and at the urging of MCRC, the mayor and Town Council decided in August that amending the local Comprehensive Plan to allow the compressor station was not in the best interests of the town. The compressor station would be a health and safety hazard to residents, town officials decided. Furthermore, Myersville already doesn’t meet federal and state air quality standards, and this would only make matters worse.

FERC decided otherwise and in December issued a permit for the compressor station. FERC went so far as to conclude that the compressor station would benefit the town.  But even with the FERC certification, Dominion needed an air quality permit from the state. Secretary Summers, however, said his Department of the Environment couldn’t issue that permit unless Dominion had the required local zoning, which it doesn’t. Dominion maintains that FERC’s order and the federal Natural Gas Act preempt local regulations and the Clean Air Act. Myersville officials, its residents and the state disagree. Hence the lawsuits.

INGAA and Dominion’s court filings reveal exactly what is at stake. Dominion says compressor stations are needed in Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland to keep gas flowing. Dominion says it will “suffer irreparable harm” if it can’t construct the Myersville compressor station.  It even claims that the harm from the compressor station to the town of Myersville is less than the harm Dominion will feel if it can’t build the facility.

INGAA also sees a bigger picture behind this Myersville nuisance. Myersville and MDE’s success in stopping this project “would mean, in effect, that a single town can veto a $112 million, FERC-approved, interstate pipeline project spanning three states” and “would provide a blueprint for every other Maryland municipality that wants to block a pipeline project and, by extension, for every other state.” INGAA notes in its filing that from 2000 to 2012, the amount of gas pipeline placed in service increased an average of 1,300 miles per year. Its members, who construct all this pipeline,  would have  to “take the added risks of a municipality-triggered state veto into consideration in planning and proposing new projects.” Whereas now, industry and FERC can ride roughshod over any town.

INGAA also notes how critical this decision will be “as public concern over enhanced natural production techniques has spilled over into movements aimed at derailing all elements of the natural gas industry, including pipelines.” It mentions Sierra Club’s  “Beyond Natural Gas” initiative, the group’s intent to block LNG export facilities because  “[t]hese terminals would be connected by hundreds of miles of pipelines, crossing state and national forests, wild and scenic rivers, sensitive wetlands, and family farms[.]”

Coincidentally—or not—Dominion has filed an application (weighing in at 12,000 pages) with FERC to expand its Cove Point LNG facility in Lusby, Md., so that it can export all this fracked natural gas to Japan and India.  Indeed, one of MCRC’s arguments with FERC is that the proposed Myersville station is oversized—because the town is being in sucked into Dominion’s plans to send excess capacity to Cove Point.

Myersville has a very different view about this compressor station. It is concerned about noise as well as air pollution from volatile organic compounds, nitrous oxide and formaldehyde. It has also compiled a list of accidents in the last couple of years at compressor stations, some of which required evacuation of residents within 1.5- or 2-mile radius. The entire town of Myersville is within two miles of the proposed station, including the  evacuation center at the fire department (one mile) and the elementary school (one mile). The surrounding area is farmland, state parks and some historic sites.

Myersville is defending its master plan in the suit. But MCRC is also taking on the entire FERC system. “The FERC scoping session is absolutely ludicrous and puts the onus on the local citizens to oppose a multibillion-dollar company and a governmental agency with no oversight,” according to MCRC secretary Ted Cady.  Dominion can do endless hours of research to counter any local points. It submitted 1,000 pages of information to FERC, including 12 resource reports, appendix, and other material, Cady said. Under the FERC process, residents, with no background in the subject, then have to review, understand, submit comments. In an arrangement that pits communities against each other, Myersville was also expected to  provide alternatives.

“They must educate themselves on the complexity of the industry and its impacts to air/water/land permitting, cultural concerns such as registered historic sites and … environmental concerns such as the Endangered Species Act, geologic fault analysis, noise safety, air dispersion analysis, etc.,” Cady wrote in a letter about the suits.

In its court filing, MCRC says INGAA and Dominion are exaggerating the doom scenario—i.e., that all towns will rise up against FERC. The courts will rule on Myersville’s unique circumstances. But towns such as Dryden and Syracuse, NY, Pittsburgh and Highland, PA, and many others are saying no to fracking, and Minisink, NY, is still fighting a compressor station there, even as construction moves ahead. Residents in Longmont, CO, call their action a “citizen uprising.” Myersville is joining in.

–elisabeth hoffman

compressor station drawing

A computerized image of how the compressor station will look. Dominion has offered to paint it to look like a barn.//Image provided by Ann Nau.


Fracktivists earlier this week at a briefing of the Maryland Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.
//photo by Megan Jenny of Chesapeake Climate Action Network

A few fracking-related and polar bear updates are in order.

Harm from fracking: Jannette M. Barth, an independent economist, has strongly criticized a study funded by the gas industry that, not surprisingly, found that fracking would be an unmitigated boon to Western Maryland. Her report was given to members of the state Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee during a briefing on fracking this week.

A little background on Barth: She graduated from Johns Hopkins University and earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in economics from the University of Maryland-College Park. She was chief economist of the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority and a member of the commission studying the economic impact of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She has 35 years of experience in economic modeling and forecasting and is president of J.M. Barth & Associates in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.

The natural gas industry has long pointed to a March 2012 Sage Policy Group report to justify its push to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in Garrett and Allegany counties in Western Maryland using a controversial technique called hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking. The Sage report found $4 million in benefits from each well and $14,000 in economic damage.

Barth reaches a different conclusion: “The Shale gas industry will create an industrial landscape in formerly rural and pristine Western Maryland. Existing industries that are vital to Western Maryland, such as tourism, agriculture, hunting, fishing and vacation-home construction, are likely to decline as these industries are not compatible with an industrial landscape or with a real or perceived threat to water, air and land contamination. In the long-term, the two counties may be worse off if shale gas development is permitted.”

She writes that she found it “shocking” that no peer-reviewed studies are included in the Sage report, which instead quoted liberally from studies by Timothy Considine, whose work is funded by the gas industry, and the American Natural Gas Alliance.

For example, she says, the Sage report exaggerates the amount of gas locked in the Marcellus Shale, hiding in a footnote updated federal estimates that cut the anticipated yield by about 65 percent. She said workers at fracking sites are generally brought in from other states and move from site to site, so the Sage report also inflates the number of jobs. Those workers send a lot of their pay back home, so the local economic gains are also less than projected. She also has studied counties in Texas where fracking in the Barnett Shale has been in place for about a decade: “When you consider the number of people in poverty, the unemployment rate and median household income growth, gas intensive counties in Texas don’t appear to be doing well compared with the state as a whole.”

The Sage report also minimizes health threats from fracking, Barth says in her report. The Sage report doesn’t mention the chemicals used in fracking, the problems with disposal, or the “enormous potential health costs to the region if carcinogenic and endocrine disruptive chemicals contaminate water or land.” Also ignored in the Sage report, she says, are the costs from damage to roads and increased demand for social and emergency services and police. Possible declines in property values are also overlooked, as well as insurance companies’ reluctance to cover what Nationwide has called the “unique risks” from fracking.

She concludes that fracking will benefit “the gas industry and a few large landowners” but will “likely be at the expense of small communities and statewide taxpayers. The long-term net economic impact may be negative for the region. Marylanders should insist on a comprehensive, unbiased economic assessment prior to any decision” on allowing fracking in the state.

Paul Roberts, a Garrett County farmer and owner of Deep Creek Cellars winery, wrote this week in Appalachian Independent about Barth’s report as well as industry influence in Annapolis. Roberts, who is also co-founder of CitizenShale, a member of the governor’s Marcellus Shale advisory commission and a former journalist, has worked relentlessly for more than two years to protect communities from the harms of shale gas development.

Money for fracking study: Gov. Martin O’Malley has included $1.5 million in his 2014 budget to study the effects of fracking in Maryland. The governor wants to allocate $1 million to examine the public health and ecological effects and $500,000 to establish baseline data for ground, surface water and air in Western Maryland. O’Malley’s Marcellus Shale study commission hasn’t been able to complete a thorough study because it lacked funding. Bills that would have raised money from the gas industry by setting a fee on leased land have failed to get out of a Senate committee. An article about the budget proposal is here.

Skirmish won in Myersville: Ann Marie Nau, a member of Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community, says the state Department of the Environment (MDE) wrote to the local group Jan. 17 that it would not issue the air quality permit for the compressor station in that Frederick County town. Read about MCRC’s battle against the pipeline that would carry fracked gas here and here. Dominion Transmission Inc. (DTI) maintains that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) certificate it received in December preempts local zoning, but MDE disagreed. State MDE Secretary Robert M. Summers wrote in the letter that state code “requires a permit applicant to submit documentation with the application demonstrating that the applicant’s project either has local zoning approval, or that it meets all applicable zoning and land use requirements. In the absence of such documentation, the Department is prohibited from processing the application.”

MCRC says “this does not mean that the fight is over. It is very likely that DTI will either challenge the state or the town to obtain the required [permit]. The only way to completely stop DTI from building the gas compressor station is to have the FERC Certificate revoked, at least the part that regards the gas compressor station in Myersville. This means that we have to continue to fight the FERC Certificate by submitting our ‘request the rehearing’ and potentially go to the Court of Appeals.”

Bold, cold action for the climate: In his inaugural address this week, President Obama said, “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” He also said, “You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time – not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.”

So, we will need to lift our voices and be louder than the fossil fuels industry.

One step you can take is to contribute to help sponsor my polar bear plunge into the icy Potomac to Keep Winter Cold. This is Chesapeake Climate Action Network’s biggest fundraiser. Thanks to many wonderful friends and family, I’ve raised $850 so far. YAY. … If you can donate even a few dollars, here is my page. Only a few days left before the plunge.

Be there: Another step is to join other climate activists Feb. 17 in Washington, D.C., for what we hope will be the largest climate rally in history. We want to make Obama take action on global warming, starting with rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry dirty tar sands oil from Canada to refineries in Texas. Sierra Club, 350.org and many other organizations are sponsoring this event. The rally is from noon to 4 p.m. (arrive by 11:30) and CCIHC will be carpooling. Information and sign-up is here. Email CCIHC about carpooling at HoCoClimateChange@gmail.org

elisabeth hoffman

fracking’s collateral damage

December 31, 2012

myersville protesters

Myersville residents protesting the planned compressor station.

Myersville, population 1,600, is the collateral damage in the battle over fracking.

Fracking for natural gas won’t happen in Maryland for at least a couple years. If the General Assembly approves a proposed moratorium, fracking won’t be allowed here unless it can be shown to be safe. Nevertheless, Dominion Transmission Inc. (DTI) received federal approval Dec. 20 to construct a 16,000-horsepower compressor station in this rural Frederick County town so it can transport fracked gas through Maryland to its 1.5 million customers in the region and beyond.

Rick Millward protester

Rick Millward with protesters in Myersville.

The Myersville Town Council, which will discuss the ruling at a workshop Jan. 2, and residents have 30 days to decide what to do. Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community, which started in October 2011 and has set up a website and Facebook page to educate and update residents, has spent $2,400 for legal assistance and will need to raise $1,500 to appeal the ruling. It is up against the relatively bottomless pockets of DTI.

Compressor stations are needed every 40 to 100 miles along a pipeline to keep natural gas flowing at the proper pressure. As industry extracts more natural gas using the technique known as fracking, it will alarm more towns with plans for compressor stations. And these compressor stations will be in addition to the drill rigs, drill pads, chemically infused water, frack ponds holding toxic waste, earthquakes caused by reinjecting wastewater, more pipelines and truck traffic already imposed on rural communities.

Compressor stations can be noisy, contribute to air pollution and occasionally blow up. In November 2011, 40 to 50 homes were evacuated after a fire broke out in a compressor station in Artemas, Pa. Here’s an explosion near Dimock, Pa., and one in Falcon, Wyo.

More than 650 Myersville residents signed a petition against the compressor station, and more than 750 wrote letters to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency charged with approving or denying the station. The mayor, the Town Council and the town Planning Commission voted to reject DTI’s application. In the local newspaper, following the council’s unanimous vote, Councilman Mark Flynn said: “It’s important to note that over and over, DTI said they want to be a good neighbor, and this is an opportunity for them be a good neighbor. The people have spoken, the Town Council has spoken, the Planning Commission has spoken. If they now try to force it down our throats, they’re proving they are not a good neighbor. They are a neighborhood bully.”

The Planning Commission called the compressor station a nuisance, based on the dictionary definition: “annoying, unpleasant or obnoxious.” One commission member said it requires many more safety features than required by other allowed uses in the area and so was “inherently hazardous.” The commission also said that the zoning for the site was designed to attract businesses and local jobs, not an industrial site with no long-term job opportunities.

Democratic Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin Cardin wrote letters on behalf of the residents and mentioned the compressor station fire in Artemas. Maryland state Sen. David Brinkley (R) wrote to FERC as well, noting that the state has invested millions in agricultural preservation easements as well as numerous state parks in the area.

FERC, however, can and does overrule local wishes and preempt local and state regulations. In its decision, FERC said that it “encourages cooperation between interstate pipeline companies and local authorities,” but local and state municipalities cannot “prohibit or unreasonably delay the construction or operation of facilities approved by the Commission.” FERC found that the project would pose no harm or “significant impacts”  to the community or environment of Myersville. Although the community found the project “highly controversial,” FERC disagreed. Under the commissioners’ legal definition, the project is not considered controversial “merely because individuals or groups vigorously oppose, or have raised questions about, an action.  Here, we find that no substantial disputes exist as to the effects of the project.”

The compressor station would be located south of Interstate 70, which cuts through the southern portion of Myersville. The site is adjacent to the wastewater treatment plant for the town, a mile from Myersville Elementary School and a mile from the fire station that contains the town’s evacuation shelter. It’s less than two miles from an arts-centered teacher training school that doesn’t even use markers that emit volatile organic compounds and a third of a mile from a pediatric medical practice. All of Myersville is within two miles of the compressor station. The surrounding area is mostly farms and state parks.

In its application, DTI said that the compressor station would annually emit 23.53 tons of nitrogen oxide (NOx), 5.32 tons of carbon monoxide (CO), 1.14 tons of volatile organic compounds, 0.25 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2), 2.83 tons of particulate matter, 0.93 tons of hazardous air pollutants (including formaldehyde) and 53,892 tons of CO2 and its equivalents.

The facility, DTI says, will be equipped with a catalyst to control hazardous air pollutants, including carcinogens such as benzene and formaldehyde. As a result, it says, emission rates will be even lower than typical gas-burning facilities and well below levels deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency.

But the compressor station will, for example, more than double the annual nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution in Myersville. (NO2 at high levels has been linked to sudden infant death syndrome.) Much of the existing NOx and NO2 pollution that settles into the valley is from traffic on I-70. SO2, along with NOx, is a principal contributor to acid rain. SO2 has a “pungent and suffocating odor” and can react with other chemicals to form particulate pollution. Adults and children with asthma or heart or lung disease are sensitive to SO2 exposure, especially if they are active outdoors.  (Tox Town, on the U.S. National Library of Medicine site, has complete information on harm from exposures to all these pollutants. Communities in Pennsylvania are starting to worry about the cumulative harm from multiple compressor stations.)

Residents are also concerned about periodic blowdowns, or venting of natural gas to relieve pressure. DTI “officials have said the blowdowns … do and will occur,” said Ann Marie Nau, a member of Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community. “Their own superintendent described these as ‘violent’ and ‘ugly’ events. I am concerned about the proximity of the school to the compressor station when one of these violent events occurs.” Here’s a blowdown that lasted 50 minutes at the Williams Central compressor station in Brooklyn, Pa.

Not to worry, though. DTI told the town Planning Commission that it could make the compressor station look like a barn.

Myersville residents have followed intently the 16-month struggle by residents of Minisink, N.Y., to stop two 6,130-horsepower compressor stations. Like Maryland, New York has yet to approve fracking, but the infrastructure spreads. FERC, in a 3-2 vote, approved this compressor station, despite protests from residents, many of whom are former first responders from New York City who moved to rural Minisink to recover after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. (The dissenting commissioners, Chairman Jon Wellinghoff and Cheryl A. LaFleur, voted to approve the station in Myersville.) In October, Minisink residents picketed as construction began. FERC has denied them a rehearing, so they will challenge the decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals. (Information about Minisink residents, including an excellent video, is here.)

ann nau

Ann Marie Nau at a protest in Myersville.

DTI initially considered placing its Frederick County compressor station in Middletown or Jefferson, but after meeting resistance there, it settled on Myersville. “The gas companies and FERC seem to pit the communities against each other,” Ann said. “No one wants it in their community, so they foist it on the next one.” Ann, who had never been politically active before this fight, said one Middletown resident even surveyed surrounding towns, “finding available properties, calculating the distance from the existing pipeline, creating a 1- to 5-star rating system. . . . Obviously, he gave the Middletown property a negative rating. He rated this Myersville site a 5. And to be perfectly fair, commentators in the Myersville docket have pointed out the suitability of the Middletown site versus the Myersville site.”

DTI sent notices about an August 2011 informational meeting only to residents within a half-mile of the site. Ann, who lives outside the magic half-mile line, said she and her husband learned about the compressor station when someone from Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community dropped off a flier for a meeting in November 2011 with DTI and FERC. “We were shocked to find that it was standing-room only,” she said. By August 2012, the Town Council had voted to reject the compressor station as incompatible with its codes, only to be overruled by FERC last week.

In her research about the station, Ann said she “was struck by one thing: Slick hyrdrofracking is scary. And dangerous. And, while for now I am not faced with a fracking well in my community, these wells are in other communities, and they are adversely affecting the health, well-being and safety of individuals no different than myself or my family. It is not okay. And then there are the issues as they relate to the environment, climate change and water consumption/contamination. . . . Understand one thing, I hope that I am wrong about fracking. As Ronald Reagan said, ‘Trust, but verify.’ So far, the gas companies cannot verify that what they are doing is safe; therefore, I do not trust them.”

Myersville residents will “continue to battle for their community and the health and safety of their children,” Ann said. They contend, for starters, that the FERC ruling fails to address Clean Air Act rules and has flaws in its historic impact study. “Frankly,” she said, “it seems that FERC places the onus on the citizens to find flaws in the projects as opposed to conducting any real analysis, leaving citizens to battle not just big gas but big government.”

–elisabeth hoffman