protesters decry cove point

February 21, 2014

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The Rev. Lennox Yearwood tells the crowd that the “Free State” should be renamed the “Fossil-Free State.”

A boisterous, determined, chanting, sign-waving crowd of at least 700 people from across the state and beyond converged on sunny Baltimore today to say that Dominion Resources’ planned Cove Point export facility for fracked gas is a threat to our health, our economy, our climate and our future.

“Maryland is here today because Maryland is at risk,” shouted Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, at the rally at the War Memorial Plaza downtown.

Nearby, the Public Service Commission was considering whether Virginia-based Dominion’s planned 130-megawatt gas-fired power plant and liquefaction facility would be in the “public interest.”

Outside, the protesters from around Maryland and neighboring states shouted, No, it would not be in their interest — or in the interest of future generations. “Listen to our voice; Dominion’s not our choice!” No, they said, it would not be in their interest to frack the countryside to get the gas for this enterprise. Because no matter how much Dominion says this facility has nothing to do with fracking, it has everything to do with fracking.

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“Make this [fight] a part of your life until we win,” Mike Tidwell urged the crowd.

Tidwell compared the fight against Cove Point to the one decades ago against tobacco companies. The evidence in the surgeon general’s report on the dangers of smoking changed everything. “We have a new Camel cigarette threat,” he said. Like the tobacco companies, Dominion is insisting that lighting something on fire — fracked gas — is good for Maryland. Of the state’s 23 counties, 19 lie atop shale basins, he said. He demanded that the PSC “serve the public by rejecting this radical Cove Point plan.” And he urged U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin to “get our back” and demand the fullest environmental review of the project

“This is where Maryland makes its climate change stand,” said state Del. Heather Mizeur, a candidate for governor who for years has questioned the safety of fracking. “If I were in charge of this state, I would say no to Cove Point,” she said to cheers. If the plant were built, Maryland would see “rising pollution, rising prices and rising tides.”

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“This is what dissent looks like. This is what democracy looks like,” Patuxent Riverkeeper Fred Tutman told the protesters.

Fred Tutman, the Patuxent Riverkeeper, rebuked Dominion for trying to buy off communities by “passing out money instead of straight answers.” Marylanders won’t “swap our environmental future for cash,” he said.

Many unanswered questions remain about the project, said Rebecca Ruggles of the Maryland Environmental Health Network. What are the health effects, she asked, of more pipeline explosions, more asthma cases, radon in the shale gas, water contamination and climate change?

The Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. of the Hip Hop Caucus encouraged Maryland to update its motto from Free State, in honor of its role in abolishing slavery, to Fossil-Free State. “This is our lunch-counter moment for the 21st century,” he said. “We must stop Cove Point.” He had the crowd chanting: “Thank God Almighty, we will be fossil free at last.”

“When you say no to Cove Point, you are saying no on behalf of yourselves, your communities and your natural resources,” said Karen Feridun, founder of Berks Gas Truth in Pennsylvania. “But you are also doing it for my state, my community, my natural resources.” Cabot Oil & Gas, the fracking company that left families in Dimock, Pa., without drinking water, has already signed a deal to send fracked gas to Cove Point, she said.

After the first round of speakers, protesters marched several blocks to the Public Service Commission, chanting, “Hey, O’Malley, what the frack. Get Dominion off our back!” and “Hey, O’Malley, lead on climate; it’s time to break your Cove Point silence!” And they yelled loudly so that the lawyers on the 23rd floor would hear them. They carried signs with a butterfly, salamander and fish. They hoisted little windmills that spun in the breeze. Some carried a huge inflatable pipeline with the sign “No Cove Point.” One sign said, “Fracking + Cove Point = Unacceptable Risk.” Another said, “Cove Point = Climate Disaster.” A banner from Frederick said: Fracking isn’t a bridge. It’s a dead end.”

Students came from Frostburg State, St. Mary’s College, Maryland Institute College of Art, University of Maryland and other schools. Parents, some pushing strollers, and workers and retirees came from as far as Garrett and Calvert counties. Some protesters also traveled from New York, New Jersey, West Virginia, the District of Columbia and Pennsylvania. Clare Zdziebko lives four houses beyond the Dominion Cove Point property line in Lusby. She pushed her nearly 2-year-old son, Dominick, in a stroller. “He needs clean air and clean water,” she said.

After the march to the PSC came several more speakers. Ashok Chandwaney, a student at St. Mary’s, told the crowd he feared the world that his 15-month-old niece will inherit: “I wonder what the world will look like when she’s my age.” He said we are on the cusp of a climate catastrophe and he doesn’t want Dominion to be able to build this facility on a piece of land that will be submerged by climate change.

“We are united here today as one Maryland,” said Nadine Grabania, a winemaker who lives in Garrett County. “I’m here to ask you to promise me you will never think of Garrett or Calvert counties — or anyplace where the shale gas industry wants to do its risky business — as ‘elsewhere.’ ”

“We will not be silent,” said Ted Cady, whose town of Myersville in Frederick County is fighting a compressor station for fracked gas. “We will act. We will ensure the future health and safety of our children.”

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“Polite people get poisoned,” Lois Gibbs told the crowd.

And Lois Gibbs, who led residents at New York state’s Love Canal in the 1970s, reminded the crowd that “facts will not win this fight.” For every fact you point out, industry will have an answer, she said. Those at Love Canal did not win “because we played nice,” she said. “Polite people get poisoned. Polite people get polluted.” When you brush your teeth and wash your face at night, also tweet O’Malley. Tweet your legislators. “Facts are critically important,” she said, but if we are going to win this fight we need to email and tweet and take vacation time for rallies.

“We’ve got a big fight ahead of us,” Tidwell said. “Make this a part of your life until we win. … Let’s go fight!”

—  elisabeth hoffman

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Protesters march toward the Public Service Commission.

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Paige Shuttleworth (left), who designed this banner and costumes, stands with protester Diane Wittner.

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Ann Coren and Ron Meservey carry HoCo ClimateChange’s new banner.

 

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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

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

 

myersville marches on

April 17, 2013

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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

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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.