A way to speak louder

August 01, 2006

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has an opportunity to demonstrate that he's serious about opposing a liquefied natural gas terminal and processing facility in eastern Baltimore County. It merely requires the governor to block the use of state-owned Hart-Miller Island to accommodate a major dredging of the waters near Sparrows Point, where the proposed $400 million LNG plant would be located.

It's up to the federal government to determine whether Sparrows Point is an appropriate place for the LNG terminal proposed by AES Corp., of course. But it's well within the governor's powers to put a hold on the critical dredge disposal site -- and create a formidable obstacle to the proposal. County Executive James T. Smith Jr. has already endorsed the strategy and, in a letter dispatched last week to Mr. Ehrlich, called on the governor to place Hart-Miller off limits.

Through a spokesman, Mr. Ehrlich says he does not favor the LNG terminal, but he's not inclined to take such action because it might jeopardize jobs at the Sparrows Point shipyard, which also depends on the dredging. But such concerns are easily resolved: The yard's owners, BWI-Sparrows Point LLC, need only give assurances that the LNG project will be abandoned and Hart-Miller could be made available for dredge disposal once again.

That may be hardball, but this is a serious matter, particularly for people who live within a few miles of the site. It's simply wrong to import and store a commodity as dangerous as LNG so near a population center. That's particularly true in a time of heightened concern about terrorism -- and when rural or off-shore locations are better-suited for that purpose. Halting the project would also satisfy opponents of the 87-mile pipeline that would be required to transport the natural gas from Baltimore County to eastern Pennsylvania.

Mr. Ehrlich's personal lawyer, David B. Hamilton, has professional ties to the project and has been accused of lobbying for it without a license, a complaint that's under investigation by the state's ethics commission. Taking action against the proposal would allow Mr. Ehrlich to prove that his opposition is not empty rhetoric -- and that he has not been swayed by Mr. Hamilton's involvement in it.

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