Bill to require divulging of ties to LNG builders

Ruppersberger proposal addresses concerns over lobbying for liquefied gas facility

September 20, 2006|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,sun reporter

Former U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, former state Sen. Joe Miedusiewski and a lobbyist with ties to the governor have done work for a company that wants to build a liquefied natural gas plant on Sparrows Point.

But some residents opposed to the project say they weren't always told who was being paid by AES Corp., the global power supply company that is proposing to build the LNG terminal at the former Bethlehem Steel shipyard.

Responding to those concerns and suspicions that some eastern Baltimore County residents might be receiving payment to support the project by, for instance, writing letters to local newspapers, U.S. Rep. C. A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger introduced legislation last night that would require anyone being paid by a company wishing to build a LNG facility to disclose their ties.

Under the proposed law, those being paid by any energy company proposing to construct an LNG terminal would be required to register with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that decides where such facilities can be built. The agency would be required to keep a public database of those identified as "employees and agents engaged in activities to persuade communities of the benefits of such approval," the bill states.

"What this does is level the playing field. It's only fair," Ruppersberger said at a news conference yesterday in Turners Station, the historically black neighborhood in Dundalk that is less than 2 miles from where AES hopes to build the LNG terminal to receive shipments of the imported fuel by tanker and then distribute it through an 87-mile pipeline.

Zach Germroth, a spokesman for AES Corp., said the company was surprised by Ruppersberger's legislation.

"We do not, will not and have not hired people to write letters on our behalf," Germroth said.

Dunbar Brooks, a Turners Station activist, said that Ruppersberger's legislation is needed. "This is a way to reveal a person's motive," he said. "We need to know when someone saying they're representing Dundalk actually has an interest other than the community's."

Bentley said she began working as a consultant for AES in November. She resigned this summer, because, she explained in a letter, some opponents of the project were "increasingly trying to make me the issue."

"It was publicly disclosed. I never hid it," she said yesterday of her work with the company.

Miedusiewski, who works for the law firm of Semmes, Bowen and Semmes, said he registered as a lobbyist for AES on Feb. 21. He referred all other questions to AES' spokesman.

Germroth, the spokesman for AES, said the company would not discuss details of its contracts with consultants or lobbyists. But he said that the company had also hired EcoLogix Group, a firm headed by Richard L. Sheckells Jr., a former planning director at the Maryland Port Administration.

EcoLogix does not advocate for the project but helps set up meetings with "stake-holders" such as neighborhood groups, environmental organizations and elected officials, Sheckells said. Its employees include Mary P. Marsh, former president of the Maryland Conservation Council, and Paul Massicot, a former manager at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

AES also hired lobbyist J. William Pitcher during the legislative session that ended in April, Germroth said.

After The Washington Post reported that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s personal lawyer, David Hamilton, had done work for Barletta Willis LLC, which owns the shipyard where the LNG terminal is proposed, Dundalk's LNG Opposition Team and Common Cause Maryland filed a complaint in July with the state and Baltimore County ethics commissions, saying Hamilton had arranged meetings with top officials that constituted illegal lobbying.

The state commission dismissed the complaint. An attorney for the county ethics commission would not comment. Hamilton did not return calls yesterday.

The complaint about Hamilton followed other criticism from opponents of the project about AES' public relations efforts.

Some residents say they were offended by a letter to state Sen. Delores J. Kelley in March from Kent Morton, AES' Sparrows Point project manager, that specifies the company would spend about $1 million in community projects in eastern Baltimore County over 10 years once construction of the LNG terminal began.

Germroth said the commitment was not intended as a quid pro quo offer for the community's support.

"AES has a standing good-neighbor policy," Germroth said, adding, "Generally, we don't get into specifics until a project is approved."

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