Md. Senate lets LNG bill die as session ends

`Outraged' foes look to federal officials to halt plant construction

April 10, 2007|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,sun reporter

Dundalk activists say they expected a bill to block a liquefied natural gas facility off Sparrows Point to fare better than a proposed ban on trans-fatty foods or a measure to create a license plate honoring Maryland's mountains.

But as state lawmakers concluded the 90-day session in Annapolis late last night, legislation aimed at stopping the unpopular LNG project in eastern Baltimore County failed to win approval.

Three LNG measures were among the dozens of bills - including the trans-fats and license plate legislation - that stalled in committees. A fourth proposal, which passed the House of Delegates, 113-22, last month, never made it to the Senate floor.

Opponents of the LNG project are "frustrated and outraged that something this important didn't even receive the consideration of a full vote," said Del. John A. Olszewski Jr., a Dundalk Democrat.

"Busloads of people were calling in, writing in - all to no avail," he said.

Officials with AES Corp., the Virginia-based power supply company that wants to build the facility at the Sparrows Point shipyard, had cautioned lawmakers against interfering with the federal regulation of the LNG industry.

In a written statement issued yesterday, the company said: "We must continue to conduct public awareness outreach efforts to underscore the inherent as well as designed-in safety aspects of the project as we highlight the local benefits - to include taxes, jobs, the potential for lower energy bills, spin-off businesses and a cleaner, healthier Chesapeake Bay."

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is expected to make a decision this fall about whether to approve the terminal and an 87-mile pipeline from Sparrows Point through Harford County to southern Pennsylvania.

Some residents and elected officials, including several members of Congress, oppose dredging in the Patapsco River, which would be required to accommodate the tankers transporting the liquid fuel. The project would harm the Chesapeake Bay, thwart efforts to revive the local economy and present a safety risk to residents in the event of an accident or attack on the facility, they have said.

The bill that passed the House on March 23 had the support of several elected officials, including Gov. Martin O'Malley. As amended, it would have required a review by state environmental officials before LNG or oil facilities could be built in coastal areas of Baltimore City and Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties.

But the Senate version of the bill was not voted out of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

The chairwoman, Sen. Joan Carter Conway, said she felt that the proposed legislation duplicated the federal review process. "It was redundant," she said, but she added that she was "very empathetic" to residents concerned about the project.

Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., a Dundalk Democrat and vocal opponent of the LNG project, had gathered support among some colleagues, but his effort late Friday to attach the legislation to another bill was unsuccessful.

Several officials, including Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., said lobbyists hired by AES Corp. had done an effective job swaying some lawmakers.

Eight lobbyists were listed as working on behalf of the company's Sparrows Point proposal, according to state ethics records.

Smith said that while the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has historically approved LNG projects over community objections, local leaders will work to convince federal regulators to turn down the plan for Sparrows Point.

"We're not going to just roll over," said Smith, who is scheduled to testify later this month before Congress about LNG safety concerns.laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

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