Officials to testify on LNG project

Coast Guard's ability to handle security among issues today

April 23, 2007|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,sun reporter

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings has heard Dundalk residents' concerns about the proposed liquefied natural gas terminal at Sparrows Point. And he's discussed the project's potential impact on the Chesapeake Bay and the economy with various officials.

Now the Baltimore Democrat has some weighty questions for Coast Guard officials, including whether they can handle the additional security jobs associated with the proposed facility in Maryland.

As a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and chairman of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, Cummings has arranged a hearing on the subject of LNG terminals today in Baltimore.

Coast Guard commanders are among the officials scheduled to testify before the panel.

"I think the Baltimore hearing will be crucial," said Cummings. "I believe it will have a bearing on other LNG projects throughout the country.

"The Coast Guard is our thin blue line at sea," he said. "We must ensure it's an unbreakable line. ... People have lost sight of the Coast Guard's role - what they have to do to ensure the security of an LNG facility."

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approves the locations of onshore LNG facilities, but the Coast Guard assesses all proposals and is charged with escorting and inspecting the overseas tankers carrying the fuel to U.S. facilities.

At today's hearing, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Gov. Martin O'Malley, Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. and officials from AES Corp., the global power supply company that wants to build the LNG plant on Sparrows Point, are also scheduled to address the subcommittee.

Arlington-Va. based AES has submitted an application to the FERC to build a terminal and processing plant at the former Bethlehem Steel shipyard, and to construct an 87-mile pipeline to southern Pennsylvania where the processed gas would be distributed.

The company also has filed a request with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge a 117-acre area near the shipyard to accommodate large tankers that would bring the imported liquid gas to the terminal.

AES has sought to alleviate concerns, hiring a terrorism expert to review its plans. Officials with the company have also said that the project would generate jobs and tax revenue and offset national energy costs and that the dredging would help clean up toxins left by companies before them.

But the project has drawn criticism from a range of elected officials, environmental groups and residents. They say that the facility would be too close to homes and would thwart revitalization efforts in the area. They also say that emergency responders are not prepared to handle an accident or terrorist attack at the terminal.

In a letter sent last week to Capt. Brian D. Kelley, the Baltimore Coast Guard commander, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger called for a comprehensive security assessment of the AES proposal, to be completed within the next two months, addressing such questions as how the Coast Guard would share intelligence about terrorist plots with local authorities.

Cummings is among the federal lawmakers who has asked the FERC to deny the AES application. He said his concern about the project wouldn't compromise his ability to be objective.

"In this process, I want fairness. Period," he said.

Kent Morton, Sparrows Point project manager, said in a written statement that AES hopes to show during the hearing that the facility would be "a win for everyone in the areas of cost savings, clean emissions, minimal impacts to the port and surrounding communities, and in meeting the demand for energy well into the future."

The hearing in Baltimore is the first of two sessions on the topic of LNG to be held away from Capitol Hill. Another hearing, to be held in New York where another company is proposing to build an LNG facility, is planned for next month.

Cummings said he also has questions about the apparent inclination of federal regulators to approve new LNG terminals.

Southern Maryland is already home to an LNG facility, Cove Point, at the tip of Calvert County.

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

The hearing, which is open to the public, begins at 10 a.m. today in the Ceremonial Courtroom at the University of Maryland School of Law, 500 W. Baltimore St. in Baltimore.

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