Lawsuit seeks to scrap LNG terminal

Plaintiffs say Sparrows Point project would harm environment, safety

February 13, 2010|By By Mary Gail Hare | The Baltimore Sun

Neighbors of the proposed liquid natural gas terminal at Sparrows Point asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington on Friday to scrap federal regulators' approval of the $400 million project.

The lawsuit comes a year after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the proposal of AES Sparrows Point LNG to build the terminal on the site of the former Sparrows Point shipyard.

"We are asking the court to look at the entire record and see the error of FERC's decision, which was arbitrary and capricious," Washington attorney Bart S. Fisher said. "We are basically suing FERC and asking it to reverse its decision."

Representatives of AES, headquartered in Arlington, Va., could not be reached for comment on Friday.

FERC approved plans for the terminal and an 88-mile pipeline to Pennsylvania, provided that AES meets 169 conditions. The company has yet to fulfill most of them.

Nearly a dozen government, business and community groups, including the state of Maryland and Baltimore County, filed appeals of the FERC decision. The five-member panel declined to hear any of the appeals. The lawsuit Friday, filed by the community group LNG Opposition Team, is also asking the appeals court to review that FERC action.

Fisher said a reversal of the approval would "drive the final stake" into a project that has drawn strong opposition from government officials and neighborhood groups. Among the few supporters are area labor unions that are eager for the jobs the project would create.

"We will remake the same arguments" against the proposal, Fisher said. "It will have adverse environmental impacts and it will increase the threat of terrorism. It will also pose a direct threat to the safety of those who live near it."

He said he expects Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Baltimore County to pursue similar appeals, but neither was able to confirm that Friday.

Among the conditions AES must meet is receiving a water-quality permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment. MDE has denied approval of the company's plan to dredge the Baltimore harbor to depths that could handle the large LNG tankers, saying that it would remove significant amounts of contaminated sediment and create a dead zone by depleting oxygen vital to aquatic life. AES has also not submitted a plan for disposal of the sediment.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., upheld MDE's denial of the permit in December. That same court denied AES' petition for a rehearing on the water quality issue last week.

"This is all good news," said Guido Guarnaccia, a founding member of the LNG Opposition Team. "We have had two strikes against AES, and with a third one, we can tell this company to take a hike. Our whole community is rejoicing."

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