Local control for LNG

Our view: Stalled or not, Sparrows Point shows need to rethink LNG policy

March 05, 2010|By Baltimore Sun reporter

Once again, U.S. Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski have proposed legislation to repeal a provision of the five-year-old Energy Policy Act so that states could veto the location of a liquefied natural gas terminal. That an LNG terminal and pipeline might be forced on Sparrows Point despite the strong opposition of state and local elected leaders underscores the failure of the existing law.

This year, Maryland's senators are joined by senators from Connecticut, Washington and Oregon, states where -- no surprise here -- similar terminals have met with stiff resistance. Such decision-making authority ought to rest in the hands of states and not with federal regulators. Where is the "states' rights" crowd when the energy sector is throwing its weight around?

AES Corp., the Virginia-based company that wants to build the Sparrows Point LNG terminal and its 87-mile pipeline, and its supporters have argued that LNG is too important for the nation's energy future to allow NIMBY concerns to squash their efforts.

But importing natural gas from producing countries such as Yemen, Indonesia and Russia to the U.S. looks like a questionable move for any number of strategic reasons, particularly with new estimates that suggest North American natural gas reserves are greater than previously thought. The U.S. Department of Energy forecasts 2011 will see a dip in LNG imports even as the economy recovers from recession.

The Sparrows Point project is at least temporarily on the shelf -- thanks to Maryland's refusal to grant a water quality permit, a decision backed by the federal courts including the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. But that obstacle might eventually be removed. The Senate bill would give states direct control -- as local governments have long had over other energy projects.

The NIMBY complaint doesn't wash. Maryland has long supported expansion of another LNG facility, Dominion Cove Point in Calvert County, as have local authorities. It's one of the country's largest such facilities. But it hasn't raised the same troubling issues of toxic dredge spoil, security against attack and impact on maritime traffic that the Sparrows Point project has.

Make no mistake, natural gas has a role to play in this country. It's cleaner burning than other nonrenewable energy sources such as coal or oil, and it produces far less carbon per thermal unit than coal, an important consideration given the potentially devastating impact of climate change. But that doesn't mean that LNG terminals ought to be located anywhere their developers would like to put them.

The Cardin/Mikulski bill probably won't pass. It hasn't when it's been offered before. Members of Congress from states without ocean access simply aren't sympathetic to their coastal brethren. And big energy's political muscle is substantial.

But that doesn't mean that it isn't the right thing to do. Marylanders (and especially Baltimore County residents) deserve a bigger say in what happens in their communities. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has too much control now, and Congress needs to correct the error the commission made in 2005.

Readers respond

Natural gas is one of the main fuel sources that can replace gasoline and diesel. For all the talk about the greening of America and the proposed taxes on carbon, I find it quite peculiar that this is a problem with the people clamoring for lower carbon emissions.

Hydro-power? No! Kills fish.

Nuclear? No! Nowhere to put the waste.

Wind? No! Kills birds.

Liquefied natural gas? No, not in my backyard.

All you environmentalists, please explain just what fuel you will "allow" us to use!


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