Robert S. Weiner was chief of staff of the House Aging Committee. He also served as staff director of its subcommittee on health and long-term care and as communications director of the House Government Operations Committee.
Back in March, about 150 Prince George’s and Charles county residents attended a Maryland Department of the Environment hearing to provide and hear testimony on the department’s potential override of a Charles County zoning disapproval of a liquefied natural gas compressor station.
Included in Richmond-based Dominion Energy’s Eastern Market Access Project is a natural gas compressor station on Barrys Hill Road in the community of Bryans Road. It is part of Dominion’s Cove Point station on the Chesapeake Bay and the company’s effort to become the country’s second-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.
Sixty area residents spoke against the plant; four spoke in support.
Experts/residents included MIT and Yale professors, national park workers, physicians and other health workers, government policy experts and many who were concerned about the natural, environmental and health effects. People with respiratory illnesses, parents, animal owners and farmworkers testified with genuine alarm about breathing the resulting pollution.
The reasons for the plant made no sense from a public policy or health perspective:
• The proposal did not include scheduled and unscheduled “blow downs,” more than 100 per year. Blow downs are essentially managed belches of extra emissions.
• The proposed smokestack for pollution releases is only 50 feet high, which is inexplicably low and which will spew pollutants throughout the neighborhoods. Dominion’s own “good engineering stack height” is 113.5 feet.
• The application does not include “fugitive emissions,” leaks common at LNG facilities.
• The Maryland General Assembly passed and Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signed a bill banning fracking because of the contaminants and dangers. But the state would allow fracked gas at this station.
• Critically, no Health Impact Assessment under the standards of the Maryland Department of Health has been conducted.
Residents were concerned that given the failure to meet standards, the Charles County station could become a horrific parallel to Three Mile Island and Flint, Mich. , both of which were also called “safe” before the facts came out.
Since the hearing, additional factors have come to light that could explain how bad policy becomes a public fact here:
• Whatever his post-scandal status, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s now-famous sweetheart housing deal was to live for cheap rent in the building of the leading lobbyist for liquefied natural gas. Moreover, what phone calls did he make in his equally infamous $43,000 soundproof phone booth to his landlord? Did they discuss how to override local zoning?
• On April 3, President Trump held a news conference with Baltic states leaders, after Trump and Chief of Staff John F. Kelly told Pruitt they have his back. The president of Lithuania announced, “And American liquid gas will come on time, and will make us more independent in our decision-making and diversifies our gas supply.”
• Despite being asked, no one at the hearing could state whether anyone connected to Dominion or others in the LNG industry gave campaign contributions and if so, how much, to Hogan, area members of Congress or state legislators, Pruitt when he was Oklahoma attorney general or Trump.
The Maryland Department of the Environment and its Air Quality Permits Program must answer these questions, preferably before the public comment period ends on June 12 — and before the EPA or the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, with which Pruitt works as a federal agency colleague, override local zoning decisions.
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