Dilemma: entrusting our health in others’ hands
This month feels like a repeat of a few years ago, when Dominion Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas first sought a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Maryland Public Service Commission to construct a 130-megawatt generating station, which will serve the new $3.8 billion export terminal at its existing Lusby plant.
Of course, back then the utility also had to contend with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval, among a host of other needed OK’s, all of which brought the community out in droves.
Once again, now that Dominion seeks to amend its PSC certificate, concerned residents are back out in full force, hoping to put a stop to the approval. And just as before, export project workers and local officials have taken to the mic to tout the economic benefits and assure those who are concerned that safety is at the forefront of this facility.
The arguments of both sides feel similar to those uttered when Dominion first petitioned the PSC. Now, the company has all its necessary approvals, and this certificate amendment, if granted, would remove what Domin- ion says is “an unnecessary emission limit” on “volatile organic compounds,” and would permit the use of existing combustion turbines to supply backup power if needed.
The request to remove the numeric limit on certain emissions came about because Dominion claims there is no feasible way to measure “fugitive emissions,” as they do not originate from a vent or smokestack. Project supporters at two recent public hearings before the PSC affirmed Dominion already goes above and beyond to prevent leaks and the company merely aims to run its generating station smoothly, without interruptions that are, as Dominion itself claims, “infeasible” to accommodate.
Opponents, however, remain skeptical that any of Dominion’s touted supreme safety measures will be effective at reducing air pollution to healthy limits. They are already concerned the company upped its piping and equipment components calculation from 15,000 to 160,000, even if Dominion officials say this miscalculation was due to originally unaccounted-for small components like valves and tubing connectors.
We understand their concerns, and we hope Dominion, along with the state and federal agencies responsible for overseeing its operations, take those concerns seriously. We would hope they already do. Dominion employees and project contractors live and work right here, breathing the same air as the plant’s neighbors — their children breathing that same air, as well. If anyone was concerned about the facility’s emissions, it should be them.
And with that knowledge, we hope and expect they will have all our backs when it comes to ensuring safe, healthy operations at the Cove Point plant.
Let’s also not forget one of Calvert’s own now sits on the Public Service Commission. Former delegate Tony O’Donnell will be among the five commission members who will discuss and vote on whether to approve or deny Dominion’s certificate amendment request. The PSC may very well give a ruling at its Nov. 15 meeting, knowing Dominion’s expansion project is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
Despite theories that the economic benefits of the export project — mainly, the tax revenue Calvert County will see and the added jobs and income this project has brought to the county — are driving local officials to ignore any harmful impacts the facility may bring, we have to believe our citizens’ health and safety also weigh heavily on our leaders’ minds.
But beyond them, we have to trust in these regulatory agencies to study, weigh and debate all the data presented before them, and to reach a decision that does not endanger the general population.
And that’s what we ask them to do in this case. It can be daunting to think we are leaving our fate in another’s hands, especially in the hands of a governing body responsible for overseeing a liquefied natural gas plant. So we cannot and will not discredit the concerns of Dominion’s neighbors. But we do have faith that the PSC will keep public health in mind when making its decision in this case.
We further hope that, regardless of how the PSC rules, Dominion officials and employees will do their part to keep emissions low whenever and wherever possible.