Dilemma: en­trust­ing our health in others’ hands

The Calvert Recorder - - Community Forum -

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.

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