Hundred and perhaps thousands of Calvert, Charles and Prince George’s County citizens in Maryland have been battling Dominion Power and state regulators to stop Dominion from building what’s called a “compressor station” on the Charles County/Prince George’s County line. Dominion says it needs the station to reopen the Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal that closed when natural gas prices dropped during the Reagan years. The facility was used back then to import gas from abroad but has since been refurbished as a major export terminal as U.S. energy supplies continue to increase.
Some of the most vocal opposition to the siting of the station and to the reopening of the Cove Point terminal comes from environmental extremists who oppose any petroleum-based energy in favor of windmills and solar cells engaged in a fight they aren’t going to win. Natural gas is cleaner and in today’s world cheaper than coal, oil, wind and solar. Our air and water are cleaner today because natural gas is replacing other carbon-based fuels and we need it to generate the power Tesla addicts need to charge their batteries.
Cove Point operated safely before it was mothballed in the ‘80s, and while there is always some risk that a catastrophic breakdown or a terrorist act could endanger those around it, that risk seems minimal and is outweighed by the need to access U.S. energy that could alleviate European dependence on Russian and Middle Eastern natural gas and work wonders on this country’s continuing trade deficits.
The real problem, however, is not the Cove Point terminal, but the site chosen for the compressor station and the way Dominion and its political friends are ignoring the legitimate concerns of those who will have to live alongside the facility.
The company’s plan to build its compressor station just across the Potomac from Mount Vernon threatens an area federal and state authorities have heretofore struggled to keep pristine so as not to interfere with the view across the water from George Washington’s home. Those living in the area, much of which is known as the Moyaone Reserve, have to get permission from the National Park Service to cut a tree on their own land, but Dominion has decided to build its compressor station right next to this area with little regard for the land, its residents or the environment that has drawn them and thousands of D.C. area tourists to the area.
The station which will be one of the largest such facilities in the country will use something like 230,000 gallons of water a day drawn from the area’s wetlands and store on site 13,000 gallons of toxic ammonia used in processing gas for shipment to China. Area residents who were never consulted were outraged to learn that the company wants to clear 50 acres to build the facility, get the state to widen roads to handle the heavy truck traffic that it will generate and seek waivers to existing rules governing the pollutants it will generate.
While continuing to ignore the “locals,” Dominion planners responded quickly when Mt. Vernon officials complained that the smokestacks required under existing federal standards would mean that pollutants would quickly find their way to Washington’s home. Dominion sought and apparently got permission to reduce the height of the smokestack by nearly 60 feet so the pollutants won’t drift across the river, but fall instead on the folks living near the station — folks who local and state officials could force to swallow hard and accept the destruction of the area in which they live.
They were wrong. While state and federal authorities have historically paid little attention to Prince George’s County or Southern Maryland, residents gave tentative approval to Dominion’s plans, but a few months ago Charles County threw a monkey wrench into the works when that county’s Board of Appeals refused to give Dominion the approval it needed to build and operate the compressor station. Since then, Dominion lobbyists have been working with federal and state officials to pressure the county to reverse itself and let construction proceed.
It may be that the 50-acre location Dominion picked for its compressor station was the most convenient from its perspective and counted on officials to go along for that reason alone, but the company could have selected another location that would have had far less impact on the environment and the lives of those living in a uniquely pristine part of the extended D.C. metro area.
One wonders what they were thinking. It is possible and indeed vital that energy and commercial development can be met without needlessly running roughshod over people and their property. Smart businessmen and women across the country accomplish this every day; it’s too bad none of them work for Dominion.
• David A. Keene is an editor at large for The Washington Times.
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