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Volume 15, Issue 26 ~ June 28 - July 4, 2007


Big Energy v. Chesapeake Bay

When a federal judge said no last week to putting a huge liquefied natural gas plant along the Patapsco River, Marylanders got a temporary reprieve from our feelings of helplessness.

A few days before, the Senate rebuffed first-term Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin’s effort to pass his first amendment and relieve some of our anxiety. Cardin tried to amend the far-reaching new Energy Bill in Congress with a provision giving states a role in the siting of LNG plants, like that one a Virginia company wants to build adjacent to Anne Arundel County.

Cardin will have to wait for his first legislative success: The Democratic-run Senate handed one of their own — and us — a crunching 56-37 defeat, leaving siting issues in the domain of the federal government.

The same day, a Delaware company said it planned to do what’s never been done: run a natural gas pipeline under Chesapeake Bay. Gas would be pumped and piped from ever-expanding Cove Point, in Calvert County, to Delaware.

The pipeline plan sounded alarms among environmental advocates, as well it should given the fragile state of the Bay and near-emergency need stem its decline. We agree, and we also wonder why, amid the refrain of energy independence, we should build the plumbing to import energy from the Middle East and global hot spots.

These developments point to a reality growing more troubling by the day: We are increasingly captive to energy companies, and in the end we have ourselves to blame for our energy addictions.

That’s not to say we don’t believe in local control when it comes to picking our poisons. We applaud the decision by U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett upholding a Baltimore County law banning the Sparrow’s Point plant.

But AES Corp., the Virginia company that wants to build the plant, likely will appeal. Forgive our pessimism, but we’re not hopeful.

The federal government and, more recently, Congress, have increasingly preferred to place control of big energy plants with the federal government rather than with states. That trend began with a landmark Supreme Court case in 1971 (Northern States Power Co. v. Minnesota), the reason that states have nothing to say about where nuclear plants get built.

We might add that the Fourth Circuit Appellate Court, to which Maryland belongs, is one of the most conservative in America, one that sees great wisdom in precedent. As we’ve seen, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission barely pays lip service to the wishes of states and localities. So don’t buy your party hat any time soon to celebrate the victory at Sparrows Point.

But it’s possible the Bay pipeline project could be nipped in the bud.

Thus far, though, the O’Malley administration and members of Congress have not voiced their disapproval to the pipeline as they have with the LNG plant to the north. They should, before the Delaware company, Eastern Shore Natural Gas, starts investing in more than press releases.

Maryland should not condone novel methods of sending gas across the Chesapeake when the state can’t figure out new ways to move people to and from the Eastern Shore.

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