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Court: MDE must evaluate gas compressor

A Dominion Resources Inc. unit’s application for an air quality permit for a natural-gas compressor station must be evaluated by a Maryland state agency, a federal appeals court in Washington ruled.

The Maryland Department of the Environment should disclose valid zoning objections by local governments involved in the case or process the application, Circuit Judge Thomas Griffith wrote for a three-judge panel in an opinion issued Friday.

“The department must either identify one or more ‘applicable’ (that is, not pre-empted) zoning or land use requirements with which Dominion has not demonstrated compliance, or it must process Dominion’s application for an air quality permit,” Griffith wrote.

The town of Myersville, in Frederick County, last August denied Dominion Transmission Inc.’s zoning application for the compressor station as a nuisance that was contrary to the local development plan.

Dominion needed the town’s zoning approval before the permit application could be evaluated, according state arguments cited in Griffith’s ruling.

Dominion argued that a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the facility granted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission trumped local objections. FERC agreed with that point and granted a certificate.

“We are confident we will qualify for a permit,” Dan Donovan, a Dominion Transmission spokesman, said in an emailed statement.

Jay Apperson, a spokesman for MDE, said in an email that the decision is under review. He declined to comment further.

The compressor station is part of a $113 million natural gas storage and transportation project that is intended to supply gas to Washington Gas Light Co. and Exelon Corp.’s Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., according to Donovan.

The plan requires the construction of four compressor stations, expected to cost $112.3 million. For one facility, Dominion wants to build a 16,000 horsepower natural gas combustion engine in Myersville on a 21-acre site at the northwest intersection of Maryland Route 17 and Milt Summers Road. The station would receive gas from an existing pipeline that runs from Leesburg, Va., to Leidy, Pa., compress the gas and return it via 500 feet of new pipelines.

In the lawsuit, filed in late January, Dominion said the town was violating federal law by blocking plans that have been approved by FERC.

Following the Myersville town council’s rejection of Dominion’s application to change the current commercial zoning on the site to allow for the station’s construction, MDE rejected Dominion’s request for an air quality control permit because Dominion had not received approval from the local zoning authority. Local consent is a requirement under Environment Article §2-404(b), the Maryland law created to comply with the Clean Air Act.

Chuck Penn, a spokesman for Dominion, said at the time that the company filed the suit because it felt it had exhausted every other option.

“In essence, what it comes down to is, we have painstakingly tried to be sensitive to residents’ concerns throughout the entire process, and we don’t take this action lightly, and it comes after great deal of introspection and forethought in recognizing we would like to proceed with the project,” Penn said at the time. “We feel this can’t be overstated. We still are more than willing to engage the town’s officials and residents to see if there is some type of minimal position we can agree on.”

The case is Dominion Transmission Inc. v. Summers, 13-1019, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (Washington).