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Activists don’t want expansion of LNG facility at Cove Point

National environmental groups are teaming with members of a Southern Maryland community to try to prevent the exportation of liquefied natural gas out of Dominion’s Cove Point facility in Lusby.

Pete Ide, Calvert County waterman who runs Captain Pete’s Fishing Charters, speaks at a gathering in Baltimore of environmentalists and Calvert County residents who oppose a proposed liquefied natural gas exportation facility at Dominion’s Cove Point location.

The Calvert County Board of Commissioners favors Dominion’s proposed construction, but members of this opposition say it will be problematic for the environment and nearby residents. The activists and Calvert County locals gathered in Baltimore Tuesday, declaring that they will fight the energy company in its attempt to export from Cove Point — located on the Chesapeake Bay at the Patuxent River — which is already a major import facility for liquefied natural gas.

Those involved individuals and small businesses and organizations, such as the Cove of Calvert Homeowners Association, Captain Pete’s Fishing Charters and the Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community. But large organizations are getting involved as well — the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the Sierra Club, and national law organization Earthjustice.

“When organizations and people get involved, we really can pack enough punch,” said the director of the Sierra Club’s Maryland chapter, Josh Tulkin. “We’re going to bring the full force of our legal team. We’ve been very successful across the country.”

The coalition sent a letter to Gov. Martin O’Malley, dated Tuesday, signed by more than 120 individuals and groups and listing reasons to oppose exportation activity at Cove Point — primarily concerns about pollution and an increased demand for hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas.

Some locals are also worried about the effects the activity would have on their neighborhoods and businesses.

As the Sierra Club’s Maryland chapter director, Tulkin deals with environmental issues in the state, but the organization has taken an interest in natural gas on a national level as well, in opposition of fracking techniques, with a campaign called “Beyond Natural Gas.”

On a regional scale, Chesapeake Climate Action Network has gotten involved in local environmental issues, both by reaching out to community groups and taking requests for help.

Not all of their smaller partners have aligning environmental values, said director Mike Tidwell. Some support environmentally friendly initiatives on a broad scale, while others are only interested in those that affect them locally.

Cove of Calvert Homeowners Association member Jean Marie Neal, for instance, said she is primarily involved with the coalition because of its potential effect on her neighborhood — noise, water traffic increase, water quality and leakage risks.

“We don’t have another energy agenda. We’re not part of a broader movement,” said Neal, but by partnering with larger groups, she hopes her neighbors will become more aware of the Cove Point implications.

Others, however, see their local issues as indicators of broader problems.

Pete Ide, of Captain Pete’s Fishing Charters in Solomons, sees the Dominion proposal — bringing with it tankers that would compete with his fishing boats for space on the bay — ¬as a potential hindrance to his business and considers himself an activist with concern for environmental issues on a broader scale.

“Personally writing on my Facebook page, that’s not going to impact anybody,” said Ide. “Being part of a bigger organization, it adds more volume to your message.”

While the interest in national environmental concerns declined some during the recession, said Tidwell, it has been boosted recently.

“I think that the evolution of extreme fossil fuels has really gotten people concerned and they’re fighting back,” he said.

Dominon spokesman Dan Donovan said that because importation facilities already exist, the exportation facility will be “environmentally compatible.”

“We work with the community that we’re going into very closely. We’ve worked very closely with the Calvert County community,” said Donovan. “We’re heavily involved with all the local, state and federal agencies that govern these projects. We expect that we’ll be able to get all the permits that we need.”

When it comes to local issues, however, an ongoing fight exists between those looking to expand infrastructure and those concerned with the impact on the environment and area neighborhoods, said Del. Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery.

“There are big and little examples of this throughout the United States,” said Barve. ‘This is the classic American policy argument. It’s been going on ever since the railway.”

Environmentalists have both successes and failures, said Barve, just like anyone else, but he was able to point to one recent example — the Intercounty Connector. Environmental and community groups banded together in opposition of a highway that runs from Montgomery County to Prince George’s County.

A vast majority of Montgomery County residents favored the construction of the highway, said Barve, but these groups were successful in delaying the project for decades.

When it comes to Dominion’s proposal, however, the economic factors may work against the opposing coalition.

“Shutting down anyone that’s trying to create jobs is going to be an uphill battle in this economy,” said Barve.

The Calvert County Board of Commissioners pointed to job creation in its support of Dominion’s project. The construction phase of the liquefaction facilities needed for exportation would create an estimated 4,000 direct and indirect jobs in the area, as well as about 180 permanent positions.

Tidwell says that these new jobs are not enough to outweigh the environmental impacts. Although natural gas burns cleaner than coal or oil, he argues that exportation methods are energy-intensive and actually create more greenhouse gas emissions.

Dominion gained approval for exportation from the Department of Energy last week and is in the process of seeking approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.