- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The struggle by residents of Southern Maryland to challenge Dominion Resources’ seemingly unstoppable plans to expand its Cove Point facility is reminiscent of David confronting Goliath. “Goliath,” in this case, is Dominion, whose very name as biblical usage means “ruling over” or “controlling.” Truly gigantic, Dominion reported 2013 earnings of $1.88 billion.
Dominion is using the clout of its financial resources to combat all adversaries. For permitting and legal challenges, it employs highly specialized lawyers. For public relations and shaping public opinion, it has repeatedly bought full-page ads in every local newspaper.
The “David” of this saga is Cove Point’s residents who live here for beauty and quiet, nature and the water — and who are unfamiliar with laws and regulations relating to Maryland’s Public Service Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Until recently, few had any idea of Dominion’s plans that could dominate and depress their homes’ values, quality of life and the tourism-oriented local economy.
Of course, some local residents side with Goliath — not surprisingly, since Dominion has wooed the area’s labor and business communities with vague promises. We all understand that neighbors who are hardworking and skilled laborers yearn for good jobs. All of us want to see local businesses thrive. We fear, however, that lower revenues from a damaged tourism industry will offset investment by Dominion, with related lost jobs offsetting short-term construction jobs.
Tensions are high because Dominion asked the PSC to waive the normal two-year period for application review — a period intended to ensure a fair, open and effective process. Communities need time to learn of plans, marshal expertise and engage in the regulatory process. Halving the review period enables Dominion to capitalize on its early moves and weaken its opposition.
Moreover, information is power. A democratic process should enable government agencies to assess different sources of information. Yet until recently, Dominion was the sole source of “facts” for permits and approvals — ranging from technical information to its descriptions of the natural environment and local residences, and its projections about noise, pollutants and traffic.
In promoting its profit-oriented agenda, Dominion has downplayed the proximity of residences, not reporting the number of families (360 homes within 4,500 feet) who could breathe pollutants, drink contaminated water, see industrial lights and hear constant noise. It was not in Dominion’s interest to describe the one narrow road that is the sole route both for trucks delivering large equipment and parts throughout the night and for residents fleeing in case of an accident.
Worse yet, beyond its limited version of “the facts,” Dominion is withholding information. Consistent with U.S. regulations protecting the public’s right to know, all documents relating to Dominion’s FERC application are posted at elibrary.ferc.gov/idmws/ (under docket No. CP13-113). Yet scroll down to 2013, before the recent public letters, and look at the fourth column where a number of Dominion’s documents are labeled either “privileged” or “CEII” (Critical Energy Infrastructure Information). While Dominion dominates and controls information, local citizens try to contest pollutants, noise and other factors without knowing what they may be. Only recently, the Patuxent Riverkeeper filed a motion asking FERC to compel disclosure of such information.
Meanwhile, Dominion has been working quietly to advance and lock in a plan from which it will generate even greater profits — making it even larger and more powerful. Eight years ago, Dominion retrofitted “unidirectional” pipelines built to import natural gas, making them “bidirectional,” enabling export of gas (although Dominion reportedly told residents on whose properties it built new pipelines that they were for domestic gas routing to serve Americans in the Mid-Atlantic). In fact, Dominion signed export agreements in May 2013 with subsidiaries of Sumitomo Corp. in Japan and GAIL in India — apparently, presuming it would prevail in obtaining project approval.
The bottom line for this saga is that while Dominion/Goliath hastens for its business interests, the public interest calls for due care. An environmental impact statement, which serves the public interest and is settled federal practice, is imperative when a major facility will sit so close to where people live and children play. It must focus on both the natural environment and residential factors. It goes against all logic to believe that the construction and operations resulting from an investment of $3.8 billion in new construction will not have substantial impacts.
Residents of Calvert County and their neighbors count on the PSC and FERC to give citizens a chance against Dominion — starting with the PSC confirming its normal two-year approval period and FERC ordering a full EIS. It’s only fair and right — the American way.
Marcia Greenberg, St. Mary’s City