Public Outcry as Dominion Energy Asks Government for Vast Increase in Allowed Pollution at Cove Point Gas Terminal

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Calvert County resident Bill Peil holds up details of the permit in question during his testimony opposing Dominion's application. Photo by Jeff Dixon

LUSBY, MD — The public showed up in force Tuesday evening to urge the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) to reject Dominion Energy’s application to increase the pollution that would enter the air surrounding its fracked gas export terminal and liquefaction plant that is being built in the Cove Point neighborhood of Lusby, Maryland. For three hours, speaker after speaker gave the lone PSC representative on the stage an earful, telling the regulatory agency exactly how they felt about the prospect of living with even more pollution than they’re currently facing.

This public comment hearing was part of an application process in which Dominion is asking the PSC to remove the restriction to emit no more than 2.53 tons per year of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), as well as to use more generators in the power plant aspect of the facility. Now that VOC emissions are projected to be about eight times that amount, Dominion is requesting to have any specific numeric limit removed from this permit and instead use a program where it would detect and repair excessive VOC leaks on its own schedule. This means there would be no specific number Dominion would be bound to stay within.

In Dominion’s filings for its 2014 PSC permit, the company said it would have 15,000 valves, gauges, fittings, inspection ports and other connections that would be associated with fugitive VOC emissions, estimated at 2.53 tons. In this new application, Dominion now says there are 162,700 such components, 88,700 of which are likely to leak VOCs. Based on these numbers, Dominion expects its VOC emissions to be 20.1 tons per year.

Health effects from VOCs can include loss of coordination, nausea, and damage to the liver, kidney and central nervous system. VOCs also contribute negatively to ozone quality. Even at low levels, breathing ozone can cause chest pains, coughing and throat irritation. Increased ozone can also aggravate lung diseases like emphysema, bronchitis, and asthma. Exposure to ozone is associated with increased numbers of premature deaths. Ozone pollution is particularly dangerous for children and those who are exercising outdoors, such as during school sports and recreation.

A capacity crowd of about 300 people packed the auditorium at Patuxent High School for this hearing, including a hundred or more local residents who have been fighting this facility for years, as well as a couple hundred union workers. Dominion passed out “yes” stickers to people whom the company wanted to be seen as on Dominion’s side, almost entirely union workers.  While construction-related unions strongly support the Cove Point plant because of the jobs it generates, wearing the “yes” stickers seemed to be the limit of support for most of the rank-and-file union members present.  Many appeared unaware of the impacts from the facility but did not want to risk losing jobs.  Many eagerly accepted information critical of the permit amendment.

 

Long line forms outside of the Public Service Commission hearing in Lusby, Maryland. Photo by Jeff Dixon

Most union members left well before the hearing was over, including those who gave testimony in favor of permit approval. At one point, a speaker asked the still-significant crowd if anyone was still there who supported Dominion emitting more VOCs from this facility. Nobody raised a hand. He then asked the crowd to raise their hands if they opposed Dominion’s request. Nearly every hand was raised.

“For engineering to be that far off in the calculation of piping components reflects on professional incompetence,” stated chemical engineer and Cove Point Beach resident June Sevilla during the hearing. “But is the engineer really to blame? Or was this ‘as-built’ scenario already anticipated and the facts withheld?”

“Those of us who are familiar with permit review know the 15,000 components stated in Dominion’s original application was chosen to get approval when the real number would have raised more red flags. It is a very familiar bait-and-switch scam with these guys,” said Lusby resident Rick Morin. “This increase in VOC emissions has real health consequences for an area already out of compliance for ozone.”

“We are experiencing another episode of ‘Dominion creep,’ in which this company misleads state and federal agencies to get a little more, and then a little more,” stated Dr. Margaret Flowers, a physician and Baltimore resident. “This shows that Dominion Energy will do all it can to make a profit, even at the expense of people’s health and lives. It is particularly egregious that those who will be hurt the most are children. Studies show that the pollutants the Dominion facility would emit are associated with a higher risk of birth defects and greater risk of cancer over a child’s lifetime, and poorer overall health and school performance. If the Maryland PSC allows Dominion to pollute without limits in Cove Point, it will set a bad precedent for Dominion and other polluters to push for more.”

“Governor Hogan announced last week that he was concerned about air pollution coming into our state, but he doesn’t seem to care about the pollution created in Lusby from a Virginia company, Dominion,” remarked Lusby resident Mark Giuffrida. “No one seems to care that this pollution will harm us, the bay or the wildlife.”

The public has until October 16 to submit comments to the PSC. The PSC is expected to make a decision on this application on November 15.

For more information on Dominion’s requested permit changes or for how to submit comments, visit www.wearecovepoint.org.

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