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Maryland politicians block pipeline into West Virginia

The Maryland Board of Public Works has voted 3-0 to reject plans for construction of a natural gas pipeline that would supply energy to West Virginia’s eastern panhandle.  Specifically, the Board refused to grant Columbia Gas Transmission right-of-way easement for an eight inch, 3.4 mile pipeline running through the state’s western panhandle connecting pipelines in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, was once a proponent of natural gas and infrastructure expansion, but he has changed his tune. He was one of the three Board members to block the project.

The decision followed immense public pressure from environmental groups and a letter signed by 62 current and recently-elected Maryland legislators opposed to the project. Board member state Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat, said, “We were going to subject our state to all the environmental problems of this pipeline and get none of the economic benefits.”

Fortunately for Maryland, not all policy makers in this country have the not-in-my-back-yard attitude. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Maryland imports four-fifths of its energy—mostly coal and natural gas–from other states.

“Maryland’s natural gas needs are met by supplies that enter the state by way of several interstate pipelines and a liquefied natural gas (LNG) port,” according to the EIA.  “Maryland’s Eastern Shore also receives natural gas from Pennsylvania by pipeline through Delaware.”

Opposition groups that want to stop the use of carbon-based energy whipped up opposition with the usual hysteria of contaminated water wells and environmental damage.  The vote “completely blocks TransCanada (parent company of Columbia Gas) from building their pipeline,” said Upper Potomac Riverkeeper Brent Walls.  “It’s a huge win, because it just throws a big wrench into industry.”

Apparently their hyperbole meant more to the Board than the range of regulatory approval for the pipeline.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources not only signed off on the project, but included tougher standards for water well projection and additional requirements for pre- and post-construction monitoring of wells.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has also given its approval.

Scott Castleman, a spokesman for TransCanada called the denial unfortunate. “That being said, it does not change the need for, or the company’s commitment to, our Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project.”

We know there is another issue here—the controversial Rockwool Plant under construction in Jefferson County.  Opponents have been looking for any way possible to stop the plant, and cutting off the potential natural gas supply is one way.

However, the action, if it stands and if Columbia doesn’t find another way, denies West Virginia’s eastern panhandle a reliable supply of cheap, clean natural gas.  And for what it’s worth, it also signifies rank hypocrisy by policy makers from a state that must rely on rights-of-way in other states for a portion of its energy, while denying that same access to a neighbor.



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