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Oct 03

Marylanders rail against Dominion’s proposal to increase pollution in Cove Point

Impacted residents and their supporters expressed anger at Dominion for submitting an application based on engineering malfeasance or corporate dishonesty

LUSBY, MD — The public showed up in force last night 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. Dominion is requesting to have no numeric VOC limit and instead use a program where it would detect and repair excessive VOC leaks on its own schedule.

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. In this new application, Dominion is saying there are now 162,700 such components, 88,700 of which are likely to leak VOCs. Based on the new numbers, Dominion expects its VOC emissions to be 20.1 tons per year, far greater than the 2.53-ton limit in its permit.

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.

The auditorium at Patuxent High School was packed with a capacity crowd for this hearing. A hundred or more local residents who have been fighting this facility for years showed up, as well an estimated couple hundred union workers. Dominion passed out “yes” stickers to people who the company wanted to be seen as on Dominion’s side, but that seemed to be the limit of support from most of the crowd that supposedly favored Dominion’s application. A number of union workers mentioned that they would be fined $500 if they didn’t come to the hearing and sign in with a union representative, and many of them eagerly accepted information critical of the permit amendment. This was an obvious attempt by Dominion to create a false sense of public support.

Most of the union members left well before the hearing was over. 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. The difference between locals who spoke from the heart and stayed until the end was stark when compared with the pro-Dominion testimony of various union representatives and Dominion subordinates, most of whom left after they spoke and would financially benefit from the completion of this terminal.

“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.”

“Perhaps, at the first PSC hearing, Dominion had just gotten back from the power-generating-plant store, and the picture on the front of its new purchase looked really cool and said ‘easy assembly,’ and it was on sale, but Dominion hadn’t opened the box yet, so it just had no idea how many parts were in it,” surmised Accokeek resident Kelly Canavan. “It is hard to grasp how else this might have gone down. Were there no blueprints? Had no one approved the engineering? It’s not like this thing is being cobbled out of spare parts in Uncle Leo’s back yard, right?”

“Just how many people will get cancer, serious lung ailments, worsened pre-existing conditions such as asthma, and so forth over the years simply from normal, efficient facility operations?” asked Ken Pritchard, who lives on the Cove Point peninsula. “If a student gave an answer on a critical test that was off by 1,000 percent, would you say, ‘Good job, Johnny’? Would you give Johnny a passing grade? I hope you would speak honestly and sternly to Johnny about this poor work, and give him an ‘F’ for failure.”

“In 2014, the PSC issued its permit despite admitting this project had no public benefit,” added Lusby resident Linda Morin. “Instead, the PSC put a price on the lives and livelihoods of Lusby residents as one condition of the permit.”

“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.”

“My father was exposed to VOCs and suffered respiratory ailments to his death. My sister has lung cancer. I fear that the quality of life I believed was available has been slowly stolen over the past years for greed,” added Chesapeake Beach resident Pat Simpson.

Marcia Greenberg, a St. Mary’s County resident, used the acronym of “SCAM” to drive home her thoughts about how Dominion’s been operating:

“The ‘S’ of scam shows Dominion has employed a calculated strategy of death by a thousand cuts, bait and switch, and divide and conquer among good people in the community. The ‘C’ is for the corrupt corporation from Virginia that has bought off Calvert County commissioners, workers and nonprofits to increase profits. The ‘A’ is because the process has been anti-democratic — not at all being of the people, by the people, for the people — and thereby setting up multiple citizen interventions questioning whether the ‘Public’ in the PSC name and mandate has anything to do with protecting the public. And lastly, ‘M’ is for malevolent because Dominion knows that its facility lies too close to more than 2,000 homes, with no buffer zone for daily emissions spewing toxic and ‘fugitive’ emissions into the air or in anticipation of a tragic accident.”

“If Dominion’s work is so shoddy on this issue, what other surprises and disasters can we look forward to?” asked Lusby resident Cathy Zumbrun. “You must deny this request, and hold Dominion to the original approved emission limits and strictly monitor its compliance. If Dominion can’t comply, then you must shut it down.”

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.