Oct 20

Residents seize second chance to oppose increased pollution at Cove Point

Local residents spoke adamantly against Dominion’s request to emit more pollution into Cove Point’s air. Photo by Jeff Dixon.

LUSBY, MD — The Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) held a second hearing last night to hear comments about Dominion Energy’s application to change its primary state-level permit for the fracked gas export terminal the company is building in the Cove Point neighborhood of Lusby, Maryland. Too many speakers signed up to testify at a previous hearing on October 2, so the PSC created this second hearing to allow previous speakers and others the chance to present oral testimony.

Just like the October 2 hearing, people opposing Dominion’s request to change this permit (mostly local residents who would be impacted by these changes) outnumbered people speaking in support (mostly Dominion employees and contractors).

Two primary points are at the heart of Dominion’s requested changes:

Dominion is seeking permission to use older, less-efficient turbines to generate power at the site. Dominion had promised state-of-the-art generators in its original permit application, but the company is now asking to also use different generators, some of which were designed in the 1950s.

Separately, Dominion says it built this facility with more than 10 times as many components that could leak volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than it included in its permit. In the designs upon which the 2014 permit was issued, Dominion 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, estimating an eight-fold increase in related VOC emissions. Dominion is asking to have any numeric limit for VOC emissions waived, suggesting the company will monitor and maintain VOC emissions on its own.

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 primary place league sports are played in southern Calvert County is directly adjacent to this export terminal.

The majority of speakers at last night’s hearing were Calvert County or Southern Maryland residents. Multiple engineers pointed out that no other business would get away with the calculation mistakes Dominion claims it made. One person who works for the government said correcting a project after it is built normally involves constant problems. Several people testified that such a mistake would never be allowed in their line of work, from teachers to nurses to medical doctors to engineers.

Ben Hance is an aerospace engineer who works with failure analysis. “If the number of parts was underestimated by a factor of 10, there is either gross misconduct, or complete incompetence, or total ignorance, or blatant dishonesty. It is unconscionable to allow that level of inexpertise from an engineering standpoint.”

“I’ve never seen this level of incompetence. To be off on several factors by a power of 10 is unheard of!” exclaimed Andy Rogers, who works in engineering at Patuxent River Naval Air Station.

“These facilities should be in an industrial area, not in a residential neighborhood,” added Lusby resident Linda Bodycomb.

Kristine Kraus has asthma, gets allergy shots monthly, and must take steroids. She sees children as young as three getting allergy shots. “It is not normal for three-year-olds to get allergy shots,” Kraus asserted. “People with asthma will get worse, and healthy people will get sick. I couldn’t go out of the house for several years because of asthma. Air pollution is a serious problem that will make more and more people sick.”

“Southern Maryland has one of the highest rates of asthma, added Claudia Carter, a pediatric nurse and Cove Point Beach resident. “I’m seeing an increase in children being hospitalized for repeated asthma attacks in spite of new programs to train children and parents on how to control the disease.”

“Once a child’s lungs are damaged, you can’t take it back and back the damage and fix it,” said Gwen DuBois, President of the Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility. “The PSC should enforce stricter standards, not relax the standards and wreck the health of children and all residents.”

Cody Hance has had three family members die of cancer in the last 10 years. “We need to work to improve public health,” he declared. “With our ozone already in the ‘F’ range, why would we even consider allowing more pollution in our area?”

“If it is dangerous to be in a room too long with an open can of paint, how can we live for the next 20-plus years with even more dangerous carcinogens coming into our air every day that we are forced to inhale with every breath?” asked St. Mary’s County resident Rosa Hance, wearing her infant in a wrap as she spoke.

Jeff Dixon, who has watched nonstop industrial construction traffic go back and forth in front of his formerly quiet house in Lusby for the last three years, asked government regulators to remember the golden rule and not do to southern Calvert County residents things they would not approve for their own neighborhoods.

“When the builders go home and the operations start up, we will be here with the illness,” added John Foote, who lives in Lusby down the street from Dixon, with his own front-row view of Dominion-related construction traffic.

Cove Point Beach resident Leslie Garcia said Dominion has exhibited a shameless distortion of facts, as well as contempt for residents and rules. She talked about harassment and an arrest in her neighborhood by the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office at the behest of Dominion as an example of boundaries crossed and lives of respectful longtime residents being victimized by Dominion Cove Point.

“How is this public need or necessity?” asked Port Republic resident Lili Sheeline. Sheeline has scoured the PSC’s website looking for a definition of “public convenience and necessity,” referring to the PSC’s permits that it calls certificates of public convenience and necessity. She also called and spoke with several people at the PSC, none of whom could find a definition that the PSC uses. “The PSC report already stated that there is no economic benefit to the state of Maryland.”

The PSC is expected to make a decision about this application at its regular meeting on November 15 in Baltimore.