200 Calvert Residents Protest Council Decision to Give Zoning Control to Federal Government Over Controversial $3.8 Billion Proposed Gas Export Facility at Cove Point

At least 200 concerned Calvert residents left highly frustrated and dismayed October 29 after the County Commissioners and the Planning Committee held a joint public hearing about the proposed Dominion Cove Point LNG export facility. The hearing focused on a proposal to grant exemption from the International Building Code on LNG export facilities. This would exempt the buildings associated with the Cove Point project from county building and zoning regulations, leaving it up to federal regulators in Washington, D.C. to enforce key local laws meant to protect Calvert County residents and businesses.

Despite the testimony of at least 35 people expressing concerns over the proposed Cove Point facility, the Commissioners voted 4-1 to hand over control to Washington officials instead of maintaining local control. Attendees overwhelmingly expressed their belief that local citizens’ health and environmental well being would be best protected with local zoning control, not control in Washington.

This Commission decision is similar to an exemption that passed before the construction of the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant. The county has a track record of exempting industry from community-protective laws just for financial gain. For a facility that will have direct and dangerous polluting impacts on the local community, there is no excuse for local government to let go of its responsibility to regulate.

Just like an event we held last week (which you can read about here), the room was packed, standing room only. I would say over 200 people attended. People were also standing in the hallway to look in because they couldn’t fit into the large room. There were many new faces, and I especially liked that people were bringing their families out to the hearing. There were several high-schoolers with their parents wearing our stickers, looking more and more astonished by how crazy things got as the night went on.

Learn more about Dominion’s radical new plan here and sign the petition in opposition here.

CCAN had volunteers out front before the meeting, to give people stickers that read “Cove Point: Answers! Not Exemptions,” and to have attendees sign petitions. One husband and wife had made their own NO LNG t-shirts and helped get petitions signed. At the last minute, the commissioners had moved the public hearing venue to a larger room, so a volunteer went to the old location to direct folks to the right place, bringing at least 20 other concerned residents to the right location.

Once it started, officials explained the text amendment and exemption as “bringing the local ordinance up to code with federal standards,” they explained the rules of the public hearing, and people started speaking. What followed were over 35 impassioned public comments, mostly against, the exemptions and expansion of Cove Point. About 5 comments were pro Cove Point/pro fracking. Many people also spoke about the need for a full federal Environmental Impact Statement versus a more limited “Environmental Assessment” that Dominion prefers, which I would say was the greatest concern of the larger group. A big highlight for me is that several people spoke against the climate impacts of this project – against fracking, CO2 emissions, and for renewable energy. One of my favorite testimonies was from one woman who spoke about acting locally, and thinking globally, saying that Japan and China should be investing in wind and solar rather than importing natural gas.

After almost 2 hours of public comments, the planning commission immediately voted in favor of the text amendments and exemptions (4 in favor, 1 against) and the County Commissioners voted to accept the planning commission’s vote (again 4 commissioners in favor, 1 against). That’s when things started to get a little tense. After they voted, vocal unrest came from the crowd, and after the crowd quieted down, one of the commissioners said that it was clear that Dominion needs to be more forthcoming about the local impacts the plant will have on Calvert County. The same commissioner then stated that he thought the citizens were misinformed about the exemptions and the LNG facility. At that point almost everyone in the room started shouting, and stood up to leave.

At this point, it’s clear that the proposed LNG export facility is becoming a huge deal in Calvert County. Residents are writing LTE’s, making flyers, and getting their neighbors to sign petitions! I’m looking forward to the possibilities, and the next steps. I’m so happy that CCAN is working on the ground with Calvert County residents that will be most impacted to stop this plant. They deserve to be a part of the political process, and they have every right to be concerned. Stay tuned for future posts on public hearings, events, and updates from the field. Next stop, Maryland Energy Crossroads 2013.

See you on tour!

Jon