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Maryland Panel Rejects Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project

The Maryland Board of Public Works, a three-member panel that includes Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, defied state regulators and unanimously rejected awarding an easement for Columbia Gas Transmission LLC's Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project.

The panel, which also includes Democrats Nancy Kopp and Comptroller Peter Franchot, cited environmental concerns over the TransCanada Corp. subsidiary's project at their meeting Wednesday. One day earlier, 65 state lawmakers signed a letter urging the panel to reject the project on the grounds that it "would reverse course on our state's efforts to protect the health of our residents and combat climate change...

"Given that Maryland has banned [hydraulic fracturing], it defies our state's existing energy policy to bring the same public health risks to our residents by way of a pipeline," wrote Del. David Moon (D-Montgomery). "Moreover, enabling fossil fuel production runs counter to our state's goals of increasing renewable energy production."

The Eastern Panhandle expansion would include constructing about 3.5 miles of eight-inch diameter pipeline running from Pennsylvania, through Maryland and under the Potomac River to West Virginia. It would provide an additional 47.5 million Dth/d of capacity for firm transportation service to markets in West Virginia through the gathering system of Mountaineer Gas Co.

The project had passed the muster of several regulatory agencies after Columbia Pipeline Group Inc., which was acquired by TransCanada in 2016, filed with FERC for permission to begin the project.

In 2016, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a general permit for the project in Maryland, which included a water quality certification from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act. One year ago, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission completed an environmental assessment [CP17-80]. The MDE issued a wetlands and waterways permit for the project last March.

TransCanada spokesman Scott Castleman called Wednesday's vote "unfortunate," but said the company would weigh its options moving forward. The vote “does not change the need for, or the company's commitment to, our Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project.

“It remains critical for West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle and the surrounding region, and will provide much needed additional natural gas supplies for continued business and economic development."

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