Maryland's Critical Areas Commission last week gave its stamp of approval to Baltimore County's ban on liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities in certain Chesapeake Bay coastal areas. At the same time, attorneys for a proposed LNG terminal and the county squared off in federal court over whether the prohibition conflicted with federal law.

The commission, which oversees development in the bay's critical coastal areas, approved the measure banning LNG facilities as an amendment to Baltimore County's Chesapeake Bay coastal zone management plan, said agency spokesman Ren Serey. The commission's action was needed to formally incorporate the change into the county's coastal plan, he noted.

In January, the Baltimore County Council passed the measure prohibiting the "establishment or expansion" of LNG facilities in all Chesapeake Bay critical areas. The county council's measure was introduced and voted on within days of AES Corp. filing its application at FERC to build the 1.5 Bcf/d Sparrows Point LNG project on the site of a former steel mill on a peninsula that juts out into Chesapeake Bay in the city of Baltimore (see Daily GPI, Jan. 9).

An attorney for AES argued last week before U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett that the county law should be declared invalid, saying it "is a specific effort to single out LNG," the Baltimore Sun reported. Arlington, VA-based AES contends that the county's amendment conflicts with provisions in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission sole authority over the siting of LNG facilities. Baltimore County disputes that position.

Both sides asked Bennett to rule on the legal questions of the case without going to trial, but he has not issued a decision yet, the newspaper said. A decision is expected "soon," according to AES.

In 2006, the Baltimore County Council passed a measure barring the construction of LNG facilities within five miles of any residential zone. That measure, which was overturned in court, also was designed to block the Sparrows Point LNG project. The proposed LNG facility would be less than two miles from the nearest residential housing.

If built, Sparrows Point would have about 1.5 Bcf/d of regasification capacity with a potential for expansion to 2.25 Bcf/d. Regasified LNG would be delivered to regional markets via the Mid-Atlantic Express pipeline, an 87-mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline that would extend from the terminal to connections with interstate pipelines at Eagle, PA. The pipeline also would include connections with local distribution company Baltimore Gas & Electric.

The project, including three LNG storage tanks, would be located on 80 acres within the existing Sparrows Point Industrial Complex in Baltimore County. The site was previously owned by Bethlehem Steel and housed a steel manufacturing and shipbuilding facility.

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