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Md. legislators push mandatory reviews for gas pipelines

Maryland lawmakers promoted new legislation that would require the state environmental agency to conduct more thorough reviews of proposed natural gas pipelines and regulate their impacts on water resources.

Maryland Democratic Sen. Will Smith and Del. Shane Robinson announced House Bill 1826 at a March 29 press conference. The bill, introduced March 13, would require the Maryland Department of the Environment to review pipelines that travel through karst geology and potentially impact state waters. The agency would have to implement state-specific procedures, requiring pipelines to apply and adhere to the Clean Water Act.

The bill specifically named Columbia Gas Transmission LLC's Eastern Panhandle lateral project, which would deliver 47,500 Dth/d of natural gas from Columbia Gas' system in Pennsylvania to a West Virginia utility on a short route through Maryland and under the Potomac River.

Columbia Gas is part of TransCanada Corp. TransCanada had not responded to a request for comment by the time of publication. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff issued a positive environmental assessment for the project, and Pennsylvania issued a Section 401 water certificate permit in February. The Maryland Department of the Environment granted a wetlands and waterways permit March 16.

Robinson, who sponsors the bill, said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and the state agency had "shirked their duty" by not requiring the developer of the Eastern Panhandle project to apply for an individual water certificate under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act.

Calling for "common sense procedures," Smith said the legislation would have an impact beyond the Eastern Panhandle project and would support the state's ban on hydraulic fracturing. "If Governor Hogan won't direct his [agency] to do so, we'll do it for him," he said.

Project opponents, including the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, which has criticized the state review, supported Robinson and Smith's effort. (FERC docket CP17-80)