Washington, Activists Argue a 'New' Energy ; Plans to Build LNG Facilities Have Raised Environmental Concerns and Questions about Who Has Jurisdiction

Article excerpt

There are shad that use Long Island Sound like a migration expressway, finicky lobsters that hide in its crevices, and delicate oysters that thrive in its muck. Egrets patrol its shoreline, and ospreys soar over the bays. It's a body of water that should defy "industrialization" - at least that's the way Adrienne Esposito, an environmental activist, sees the 1,380-square-mile body of water.

But the waves of the sound lap on two states with some of the nation's highest energy rates. And last year, some 687 commercial vessels navigated its shoals and channels without serious incident. So, as energy executive John Hritcko sees it, the sound is the perfect place to moor a barge that will offload liquefied natural gas (LNG) that may help to solve a regional energy problem.

The two sides represent one of the latest clashes over the environment, as well as states' rights.

With the nation paying dearly for its power consumption, large energy corporations would like to build 30 to 40 LNG terminals in the United States, mostly in coastal communities. But such ideas are meeting with resistance at every step of the way. Any day now, for example, a federal appeals court in California is expected to issue an important ruling on who has jurisdiction over California's waters to site potential LNG terminals. And, both the president in recent speeches and Congress in pending energy legislation are getting involved - at a time when natural gas prices are close to an all- time high.

"This is a debate that needs to happen," says James Hoecker, who was chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) during the Clinton administration and is now a partner at the law firm Vinson & Elkins in Washington. "It will be helpful that Congress has decided to express what it believes national policy ought to be."

In testimony before the Senate earlier this year, J. Mark Robinson, a FERC official, said that "timely consideration of LNG projects can be made impossible" because of the complex rules laid down by multiple federal and state agencies. He asked that FERC be made the lead agency for all environmental reviews and that state agencies cooperate with FERC's timetable. If another federal or state agency didn't make a decision within FERC's schedule, it would result in the assumed waiver of that agency's authority.

The energy bill pending before the House does make FERC the lead agency. The legislation also specifies that "FERC would be required to actively consult with the states to consider state and local safety priorities. …