This is what 40,000 comments look like!

The Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club joined 18 other local, state, regional, and national groups in Baltimore on Wednesday to hand-deliver over 40,000 printed comments urging the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) to reject Dominion Cove Point’s application for a crucial permit.

As part of its proposal to convert the existing Cove Point natural gas import terminal, located on the Chesapeake Bay, into an export terminal, Dominion is seeking permission to build a 130-megawatt gas-fired power plant at the site. This plant would provide the power needed to cool the natural gas to 260 degrees below zero, converting it into a liquid that would then be put into tankers to be carried to India and Japan.

Because the PSC does not accept public comments through email, the chapter and its coalition partners had to print out and physically transport all the submitted comments to the PSC office in Baltimore. While this required additional coordination (as well as sheer physical effort!) the comments filled dozens of document boxes and provided a striking illustration of the strength of the opposition to the Cove Point project. With a large stack of filled boxes as a backdrop, several speakers reviewed some of the many arguments against the permit during a press conference in War Memorial Plaza in Baltimore.

Noting that the PSC’s ultimate reponsibility is to determine if the project is in the public interest, speakers outlined the many ways it will harm Maryland’s residents and their environment. These include higher energy costs, increased greenhouse gas emissions from the facility and the vessels needed to ship the gas, and the dramatic impacts to the character and quality of life in Calvert County caused by the construction of smokestacks, flares, and a containment wall several stories high. In particular, Josh Tulkin, executive director of the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club, noted that, as part of the Cove Point Natural Heritage Trust, the club has a special role as stewards of the ecologically sensitive areas surrounding the facility.

When the speakers had concluded, the boxes of comments were rolled and carried the three blocks from War Memorial Plaza to the building housing the PSC. Dave O’Leary, chair of the Chapter conservation committee, noted that such scenes were customary prior to the widespread use of email. “This is old-school comment delivery,” he said, as he pulled a hand truck loaded with three boxes of comments up East Fayette Street.