Nick DiPasquale, former director of EPA Bay Program, has joined ShoreRivers

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Nick DiPasquale, former director of EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program, has joined ShoreRivers as its Policy Advisor. Nick will work to elevate ShoreRivers’ mission for clean Eastern Shore waterways through State and regional advocacy efforts.

“We are delighted to have Nick joining ShoreRivers as a policy adviser,” Jeff Horstman, executive director of ShoreRivers, stated. “He has enormous experience and expertise in Chesapeake restoration issues and will add great value, strengthening our analysis and voice. His hire underscores the vital importance that ShoreRivers places on policy change.”

“I am thrilled,” Nick summed up, “with the opportunity to be working with ShoreRivers, an organization that is doing incredible work to reduce pollution and promote sustainability on the Eastern Shore.”

Nick served as the Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program from August, 2011 to December, 2017. The Program coordinates and provides administrative, technical, management and financial support for the overall Bay watershed restoration effort, and is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement and the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, ensuring the six states and the District of Columbia meet their pollution load reduction targets.

Nick has over 35 years of public policy and environmental management experience in both the public and private sectors. He previously served as Deputy Secretary for Air, Waste & Radiation Protection in the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection; Director of the Environmental Management Center for the Brandywine Conservancy in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania; and, Secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

Nick worked for 6 years in the private sector as a senior consultant on environmental and ecological restoration issues with an environmental engineering consulting firm in Delaware. He also served as the Director of Waste Management and Water Pollution Control Programs for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and as a Research Analyst with the Missouri House of Representatives.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from the State University of New York, and a master’s degree in Energy and Environmental Policy from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

Nick retired at the end of 2017 and lives in Chestertown, MD with his wife Becky and their two dogs.

Expert Witness: Former EPA Chesapeake Director Nick DiPasquale on Conowingo and the Problem of Pennsylvania

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It seems that more often than not, whenever the Spy seeks to interview an expert on the some of the topical issues of the day, one is just around the corner. This is one of the great benefits of serving a region that has become the home of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of retired professionals from almost every field of concentration. From members of Congress, cabinet secretaries, professors, scholars, CEOs, or government executives, the Mid-Shore is blessed with disproportionately well populated with people who really do know what they are talking about.

So when we were eager to find another expert to interview in our ongoing coverage of the Conowingo Dam and the impact of upstream pollution problems from Pennsylvania, as if by magic, the Spy was notified that Nick DiPasquale, who had recently retired as the Director of the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program, had just bought a house in the historic district in Chestertown.

Even if we only looked at Nick’s tenure running the Chesapeake Bay program, it would be interesting to learn first hand his impressions of the health of this critical ecosystem. But what turned out to be so beneficial in helping our readers understand the complexity of Bay challenges was his remarkable career before the EPA when he had also served as the Secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and as Deputy Secretary in the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

The Spy sat down with Nick at the Spy HQ in Chestertown a few weeks ago to talk about some of the Bay’s most significant challenges with a specific focus on the Conowingo Dam and how Pennsylvania must dramatically change its policies to seriously regulate the damaging agricultural run0ff that contributes so substantially to the Bay’s poor environmental health.

This video is approximately twelve minutes in length. 

ShoreRivers Identifies Harmful Algal Bloom in Sassafras River

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Warning – a harmful algal bloom in the Sassafras River poses a health risk to people and pets. In conjunction with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Sassafras Riverkeeper at ShoreRivers, Emmett Duke, first identified the harmful algal bloom on September 17 in the large tidal pond between Turners Creek and Lloyd’s Creek on the Kent County side of the Sassafras. The blue-green algae, Oscillatoria lemnosa, is producing a toxin called microcystin, which can cause a skin rash and, if ingested, can cause liver damage.

Especially dangerous to young children and small animals because of the higher possibility of ingestion, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Maryland Department of Environment have established guidelines for exposure in a recreational setting – 4 parts per billion (ppb) and 10 ppb, respectively.

The most recent algae sample from the pond, taken September 17, contained 69 ppb of the toxin. For this reason, ShoreRivers recommends avoiding contact with water in the tidal pond until the level of the toxin has fallen below the guideline level.

Currently, a warning sign from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is posted at the river entrance of the tidal pond. Testing will be conducted at least weekly, and the sign will remain in place until the testing shows no more danger.

“Oscillatoria lemnosa is a naturally-occurring algae that lies in the river sediment. A combination of high levels of nutrient pollution and unusually high water temperatures contribute to this and other harmful algal blooms. It’s hard work and everyone needs to do their part, but we can prevent these harmful blooms by reducing nutrient pollution,” added Duke.

ShoreRivers is actively implementing restoration projects and advocating for strong clean water policies that will reduce nutrient pollution and help prevent similar harmful algal blooms. If you notice what appears to be a significant algal bloom on local waterways, please contact ShoreRivers at 443-385-0511.

Spy Moment: Adkins Arboretum Plays in the Meadow

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The weather gods were watching out for Adkins Arboretum last Saturday night for its annual Magic in the Meadow gala; an event far more dependent on good weather than most, given it celebrates the 400-acre native garden and preserve.

The gift of a perfect, cool evening was awarded that evening as guests enjoyed the hoop dance performance by Baltimore artist Melissa Newman and the jazz of the Peter Revell Band, while Adkins friends and supporters lined up for hiking trails, tours, plant shopping, and auction bidding all accompanied by a Piazza-sponsored dinner and wine selection.

The Spy was there with a camera to capture this reconnaissance video.

This video is approximately one minute in length. For more information about Adkins Arboretum please go here.

 

Upper Eastern Shore Location to Provide Environmental and Recreation Benefits

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The Board of Public Works today unanimously approved the Maryland Department of Natural Resources acquisition of 1,172 acres in Queen Anne’s County for the development of a new Wildlife Management Area that will provide conservation, habitat and recreation benefits, including birding, hiking, hunting and trapping.

The department worked in cooperation with the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC) on the acquisition. The new area will be managed by the Wildlife and Heritage Service.

The acquisition near Church Hill will permanently protect agricultural fields, mature forested uplands, and stream corridors that currently provide excellent water quality protection. The property functions as a headwater catch basin that drains into Brown’s Branch, a tributary of Southeast Creek on the Chester River.

“This acquisition is an exciting win for both conservation advocates as well as outdoor enthusiasts,” Maryland Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton said. “This large and incredibly beautiful property on the Upper Eastern Shore will protect ecologically-sensitive habitat while providing the public an excellent location for outdoor recreation, especially hunting or trapping.”

The Program Open Space acquisition will protect the uncommonly high diversity of fauna and flora found in the upland areas of the property, which provide essential habitat for migratory songbirds, pollinators and small mammals.

“This farm has been one of our highest priorities for conservation for more than two decades,“ ESLC President Rob Etgen said. “It includes a huge area of prime farmland, and the streams are the largest remaining chunk of unprotected habitat for several endangered wildlife species. I am incredibly excited about this farm and grateful to the Hogan Administration for their support and stewardship.”

For more information, please contact ESLC’s Director of Communications, David Ferraris, at dferraris@eslc.org or 410.690.4603 x165.

Eastern Shore Land Conservancy

Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit land conservation organization committed to preserving and sustaining the vibrant communities of the Eastern Shore and the lands and waters that connect them. More at www.eslc.org.

Eastern Neck Refuge Spared from Closure, but Funding Crunch Continues

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The Tubby Point boardwalk at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge. (Richard Pos, US Fish & Wildlife Service)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is hiring a new manager at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, sparing a natural area popular with hunters, anglers and birdwatchers from at least partial closure.

The refuge, located in Maryland on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, was left without a full-time manager in September 2017 when that official took a job elsewhere in the Fish and Wildlife Service. Lacking funds to hire a replacement, agency officials began warning Eastern Neck supporters this summer that public access to the refuge was in jeopardy.

Although the agency hasn’t received any additional money, it announced in August that Eastern Neck will remain open to the public. That decision came about three weeks after the Bay Journal reported on the potential closure and the growing outcry from user groups and elected officials.

The refuge consists of a 2,200-acre island at the confluence of the Chester River and Chesapeake Bay. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, about 70,000 people visit each year to catch glimpses of tundra swans and more than 200 other bird species, hunt deer and turkeys, and hike among the island’s pine trees and saltwater marsh.

“We’re very excited [about the decision],” said Melissa Baile, president of the Friends of Eastern Neck, a support group for the refuge. “I think they did not realize how much the refuge meant to the constituency and the country in general.”

Baile added that her group’s work isn’t over. Federal funding has been shrinking for the refuge system during this decade. If Eastern Neck supporters don’t stand guard, they could be facing another closure threat within a few years, she said.

To pay for the new staff member, the Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, a branch of the service that oversees the region’s refuges, will have to reallocate funds it had reserved for other causes, said Terri Edwards, a Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman. So far, no timeframe has been set for making the new hire.

In July, Marcia Pradines, the Chesapeake Marshlands’ project leader, told the Bay Journal there was a possibility of a full shutdown at Eastern Neck and a gate turning back visitors at the entrance. “It’s not something we want to happen,” she said at the time. “In the end, it’s a budget reality.”

The staffing decisions wouldn’t have affected access to the county road that traverses the island, Pradines said. It would have remained open to Bogles Wharf, home to a county-maintained boat ramp and small pier.

By early August, Fish and Wildlife officials softened the potential blow. The entrance gate would remain open, allowing hunting, fishing, birdwatching and “other wildlife dependent uses,” regardless of staffing decisions, they said in a message posted to the refuge’s website.
The fate of the visitor center, along with the five walking trails, two boardwalks and maintenance activities, remained in limbo.

As the agency pondered its next step, employees from the Marshlands complex’s headquarters in Dorchester County shared the refuge’s administrative work — and the four-hour roundtrip drive that accompanies it.

The all-volunteer Friends of Eastern Neck has stepped in to complete other chores. In addition to their longtime responsibility of managing the visitor center, members are helping to conduct special events and performing countless hours of repairs and upkeep across the island. At times, the island is devoid of paid or volunteer staff, save for a lone volunteer clerk manning the front desk, said Phil Cicconi, vice president of the Friends group.

The Friends group, Baile said, wrote letters and emails to elected officials and Fish and Wildlife staff to keep their beloved refuge open. They lined up a growing list of allies in the fight, including the Kent County Commissioners, the Patuxent Bird Club and the Friends of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.

The movement attracted the help of Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, among others. In December, he wrote a letter to Fish and Wildlife’s parent agency, the Interior Department, calling for the position to be filled in light of Eastern Neck’s importance to Kent’s economy.

Van Hollen applauded the move to keep the refuge open. But like Baile, he counseled vigilance. “Filling this position will help the Refuge better serve visitors, the local community, and area wildlife,” he said. “I will continue working to ensure our state has the federal resources necessary to support our economy and our environment.”

Eastern Neck’s supporters also looked to Rep. Andy Harris, the Maryland Republican who represents the Eastern Shore. He is a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and belongs to the controlling party. Harris said in a statement that earmarking funding specifically for Eastern Neck would violate congressional rules, but that he was actively seeking other solutions.

Eastern Neck is not alone in its budget challenge. Accounting for inflation and fixed costs, the nation’s network of more than 560 refuges receives nearly $100 million less funding today than in 2010, according to the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement, a coalition of wildlife, sporting and conservation groups. The funding crunch has led the Fish and Wildlife Service to leave 488 refuge jobs unfilled, a loss of one out of seven positions.

“It’s a nationwide system problem. What’s happening in Eastern Neck is happening all across the United States,” said Desiree Sorenson-Groves, vice president of government affairs with the National Wildlife Refuge Association. “You can limp along for a few years, tightening your belt and no travel and, whenever somebody retires, you don’t fill the position. But at a point, you can’t do anymore.”

Over the last 15 years, national refuges across the country have been forced to shut down visitor centers or cut back on the number of days they’re open. The popular J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, for example, was forced to close its visitor center two days a week after it lost two park rangers to budget cuts.

In Rhode Island, the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge visitor center was closed for three consecutive winters. Supporters raised money to install solar panels, cutting costs enough to allow it to open for the winter of 2008–09.

The Trump administration requested $473 million in funding for the refuge system in fiscal 2019, a 2.7 percent decrease from current spending. An Interior Department appropriations bill approved by the Republican-controlled House along party lines in July sets aside nearly $489 million, a rise of less than 1 percent. The Senate passed its own version, sending the legislation to a conference committee to hash out the differences.

“You have to understand that you can berate the administration as much as you want, but ultimately it comes down to the legislative branch — Congress — to appropriate the money,” Sorenson-Groves said.

By Jeremy Cox

Jeremy Cox is a Bay Journal staff writer based in Salisbury, MD, where he also teaches communications courses at Salisbury University.

Darn Good News: Eastern Neck Refuge To Fill Position and Stay Open

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it will continue to staff a position at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, an island north of Rock Hall, Maryland. Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge will remain open to hunting, fishing, bird watching, and other wildlife-dependent activities

The Wildlife Refuge Specialist position, which oversaw day-to-day operations at the refuge, became vacant in 2017. The Service reviews every vacant position within the National Wildlife Refuge System in order to manage within declining budgets. The refuge system’s leaders have had to make difficult choices, resulting in elimination of almost 400 positions nationwide in the last eight years. The position at Eastern Neck refuge was being considered for elimination to address budget challenges.

The position will work closely with the dedicated volunteers and Friends of Eastern Neck who support the refuge, which includes operating the refuge visitor center. Currently, staff stationed two hours away at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge drive to the Eastern Neck to work with volunteers and Friends.

Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1962, for the primary purposes of migratory birds, threatened and endangered species, and other native species. Approximately 2,286 acres, Eastern Neck NWR is important migratory and overwintering habitat for thousands of waterfowl, including over 500 tundra swans. Over 70,000 visitors come to the refuge annually to observe wildlife and walk the five trails and two boardwalks. The refuge hosts deer hunting and a mentored youth turkey hunt, and is a popular fishing spot. Two county parks, including a popular boat launch, are at the end of the refuge. The refuge has 68 volunteers and an active Friends group.

Supporters Rally to save Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge from Closing

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Photo by Dave Harp

A national wildlife refuge that attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year to the Chesapeake Bay may be forced to close to the public soon.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering shuttering the Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge because it lacks the funding to hire a new refuge manager, said Marcia Pradines, project leader at the Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, a branch of the service that oversees the Chesapeake region’s national refuges.

“If the position isn’t filled, that’s a possibility,” Pradines said, “It’s not something we want to happen. In the end, it’s a budget reality.”

The refuge consists of a 2,200-acre island lying on Maryland’s Eastern Shore where the Chester River meets the Chesapeake. About 70,000 people visit each year to catch glimpses of tundra swans and more than 200 other bird species, to hunt deer and turkeys, and to hike among the island’s pine trees and saltwater marsh, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

“People just like to drive down there sometimes,” said Melissa Baile, president of the Friends of Eastern Neck, a support group for the refuge. “You just feel the peacefulness. It’s just easy to get away when you go down there.”

The manager position has been empty since last September, when Cindy Beemiller left for a refuge on Long Island, NY. The financially strapped Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t have the funding to fill the position, Pradines said. Beemiller was one of two paid employees assigned to the property; the other, a maintenance worker, is the only one who remains.

If Congress doesn’t appropriate significantly more money for the refuge system for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, Eastern Neck may have to close to the public, she said, adding that it’s unclear when Fish & Wildlife will make that call.

The extent of the shutdown would depend on funding availability, Pradines said. The county road that traverses the island would remain open as far as Bogles Wharf Road, at the end of which are a county-maintained boat ramp and two small piers. But the road leading further south on the island would be closed, barring access to the visitor center and to the five walking trails and two boardwalks. It’s also possible that trail maintenance and other activities would cease, Pradines added.

As the agency ponders its next step, employees from the Marshlands complex’s headquarters in Dorchester County have been sharing the refuge’s administrative work — and the four-hour roundtrip drive that accompanies it.

The all-volunteer Friends of Eastern Neck has stepped in to cover other chores. In addition to their longtime responsibility of managing the visitor center, members are helping to conduct special events and performing countless hours of repairs and upkeep across the island.

At times, the island is devoid of personnel support, save for a lone volunteer manning the front desk, said Phil Cicconi, vice president of the Friends group. Although refuge staff installed a panic button, many of the older, female volunteers feel unsafe.

Shutting down the refuge, he said, would cause it to fall into disrepair and potentially attract relic-hunters who operate “like ninjas in the night.” The island is a trove of Native American artifacts. Cicconi worries that thieves might strip anything of value from the visitor center building, a renovated 1930s-era hunting lodge.

The island was one of the first English settlements in Maryland. In 1650, Maj. Joseph Wickes received a grant for 800 acres of land and constructed a mansion that has since disappeared. Eastern Neck became Kent County’s seat; Wickes, its chief justice.

The Friends group’s latest task, Baile said, is writing letters and emails to elected officials and Fish and Wildlife staff, urging them to keep their beloved refuge open. They have lined up a growing list of allies in the fight, including the Kent County Commissioners, Patuxent Bird Club and Friends of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.

The Friends group also has partnered with their counterparts at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge to create a website to fan public support: friendsofblackwater.org/help-eastern-neck.html. “We’ve done everything we think we can do,” she said.

But it may not be enough. Eastern Neck is the latest refuge in a growing list that has faced cutbacks and potential closure because of a lack of federal investment, said Desiree Sorenson-Groves, vice president of government affairs with the National Wildlife Refuge Association.

Accounting for inflation and fixed costs, the nation’s network of more than 560 refuges receives nearly $100 million less funding today than in 2010, according to the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement, a coalition of wildlife, sporting and conservation groups. The funding crunch has led the Fish and Wildlife Service to leave 488 refuge jobs unfilled, a loss of one out of seven positions.

“It’s a nationwide system problem. What’s happening in Eastern Neck is happening all across the United States,” Sorenson-Groves said. “You can limp along for a few years, tightening your belt and no travel and, whenever somebody retires, you don’t fill the position. But at a point, you can’t do anymore.”

Across the country, many refuges over the past 15 years have been forced to shut down visitor centers or cut back on the number of days they’re open, she said. The popular J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, for example, was forced to close its visitor center two days a week after it lost two park rangers to budget cuts. In Rhode Island, the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge visitor center was closed for three consecutive winters. Supporters raised money to install solar panels, cutting costs enough to allow it to open for the winter of 2008-2009.

The Trump administration requested $473 million in funding for the refuge system in fiscal 2019, a 2.7 percent decrease from current spending. An Interior Department appropriations bill approved in July by the House of Representatives sets aside nearly $489 million, a rise of less than 1 percent. That slight increase, if passed in the Senate, would have little effect on the refuge system’s staffing and maintenance woes, Sorenson-Groves said.

“You have to understand that you can berate the administration as much as you want, but ultimately it comes down to the legislative branch — Congress — to appropriate the money,” she said.

Eastern Neck’s supporters look to Rep. Andy Harris, the Maryland Republican who represents the Eastern Shore, as their best hope for action. He is a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and belongs to the controlling party.

But Harris said his hands are largely tied. “The Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge is a valuable resource in Maryland’s first district,” he said in a statement. “While an amendment earmarking funding specifically for Eastern Neck would violate congressional rules, I am actively investigating this issue and exploring solutions that will allow the refuge to continue providing services to Marylanders.”

For her part, Baile said she hopes to find a sympathetic ear when the refuge system’s Northeast district head, Scott Kahan, visits Eastern Neck during his annual field trip toward the end of August.

“People love this refuge. We have good visitation. It services not only our local community but also people from all over the country,” Baile said. “You’re willing to close down a whole refuge over $25,000 or $30,000? It’s a question of him prioritizing other things over us.”

By Jeremy Cox

Bay Journal staff writer Jeremy Cox is based in Salisbury, MD.

FERC Approves PA-to-WV Pipeline

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Over objections from environmentalists, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has given its green light to building a hotly disputed natural gas pipeline through western Maryland and under the Potomac River.

With one of its five commissioners voting no and another dissenting in part, the five-member commission approved the Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project. The 3.5-mile pipeline, proposed by Columbia Gas Transmission, would carry gas from Pennsylvania to West Virginia, passing through Maryland just west of Hancock.

Environmental groups and some western Maryland residents have waged a lengthy campaign against the “Potomac Pipeline,” as they call it, staging repeated protest demonstrations and garnering several local-government resolutions against the project. Opponents argue that the project’s construction risks harm to the river and drinking water supplies, both near the underground crossing and downriver. They also contend that it will accelerate climate change by encouraging more natural gas production and consumption.

Photo: The Potomac River just upstream of Hancock, MD, where TransCanada’s Eastern Panhandle Expansion pipeline would pass under the river into West Virginia. (Royalty-free photo by Aude, via Creative Commons)

In its 53-page order, the commission majority brushed aside those concerns, saying the company’s plan for tunneling beneath the Potomac addressed the risks and potential impacts of a leak or blowout.

Environmentalists had asked the commission to require Columbia Gas, a subsidiary of TransCanada, to follow a lengthy list of conditions for tunneling beneath the river that the Maryland Department of the Environment had proposed in approving a state permit for the project. But the federal panel declined to do so, saying it would encourage but not require the company to adhere to the state conditions.

The panel’s majority also dismissed contentions that the pipeline would stimulate more gas production using hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”), a controversial technique blamed for instances of drinking water well contamination and other problems. They likewise said they lacked information to determine whether the pipeline could significantly exacerbate climate change by allowing for more gas to be produced and consumed, as environmentalists contended.

But two of the five panel members took issue with the majority on those last two points. Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur concurred with the majority in approving the pipeline, but she disagreed with its decision to ignore the project’s climate-change impacts. Commissioner Richard Glick opposed the project, arguing that the commission had abrogated its legal responsibility by refusing to consider those impacts.

“Climate change poses an existential threat to our security, economy, environment and, ultimately, the health of individual citizens,” Glick wrote. He said the majority “goes out of its way to avoid seriously addressing the project’s impact from climate change” by disregarding the potential emissions of carbon dioxide and methane that might result from increased gas production and consumption.

The Potomac Riverkeeper Network issued a statement decrying the FERC decision. Upper Potomac Riverkeeper Brent Walls said the group is “considering all of our legal options in response to this unfortunate decision.” He vowed to continue rallying opposition to the pipeline and called on Gov. Larry Hogan to deny Columbia Gas the easements it still needs to build the project through western Maryland.

By Tim Wheeler, Bay Journal News Service