Baldacci: Canada’s LNG stance unfair

Posted Sept. 15, 2009, at 10:36 p.m.

SAINT JOHN, New Brunswick — The governor of Maine says the Canadian government is unfairly taking a hard line on plans for liquefied natural gas terminals near the New Brunswick-Maine border.

In Saint John on Tuesday, John Baldacci said the government is flatly rejecting the controversial projects without waiting for U.S. federal regulators to weigh their merits.

Instead, Baldacci contends Ottawa is letting heated emotions and rural politics determine its position on the LNG issue.

Baldacci, in Saint John for two days of meetings between eastern Canadian premiers and New England governors, said both Canadian and American officials should respect the ultimate decision of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“There’s a process to follow,” he told the Telegraph-Journal in an interview. “It just seems like this particular issue is transcending the process. It seems like Ottawa is sending signals that it is not going to adhere to the process through FERC.

“That to me is unacceptable.”

Baldacci said the two countries must follow the rules set out for cross-border disputes — whether they involve LNG or lumber or potatoes.

“You can’t pick and choose,” he said. “It just seems like this is being done more on emotions and local politics.”

The LNG debate centers mainly on a proposed terminal in Robbinston, Maine, located directly across from St. Andrews on the Canadian side of Passamaquoddy Bay.

That project, Downeast LNG, is being considered by FERC. A second LNG project in the Calais area also is proposed, but has not yet been presented to FERC for consideration.

Regardless, the Canadian government already has said it will forbid LNG tankers from entering the bay.

The federal government considers the area internal waters, but it is also the only route available for tankers to reach the proposed terminal sites in Maine.

On Tuesday, Baldacci was quick to dismiss Ottawa’s argument.

“I don’t think it’s a legal position,” he said. “The federal regulator is not going to make a decision that’s bad for either side, because this is something we’re both going to have to live with.”

Baldacci said the province must file all of its complaints and concerns with FERC, and then let the regulator make the final decision.

“But once they’ve made their decision, that’s it,” he said.

Premier Shawn Graham appears to agree with Baldacci’s take on the issue — let FERC figure it out.

“We’re not against the construction of LNG plants, as long as they’re properly sited,” Graham said Tuesday. “Our major concern is that … this project could have a negative impact on our economy and on security issues on this side of the border.”

Still, Graham said the issue should be decided by FERC.

“We’ve always stated that the process must be followed and respected,” he said. “We’ll let the process unfold.”

The proposed LNG projects remain contentious in the Passamaquoddy Bay area. Local opposition groups contend the LNG terminals and incoming tankers would jeopardize the area’s fishery, aquaculture, tourism and recreation sectors.

And then there are potential navigation hazards. The large tankers would have to pass through Head Harbour Passage, between the northern tip of Campobello Island and Deer Island. At points it is no more than 600 meters wide and is known for unpredictable conditions. The area is also notorious for its powerful tides, whirlpools and fog.

Dean Girdis, president of Downeast LNG, has said previously that the Graham government’s take on LNG development reeks of hypocrisy. Girdis said the province unfairly supports the LNG terminal in Saint John — all while vehemently opposing proposed LNG projects in Maine.

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