An energy company's controversial plan to bring a liquefied natural gas terminal to Fall River received a legal setback yesterday, but the company remains committed to pursuing the project.
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed assertions by Weaver's Cove Energy LLC that state environmental regulators in Massachusetts and Rhode Island waived their rights to deny the company's requests for dredging permits because the agencies did not act within a year.
The company needs to dredge the Taunton River in Massachusetts and Mount Hope Bay in Rhode Island so its tankers can travel through those waters.
The federal court decided the case had no legal standing because in the time since the company filed its lawsuits last year, each state agency issued preliminary decisions on the permits.
Preliminary approval was granted late last year by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management issued a preliminary denial. Each decision is subject to pending appeals.
The appeals court also did not agree that the company experienced harm while awaiting a state agency decision.
Officials for Massachusetts and Weaver's Cove said they consider the ruling to be a minor development.
"MassDEP is pleased that the court has upheld our permitting authority in this case," Margaret Stolfa, the agency's general counsel, said in a prepared statement. "The court reaffirmed the principle that it is important for states to be able to appropriately regulate significant projects that may have serious environmental consequences."
The ruling was made as debate has intensified over the project, which would bring a terminal to the banks of the Taunton River, leading Fall River opponents to fear homes would be threatened if the liquefied natural gas ignited during an accident or a terrorist attack.
In response, Weaver's Cove last week introduced an alternative plan that would move liquefied natural gas through a pipeline from Mount Hope Bay to the banks of the Taunton River instead of having tankers navigate the river and travel beneath bridges. The plan failed, however, to alleviate opponents' safety concerns.
The company is pursuing both plans simultaneously.
Jim Grasso, a company spokesman, said in an interview last night that Weaver's Cove, which is owned by Hess LNG, is still reviewing the court decision. At most, though, the company considers the ruling to be a temporary setback, he said.
"We will take the appropriate action to obtain all the permits necessary for this project," Grasso said.
James Vaznis can be reached at email@example.com.