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Feds to move ahead on LNG projects despite Canadian opposition

BANGOR, Maine --Federal regulators plan to press ahead with their review of two proposed liquefied natural gas terminals on the Maine side of Passamaquoddy Bay despite Canadian objections.

Joseph Kelliher, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said he welcomes Canada's input on the projects, but his staff will continue work on environmental impact statements for Downeast LNG in Robbinston and Quoddy Bay LNG in Perry.

"Because neither Quoddy Bay nor Downeast LNG have amended or withdrawn their applications, the FERC staff is continuing the process of preparing an environmental impact statement for each project that will address the environmental impacts and the maritime safety and security of the projects," Kelliher said in a letter to Michael Wilson, the Canadian ambassador to the U.S.

Kelliher was responding to the ambassador's letter last month that said Canada would not permit LNG tankers to traverse Head Harbor Passage because of environmental and safety risks.

Canada regards the narrow passage as internal Canadian waters. Proponents of the Maine LNG projects say it is a territorial sea where international ships have the right of passage.

Last week, New Brunswick asked FERC to suspend its review of the two projects, saying any further consideration would be useless in light of Ottawa's decision to deny tanker access to the Head Harbor Passage.

Kelliher acknowledged his promise of last year to accept input from Canadian agencies during the review process and requested public release of a private environmental and navigational safety study that Wilson referred to in his letter.

"We have high safety standards and apply them rigorously. However, we need the facts to conduct our safety review," Kelliher wrote.

The Canadian study concluded that tankers "present risks to the region of southwest New Brunswick and its inhabitants that the Government of Canada cannot accept," Wilson wrote.

Gov. John Baldacci earlier this week asked the Maine congressional delegation to seek the help of the State Department in preparing a legal opinion on the right of commercial vessels to travel through Head Harbor Passage.

Baldacci said the federal government needs to make a strong statement to counter Canada's stance that it can bar unwanted commercial activity from passing through the waterway.

"Allowing the Canadian action to stand unchallenged could undercut the foundation of international maritime law, and create and precedent that could politicize international trade," the governor said in a letter to Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

The LNG developers said Wednesday they were pleased with Kelliher's response to the Canadian ambassador.

"We are continuing the permitting process on the assumption that the laws of the sea will be applied as they are intended," said Brian Smith, project manager for Quoddy Bay.

Downeast LNG President Dean Girdis said Kelliher's letter "highlights the hypocrisy of the Canadian government's position."

"Despite the Canadian government's request to participate in the review process, there's a failure on the part of the agencies to provide information and actively participate in the review process," Girdis said.

Linda Godfrey, coordinator of Save Passamaquoddy Bay, a Maine group opposing LNG development, said Kelliher's letter underestimates Canada's stake in the LNG review process.

"Canadian citizenry and Canadian assets are at risk from these two projects," Godfrey said in a statement. "The proposed Passamaquoddy Bay LNG projects hold no benefit for Canada."

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Information from: Bangor Daily News, http://www.bangornews.com

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