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State rep testifies on bill to curb LNG exports -- on the same day as Salem plant groundbreaking

State Representative Lori Ehrlich couldn’t have timed this better if she tried.

After years of false starts, developer Footprint Power finally held a groundbreaking ceremony for its $1 billion, natural gas-fired plant in Salem last week.

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In a strange coincidence, Ehrlich was busy that same day at the State House, testifying at a committee hearing on behalf of a bill she filed because of her belief that the Salem power plant could eventually be used to export liquefied natural gas.

The Marblehead Democrat is known for her steadfast opposition to the former coal-fired Salem Harbor plant that Footprint is replacing. Now, she’s worried what the new plant will bring, in part because much of the Salem site remains open for development.

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Ehrlich’s bill would ban ratepayers from being forced to carry the costs, through a tariff or tax, of pipeline construction that would ship gas to an LNG export facility. Ehrlich’s fear is that the natural gas industry wants to use New England as a conduit to bring cheap Marcellus Shale gas from Pennsylvania to the shore, to be shipped in liquid form around the world. (In New England today, LNG is strictly an import, not an export.)

Footprint president Scott Silverstein said Ehrlich should have nothing to worry about: The New Jersey firm is focused on building the power plant and identifying development opportunities for the remaining 40-plus acres at the site. He said Footprint has no plans to export gas.

Ehrlich, meanwhile, would like more of an assurance that a cryogenic facility won’t be built for liquefying gas at any point in the future at the waterfront site, which sits across Salem Harbor from her hometown.

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Plenty of local dignitaries came to Footprint’s big event, which drew roughly 200 people despite the rainy weather that day. Ehrlich, unsurprisingly, was not among those invited.

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.
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