Baltimore residents are seeking a temporary restraining order against the Baltimore Gas & Electric Company to stop the utility from installing gas regulators on the outside of rowhouses.

About a dozen of residents gathered on the corner of Lancaster and South Bond streets in Fells Point on Thursday to announce the legal action.

Thiru Vignarajah, a former Maryland deputy attorney general who is representing eight neighborhood associations, said the utility company is trying to profit as many policymakers advocate for steering away from gas to address climate change.

“For months, truly for years, BGE has figured out that climate change and the reforms that are necessary to save our planet present an existential threat to their business model,” he said. “Instead of trying to come up with innovative new approaches to address the climate change challenges that face our nation, that face our world, they’ve instead tried to pad their profits in the eleventh hour of this crisis as much as they can.”

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With residents of several neighborhoods, including newcomers to the effort from Mount Vernon, Pigtown and Butcher’s Hill, standing behind him, Vignarajah noted BGE opposed the regulators in 2020, when legislators were hoping to pass the Flower Branch Act, a bill that would require them on multi-family dwellings.

“BGE has a unique situation in that its service territory has several densely populated areas such as Baltimore City that do not often provide for appropriate open outside space to allow for outside meter or regulator installations,” the company’s position statement read.

The bill was passed in 2021.

The argument in the company’s previous statement echoes what residents in Federal Hill and Fells Point have been saying for months. Residents are also concerned about cars crashing into regulators, a primary cause of serious gas accidents, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration under the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Attorney Thiru Vignarajah speaks at a press conference addressing the newly installed BGE gas regulators on June 15, 2023. Vignarajah is representing residents in the legal battle. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

The gas company has said it is following the recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board, which has favored external gas regulators — devices that help maintain a set and safe gas pressure — rather than internal ones.

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Vignarajah made the case that, under the state-approved contract between customers and BGE, the utility company cannot threaten to shut off service to households that refuse to let contractors install the regulators.

The Public Service Commission, which oversees the utility company, did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did the Office of People’s Counsel, which represents the interests of Marylanders before the commission.

Under the utility company’s agreement, BGE can discontinue services for several reasons, including for a customer’s “failure to permit [the] company or its agents reasonable access to its equipment located on or in the customer’s premises” — which is what BGE has cited when it sent out letters to customers.

Vignarajah said the contract is not applicable in this case because the equipment is not yet installed.

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“Reasonable access to its equipment implies that it’s equipment that is already there,” he told The Baltimore Banner.

BGE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Clara Longo de Freitas is a neighborhood reporter covering East Baltimore communities. Before joining the Banner, she interned at The Baltimore Sun as an emerging news and community reporter. She also has design and illustration experience with several news organizations, including The Hill and NPR.

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