by Rebecca Foster
Six weeks ago I asked Governor Shumlin a question. I think Miss Manners would say I’ve given him enough time to respond before going to print with the letter I sent to him after the Vermont Sustainable Energy Summit on May 16 in Middlebury, which featured U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, the entire Vermont Congressional delegation, and the Governor, as well as non-governmental luminaries. The Summit speakers outdid each other in patting Vermont on the back for being a leader in green energy. I was the last person Senator Sanders called on for a question. No one ever answered my question; Sanders closed down the event.
Dear Governor Shumlin,
I am earnest about connecting with you on an issue that has many Vermonters preoccupied. I, too, dream of a Vermont that is a green leader and model for other states to follow. I, personally, developed a community group net metered solar PV project in 2012 and organized a festival to use it as a teaching tool. For Vermont to be a model for the rest of the country we have to enact innovative programs.
The rule of the day made essential by the reality of climate change is “reduce fossil fuel use.” I could understand the temptation to bend that rule if we did not have an alternative. But Vermont does not need more natural gas to stay warm inexpensively. We have all the tools we need; the panelists spoke about them repeatedly and in detail on Friday. Fossil fuel pipelines are a thing of the past, and the International Paper (IP) pipeline is obsolete, even as a concept.
The argument that fracked gas is green, environmentally sustainable, or a model for the future, is clearly strained. Secretary Moniz spoke of the importance of acknowledging the long life of coal plants. Vermont Gas proudly claims that the proposed IP pipeline would last 100 years. The science evaluating the emissions of fracked gas is catching up with a heretofore minimally regulated industry, and it’s apparent already that it is not safe and is an aggressive accelerator of climate change.
So, a gas pipeline is not needed and it’s not green. Could money, then, be the driver? It’s no secret that Vemont Gas is a Canadian company. It’s no secret that IP is a multinational based in Tennessee. The first round of discovery found that 99-99.5% of the gas in the IP pipeline extension would go to IP. Vermonters who do not want regressive infrastructure rammed through some of the most pristine agricultural land in the state or next to their homes must succumb to having their land seized (believe me, they won’t give it) so that both of these multi-billion-dollar companies can make even more money?
You have been an outspoken proponent of this fossil fuel expansion, which has had enormous influence on the players in the project. So, my question from Friday, of how you can square calling Vermont a leader in clean energy while simultaneously urging the gas pipeline extension to proceed, is not rhetorical. I—and many other Vermonters—sincerely want to know.
The disappointment, even more than the loss of the green energy high-ground, is the prospect of conventionalizing Vermont. The state is so unspeakably beautiful that every action we take should reflect that reality. The pipeline is a misguided reach for comfort that will only dumb us down to the most ordinary suburb in, well, pick any state. Once our unique qualities are gone, they will be nigh impossible to get back.
With hopes we can engage you in this apparent blind spot, I am, sincerely yours.