Protesting a Vermont pipeline

THE STRUGGLE against strangling the earth with pipelines continued in Hinesburg, Vt., where environmental activists joined Hinesburg homeowners in saying no to a proposed expansion of a Vermont Gas natural gas pipeline. About 50 people gathered for a rally and speak-out called by the environmental group Rising Tide Vermont outside of the Public Service Board public hearing on March 21.

"I've been trying to do my part," said Nate Palmer from Monkton summing up the frustrations of people who took Al Gore's advice and changed their own consumption to save the earth. "I haven't burned oil on my property in 10 years, and what do I get for it? An industrial pipeline running through my front yard." The proposal would bring fracked gas from Alberta to Vermont.

Heather Pipino from the Vermont Workers' Center (VWC) sharply criticized "the false choices that capitalism forces on us between jobs and the environment" while announcing VWC's new Healthy Environment and Livable Planet (HELP) committee.

The rally made its way inside the public hearing, singing "Solidarity Forever" with new environmental lyrics. Protesters were greeted by a healthy representation of the local 1 Percent.

The first speaker was Al Gobeille, the owner of multiple restaurants in Burlington, who pleaded with the board to "consider the business community when you make this decision." He said he cut his yearly gas bill by well over half by switching to natural gas.

The beginning of the hearing was a parade of business owners and vice presidents praising the cost effectiveness of natural gas without a word about the sustainability of this wonder fuel.

The other group supporting the pipeline were representatives from the International Paper Mill across Lake Champlain. Phase 2 of the proposal is to extend the pipeline across the lake to provide natural gas for the mill. Chris Mallon, the mill manager, presumed to speak for everyone associated with International Paper--from mill workers to truck drivers--and generously announced their support of the pipeline.

The hearing slowly balanced out back to reality with speakers like Middlebury College student Sam Koplinka-Loehr, who said the pipeline threatened water quality and went against the wishes of the community. This statement earned the first applause of the night (and the first reprimand of the crowd from the board of three old white men to refrain from applause.)

Charlotte, Vt., resident Rebecca Foster praised Vermont for being the first state in the nation to ban fracking, but asked, "Should Vermonters accept fracked gas from anywhere else? Please say no."

Middlebury resident Bill Fifield argued that a radical change in energy policy was needed and that "continued use of fossil fuels and the global warming it causes would bring about the collapse of society."

The Public Service Board will hold another public hearing on September 11.