Natural Gas Pipeline Opponents Speak Up in Vt. and Europe

Opponents of extending the Vermont Gas natural gas pipeline to the Middlebury area expressed their displeasure with the project by speaking up on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean Wednesday.

In Montpelier, protesters packed a quasi-judicial hearing of the Vermont Public Service board, as it continued examining whether making natural gas service available to customers in the Middlebury area is really in the best interest of Vermonters.

During the hearing, activists held signs with a host of slogans aimed at communicating their deep concerns about the project. They remain skeptical of the project's cost, who will foot the bill, and of long-term impacts on the land from fossil fuel infrastructure.

Vermont Gas has said it will only recover from ratepayers $134-million of the $154-million build-out costs, but opponents point out the construction costs have risen significantly from when the project was announced.

"Vermonters are going to have to pay so these frackers can sell us a bunch of gas that's no good for our long-term economy and no good for our climate," said environmental activist Henry Harris.

Vermont Gas has long insisted that the project will be well-received by many customers in Addison County, because it will offer a choice to homeowners and businesses that could help them save money and move away from oil or propane.

"We're looking forward to bringing the opportunity to have lower-emitting, more affordable heating choices for Vermont families," Don Rendall, the CEO of Vermont Gas, told necn Wednesday.

In Paris, Vermont pipeline opponents interrupted a panel at the Climate Change Summit. The panel featured Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont.

Vermonter Aly Johnson-Kurts shouted from the audience, "This fracked gas pipeline is incompatible with climate change leadership," as Shumlin tried to steer the program back to the planned discussion.

Johnson-Kurts said she called Shumlin out for his support of the pipeline, asking him to reverse it, and calling for bolder climate leadership and a cleaner energy plan.

In a conference call from Paris with Vermont reporters, Shumlin downplayed the demonstration's impact in Paris, and reiterated his support for the Vermont Gas project.

"I believe that running the gas pipeline to folks currently burning oil to heat their homes and run their businesses is going to reduce our emissions, not increase our emissions, as well as put money into Vermonters' pockets," Shumlin said in response to a question from necn.

Demonstrators promised to keep applying pressure, with the Public Service Board expected to decide in a few weeks if pipeline construction should continue as planned.

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