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Vermont Public Service Board Holds Hearing On Natural Gas Pipeline

The debate over a proposed natural gas pipeline extension from Vermont to the International Paper Mill in Ticonderoga, New York, continued Wednesday night as the Vermont Public Service Board held a public hearing on the issue.

The gymnasium of the Shoreham Elementary School was packed with people who wanted to comment on the Vermont Gas Addison-Rutland Natural Gas pipeline project. Over 200 people attended the standing room-only hearing. Opponents of the project had been recruiting their members to attend for weeks. They vastly outnumbered supporters. Conservation Law Foundation Senior Attorney Sandra Levine.  “Many folks came out opposing the proposed project and really questioning what are the benefits for Vermont and suggesting that this large fossil fuel infrastructure that’s plowing through farm fields and going under Lake Champlain to serve the Ticonderoga mill simply doesn’t have benefits for Vermont. They’re also questioning whether we should be continuing to rely on fossil fuels and putting in a large fossil fuel infrastructure now at a time when we need to be moving away from fossil fuels.”

Vermont Public Interest Research Group Campaign Coordinator Julia Michel says the pipeline is unnecessary when cleaner fuels are available. She echoed another theme among the comments.  “Vermonters and New Yorkers alike have raised questions about fracking and the perils of deepening our dependence on this dirty drilling method. It’s simply wrong to ask others to frack for gas for us.”

Rising Tide Vermont member Keith Brunner says some people talked about diversifying energy use.  “We’re talking about a model of economic development in which our towns are held hostage to these big companies who are threatening to pull out at every point if they’re not able to get what they want. A lot of the people at the hearing last night talked about diversified energy sources,  community controlled energy and renewable energy.”

Town of Ticonderoga NY Supervisor Bill Grinnell wants to see the pipeline extension to the International Paper mill. He wants the Public Service Board to hear both sides equitably.  “The facts that I’m most concerned with are that we have an opportunity to significantly reduce the carbon imprint of International Paper. The other big issue is how do you make up the loss of the fifty plus million dollar payroll that comes out of International Paper? Where do you find the tax dollars from that payroll that’s generated by that employment that pay for our schools and pay for our communities, our infrastructure? Where does that come from? Nobody seems to really want to  address those points.”

Grinnell finds it ironic that for all the opponents’ complaints about dirty fuel use, the parking lot was packed with cars. Vermont Gas Spokesman Stephen Wark says project opponents are front-loading the meetings and drowning out those who support the project. Wark says there is no project that has neither the economic nor environmental benefits that the Addison-Rutland Natural Gas project will bring.  “First and foremost the Champlain Valley’s regional air quality. With this project, IP will eliminate one million tons of greenhouse gasses over a twenty year period.  Secondly, economic. We’ll be able to provide a lower cost energy source to Shoreham and to Cornwall. The other large aspect of this is by International Paper working with Vermont Gas we will be able to build the pipeline seventeen miles closer to Rutland than we would have previously. It will take fifteen years off the build time. And it’s worth about forty-five million dollars to the state of Vermont.”

The Public Service Board has scheduled a second hearing on the project for June 12th at the Middlebury Union High School.

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