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New England News

Pipeline Protesters Reach Governor’s Office, 64 Arrested For Trespassing

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Sixty-four people from a coalition of groups that organized a protest in Montpelier were arrested when they refused to leave the building where the governor’s business office is located.

While a small ceremonial office for Vermont’s governor is located in the Statehouse, his working office is next door in the Pavilion Building.

On Monday, opponents of a natural gas pipeline being built by Vermont Gas staged a rally.  Dozens of protesters entered the Pavilion Building, bypassing security procedures, and made their way to the governor’s fifth floor office. Authorities told them they would have to leave by 6:30 p.m. or they would be considered trespassers.

350-Vermont organizer Maeve McBride, who was among those who was subsequently arrested for trespassing, said it was a peaceful demonstration.  “We had really very gracious interactions with the police officers, with Shumlin’s staff, and with their own security. Our message was that we were calling on the governor to withdraw his support of the fracked gas pipeline and to support a ban on any new fossil fuel infrastructure that would be proposed for Vermont.”

McBride adds that this latest protest was motivated by a recent ruling by the state Public Service Board. The Vermont Gas natural gas pipeline project was allowed to move forward despite a nearly 40 percent increase in the cost of the project.

Rising Tide Vermont Volunteer Organizer Will Bennington said they wanted Governor Peter Shumlin to change his mind about the pipeline.  “The main purpose of this event was to bring a set of demands to Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin. Those were that he remove his support for the fracked gas pipeline and do everything he can to influence the respective state agencies that he has influence over to not issue permits for the second phase of the pipeline, which would go under Lake Champlain. The second demand was that Shumlin support a ban on new  fossil fuel infrastructure in Vermont.”

Shumlin, a Democrat running for reelection, was not in his office during the protest. He issued a statement saying he appreciated that the protesters had behaved respectfully. But he also reiterated his support for pipeline, stating his belief that it will help the state transition away from dirtier fuels and help the economy.

Vermont Gas spokesman Steven Wark says this and other protests are a manifestation of an ongoing dialogue in Vermont over energy sources.  “We as utilities take our cues from both the governor and from the legislature. When we look at the comprehensive energy plan we see that not only is there a call for an increase of renewables but there’s also a call to increase natural gas. Natural gas continues to be one of the most affordable ways for people to cut their fuel bills. But at the same time we can also reduce emissions significantly. The economics and the environmental benefits are very helpful especially as a bridge fuel moving to a cleaner  renewable future.”

The Vermont Secretary of Administration and the Commissioner of the Department of Buildings and General Services are reviewing building security procedures in the wake of Monday’s protest. Calls were not returned in time for broadcast.

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