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House Committee Hears Testimony On Fossil Fuel Infrastructure Bills

Vermont Statehouse
Vermont Statehouse

The Vermont House Committee on Energy and Technology held a hearing Tuesday evening on three bills related to fossil fuel infrastructure in the state.  Most of those commenting during the hearing urged the lawmakers to approve the bills and move them to the House floor.
Two hours were allocated for testimony and each witness had two minutes to speak. Committee on Energy and Technology Chair Timothy Briglin, a Democrat, noted the three pieces of legislation are interrelated.  “Generally how I would describe them are different flavors of how we might address or restrict fossil fuel infrastructure development in the state of Vermont.”

H.51 would prohibit construction of fossil fuel infrastructure in Vermont except that which is certified by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  H.175 prohibits the use of eminent domain by utility companies for purposes of fossil fuel infrastructure and H.214 requires the state’s Public Utility Commission to consider the effects of leakage and groundwater contamination when determining whether to allow a natural gas facility.

The majority of those commenting urged committee members to approve the bills.  They included environmental advocates.  “My name is Julie Macuga and I support the bills before you. I organize fossil fuel resistance with 350-Vermont. I constantly hear how Vermont has such a small footprint compared to the rest of the country. True. But that recuse us from taking action?”
“My name’s Dee Gish and I’m from Sharon.  By prohibiting the buildout of new fossil fuel infrastructure Vermont can focus on building the renewable energy infrastructure that’s urgently needed to reach our goals.”

A number of college students expressed concerns about their future if Vermont expands fossil fuel infrastructure.  “My name is Clarissa Spraque. I’m a student at UVM. Young people are rising up across the globe. We feel this urgency because we can see it. We are not talking about predictions. Passing this bill would prove that you care about my generation more than those profiting from a broken and dying industry.”
 “Hi my name is Olivia Summers. I’m 19 and I’m from Middlebury. And I used to dream about having a family and now I try my best not to dream about the future. This bill is about more than fossil fuel infrastructure. If we can’t look to the government to protect us who do we go to? Where am I supposed to find hope?”

Several residents who went through eminent domain proceedings for a Vermont Gas pipeline project urged approval of the bills.  “My name is Nathan Palmer. I own land and a home in Monkton. I’m chairman of my town energy committee. The fossil fuel industry takes us exactly the wrong direction to reach our state goal of 90 percent renewable by 2050.”
“Terrence Cuneo I’m in favor of these bills because I don’t want other landowners to go through what we did. You open your mailbox one day and you’re told that a pipeline going to be running through your property and you can accept it , small amount of of money, or you’re going to go to eminent domain. We gradually learned that the agencies who wished to take our land and profit from it had nearly limitless amounts of money and power to get what they wanted. We had none of those things. The negotiations felt like having a .pistol to your head.”

The vast majority of people who testified supported the bills but there was some criticism.  Putney resident Doug Grandt said there should be some changes made to the bill that restricts construction.  “This bill I think is a very good start but I don’t support it the way it’s written. We need to eliminate the exclusion for FERC certified projects.”
“My name is J.T. Dodge of the No Carbon Tax Vermont Group.  H.51 proposes to prohibit Vermont from constructing fossil fuel infrastructure. We can’t afford to ban fuels based on the existence of greenhouse gasses. These types of proposals that ban Vermonters’ fuel choices are aggressive and extreme. They present false urgency.”

Audio from the statehouse hearing is courtesy of ORCA Media in Montpelier.