People for Positive Action, an advocacy and environmental action group in Plattsburgh, hosted a “People’s Summit on Energy and the Environment” at SUNY Plattsburgh Tuesday evening.
The summit coalesced as concern over the transport of crude oil and natural gas through the region heightens. A planned natural gas pipeline spur from Middlebury, Vt. to International Paper in Ticonderoga, NY has been highly controversial. At the same time, the rail transport of crude oil, including Bakken and dilbit, or diluted bitumen, between Montreal and Albany along Lake Champlain is increasing.
Sandy Steubing and Susan Weber traveled from Albany to the summit. They are members of PAUSE - People of Albany United for Safe Energy. They brought two short films showing the dangers at the Port of Albany. “Lac Megantic raised many questions. Crude oil was not supposed to be explosive. And then another train exploded. And then another train exploded. And then another. It is now an established fact that trains carrying Bakken crude oil are carrying explosive contents. This is why workers in the rail industry now refer to such trains as bomb trains.”
Susan Weber is also an organizer for Moveon.org. “The problem of these dangerous, we call them bomb trains, is not limited to the Albany area, although Albany has become a hub for this activity. These trains are running all through the state of New York, and all through the country actually, in populated areas, putting us all at risk.”
She adds that a big concern is that people are aware of the trains but don’t necessarily realize what is on them. “The Port of Albany is just on the other side of a fence from a housing development for low-income people. The children play in a park next to the railroad cars. It’s horrifying. We were speaking with a couple of the residents of Ezra-Prentiss. They had no idea what is in these tank cars. It’s Bakken crude that could explode.”
The summit did not focus only on the transport of fossil fuels in the region.
350Vermont Divestment Organizer J.T. Lukens talked about a strategy to move away from oil dependence. He is working on divestment strategies with colleges, communities and organizations. “There’s about 400 to 600 billion dollars of possible divestable funds. And so far it’s around ten million that we’ve actually been divesting. So I expect this movement to continue for decades and really take as much out of the fossil fuel companies’ pockets as we possibly can.”
Vermont Public Interest Research Group Campaign Coordinator Julia Michel talked about alternative energy and clean technology options and believes clean energy policies and a price on carbon are needed. “Solar net metering is an extremely popular program in Vermont. It has made it easy and affordable. And then there are also market-based policies that states can look at as well. Whether that’s cap-and-trade or actually putting a price on carbon, as have been suggested by an overwhelming majority of economists on both sides of the aisle.”
During the question and answer session, Eric, a senior in environmental science at SUNY Plattsburgh, posed the conundrum for the panel. “If you wanted to cut down on this and we were to stop within the ten years completely, what technology would you replace that with?” A representative from PAUSE responded: “There’s about ten world class scientists going around state by state figurng out how we can get from total fossil fuel use to total sourcing of all of our energy, including transportation, by 2050. The two main authors are Howarth and Jacobson.”
The summit in Plattsburgh also addressed ways for people and communities to build grassroots networks to take action against the fossil fuel industry.