Rebecca Foster: Speaking their minds, and their hearts

Editor’s note: Charlotte resident Rebecca Foster is a member of the town’s energy committee and writes the column Carpe Greenum for The Citizen, a weekly newspaper for Charlotte and Hinesburg.

Before the public hearing on May 7 in Shoreham concerning the proposed International Paper pipeline through Vermont, a longtime activist recommended that people testify about the wetlands, the agricultural soil, the rocks that would be blasted during construction, and so forth. Such things are included in the criteria the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) uses to determine whether or not to issue a permit for the project.

It was pretty clear at the standing-room-only hearing that people didn’t want to talk about rocks. Evidently, when Vermonters think about building expensive and long-lasting infrastructure for fossil fuels in some of the most beautiful agricultural land in the state, they want to talk about climate change, how Vermont is being sold to out-of-state multinational corporations, or the danger of fracking in Alberta, Canada, whence comes the gas.

They want to point out that a pipeline is unnecessary, that we have alternatives right now right here that serve the dual purpose of reducing our energy needs and building the local economy. They are outraged that they are bearing the costs and risks while receiving none of the benefits. (The first round of discovery in the current phase of the pipeline under consideration revealed that 99 to 99.5 percent of the fuel in the pipeline would go to International Paper in New York.)

Out of the speakers presenting testimony in Shoreham, 74 percent were opposed to the International Paper pipeline. They talked about their fields, their grandchildren, their houses, their lake, their self-determination — all the things that they love and that they are trying to prevent from destruction.

I’m guessing it’s a fair generalization that people who bother to get educated enough to go to a public hearing — any public hearing — are no fools. In this case, they knew that the PSB expected them to talk about rocks. But if a public hearing is to be authentic, not just for show, then any topic related to the proposed plan should be embraced by the PSB, not just those that conform to the narrow PSB criteria.

The costs of the International Paper pipeline are so high to Vermonters that they deserve the respect, to say nothing of the tool, of transparency.

 

The people in Shoreham were, collectively and in effect, telling the PSB that the framework it is using to evaluate the gas company’s proposal is as outmoded as fossil fuels themselves. A year ago, even I was saying that climate change was in the future. Now, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says it’s here. Coincidentally, the day before the hearing our own government issued a massive report detailing the ways in which it is proven that climate change is present in the U.S.

The old way of thinking no longer suffices. A sharp mind at some point in the three hours of testimony described laying down more fossil fuel infrastructure precisely at the moment in history when we should be stopping all of its use as baffling, linear thinking. We now live in a non-linear, unpredictable world. We don’t know all that is coming, but we do know the future is less reliable and we need to be flexible. Likewise, the PSB needs to be flexible, too.

Revealingly, just as the public is crying out for the PSB to be more inclusive, Vermont Gas Systems is urging the PSB to seal case documents from public view. The decision is pending. Should International Paper, for instance, cite confidentiality over its financial information, it would be difficult for the public to refute the multi-billion-dollar company’s cry that it would shut down the plant if it doesn’t get gas. Any such “protected” information could not be used in future litigation, either. The Vermont Public Service Department — which is supposed to champion the cause of the Vermont public — is the agency pushing the deal to keep the public in the dark. The costs of the International Paper pipeline are so high to Vermonters that they deserve the respect, to say nothing of the tool, of transparency. The PSB should decline the VGS request to withhold documents from the public.

The Vermont neighbors who spoke at the hearing last week are not professional activists. The majority, judging by hairlines and color, were over 50. They did not wake up one morning itching to pick a fight with two multi-billion-dollar multinational corporations. But they presented testimony as full of research as it was of passion, rich with incisive thinking and sincerity.

“For 30 years I was a family physician in Middlebury, and I would like to think that I am of at least average intelligence,” said Bill Fifield in one of my favorite testimonies. “Folks, I just don’t get it,” he admitted. “I just don’t understand why this board would even consider approval of a project that would put the short-term wellbeing of corporate profits above the future well-being of the next generations of Vermonters, to say nothing of the future of our planet.”

The PSB can act short-term and secretly if it wishes. It could, however, take this historic opportunity to listen to the voices of the public, be completely transparent, act bravely against convention, and deny a permit for the International Paper pipeline.

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21 Comments on "Rebecca Foster: Speaking their minds, and their hearts"

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Steve Comeau
1 year 11 months ago

Rebecca, The transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy will likely take very many decades. Industrial plants use enormous amounts of energy. The paper mill already is using fossil fuels and will need to continue using some type of high energy fuel, one way other another, if it is to remain open. In order to transition to renewable energy people will need to use a lot less energy overall. To do that most of will need to drastically change how we live. There is already a huge inequality of energy consumption. I really can’t see much “buy in” to reducing… Read more »

Jane Palmer
1 year 11 months ago

Mr Comeau, You say, ” There is no need to drive so much, fly so much, and consume so much. But that is the way it is. ” What I think Ms Foster is saying in her article is that this can no longer “be the way it is.” International Paper is a multi-BILLION dollar company and they are asking people like us to support their efforts to support themselves. They have an energy problem and they are bound and determined to get that energy no matter what the cost to the environment and the communities impacted. They have cleverly… Read more »

Steve Comeau
1 year 11 months ago

Jane, Drought is an excellent example. The drought in California is causing some areas to declare water use limits, mandatory rationing, and incentives to change to landscaping that does not need water. At some point the idea that there can be limits to resource usage could become accepted, as opposed to being able to use any amount without a limit. Now it is possible the drought is due to climate change, so these changes are because of the affects climate change, but not the idea or fear of climate change. Right now people usually get incentives when they use more,… Read more »

Alex Prolman
1 year 11 months ago

Steve, I’m shocked when you say that climate change is not a compelling reason to get off fossil fuels. It’s THE reason to get off fossil fuels. It’s impossible for me to articulate the immensity of this need in only a few sentences. Climate change kills 5 million people annually, and is anticipated to kill many more in the coming decades. Scientists talk with completely straight faces about the collapse of civilization, because of climate change. An apt comparison is tobacco. We are as sure of the link between fossil fuels and climate change as we are of the link… Read more »

Matt Fisken
1 year 11 months ago

Climate change is THE reason many give for “transitioning to renewable energy.” However it is hardly the best reason for reducing fossil fuel use. Fossil fuels’ finite supply, their destructive mining processes and immediate impacts on health/life (particulates, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides, etc) are all much more pressing than the GHGs the produce, especially when compared to those already in the atmosphere. Not to mention, using fewer FFs is simply more economical and rewarding. As much as processed, high calorie foods have contributed to our healthcare crisis and obesity, diabetes, learning disability and drug abuse epidemics, our car-centric… Read more »

Kim Fried
1 year 11 months ago

Rebecca you may find another very compelling story in what has transpired in the Towns of Newark, Brighton and the UTG in the northern part of the state. Our experiences with the PSB and the developer were absolute nightmares which we continually live everyday for over the last two years. In our case we are dealing with an Industrial Wind development on our ridgelines that will have a very significant negative impact on our environment and communities for nearly no reduction in CO2. It will make some politicians and investors feel very noble but the citizens will suffer and pay… Read more »

Kathy Nelson
1 year 11 months ago

Kim, I would add this: In 2005 Brighton (Island Pond) was assaulted by a wind developer trying to get a 50 turbine project onto the Seneca ridgeline. Brighton fought the original request for MET towers by claiming that under Section 248 MET towers (to test an area for wind towers) were not generation systems and therefore not qualifying criteria for a CPG. Even though this was a fact, and that the developer does not have to share met tower data, or financial information with the public, the PSB rubber-stamped the MET tower CPG and two MET towers went up in… Read more »

Greg Lapworth
1 year 11 months ago

Quite surprised by a former Medical Doctor “of average intelligence” who would oppose the short term use of natural gas to reduce our carbon footprint by up to 50%.
And a correction is necessary: many of these people present at the hearing are “professional protesters”. Not just this cause but most anything the New Vermont feels isn’t “left”, i.e. “champagne socialist”, enough. Watch for the same names to pop up again and again. Please pay attention, these people are set on remaking our lives to their bent/looney/selfish/ill-informed ideals.

Philip Beliveau
1 year 11 months ago

Greg, It has already been shown that a 50% reduction in pollution is not true if taken from the drill to the point of consumption due to gas leaks at many points along the way. It is disingenuous to only count the point of consumption as if nothing happened further back in the chain. I don’t remember anything in the contract about short term use? The people we have to watch out for are foreign gas companies trying to remake our lives to fit their selfish, all for profit ideals! I am a Vermont land owner in the pipeline route… Read more »

Mary Martin
1 year 11 months ago

Greg, you shouldn’t be surprised by Dr. Fifield’s objection to the pipeline. You don’t take land by eminent domain for a short term usage. Eminenet Domain is forever! If the Mill was interested in the short term, they wouldn’t be spending millions upon millions of dollars on pipeline and conversion. And I need to correct your correction. We are not professional protesters. We are average people whose lives and properties are being threatened by 2 big businesses. Property that we have paid for and worked for years. It is not “selfish” to want to keep what is ours. We do… Read more »

Maren Vasatka
1 year 11 months ago

Mr. Lapworth, I spoke at the last public hearing on Phase I and this public hearing. I have attended all hearings but only spoke at the last two. As someone who has attended them all, I saw many people that had not spoken before. I was warmed by their coming out and some of them from far distances to help in this fight. I am not a professional protester, you see Vermont Gas wants to put this pipeline in my back yard, they don’t want to pay me very much, they won’t assure me that they will take responsibility for… Read more »

John Greenberg
1 year 11 months ago

Greg,
Wasn’t the United States founded by “professional protesters?” Without them, we’d still be singing God save the Queen!

Greg Lapworth
1 year 11 months ago

We had land taken “forever” for a sidewalk and road widening. Eminent domain is the law, don’t like it…change the law. It comes with owning property. And stop your bloody whining. How many of the protestors heat with tar sand oil and don’t even know it. The majority of our heating oil comes from our best neighbour, Canada. Philip, how does the Great Green Prius stand up for consumption from origin to end of life? And I said up to 50%. Using AGW as a socialist tool is not going to work. The New Vermont certainly is full of themselves.… Read more »

Mary Martin
1 year 11 months ago

The law states you cannot take land using eminent domain for business profits.

Greg Lapworth
1 year 11 months ago

This is for the majority public good.

Mary Martin
1 year 11 months ago

If the majority is Gaz metro and International Paper, then you would be right. Wrong!

George Klohck
1 year 11 months ago

Greg, With all due respect I beg to differ again. You may remember me from our recent phone conversation. I want to ask you a question. You conclude your latest statement by writing, “Sorry, it’s not all about you.” Here is my question: Is everyone with a different opinion supposed to believe that it IS all about you? On the phone you told me flat out that you didn’t want to listen to me because you “wouldn’t believe me.” I know many of the people who have written in the discussion above. For some of them (and other people that… Read more »

Greg Lapworth
1 year 11 months ago

Your group have lost all credibility over the past year, so why listen to the same old misinformation. Problem is the anti’s are all we hear.
Gaz metro multi-national? Quebec will love that.
I thought your soliciting telephone call was an error…..should I now repeat all your “I don’t have an answer to that” replies to my questions. Enjoy your propane heating source?

Enough said.

Jane Palmer
1 year 11 months ago

Greg, I assume since you used the term “taken forever” in regards to your land used for road widening and sidewalk means you didn’t willfully give up your land and it had to be condemned using eminent domain. Or did you willingly sell your land to the town or state so pedestrians and motorists would have a safer place to travel? Tell me, do you ever worry the sidewalk might blow up? Does the “public” own the sidewalk? And can anyone use the sidewalk or is it only for a select few corporate “citizens”? There is a big difference between… Read more »

Greg Lapworth
1 year 11 months ago

We have all noted the major explosions in Burlington and other towns served by natural gas here in Vt. Over the past 50 years of natural gas usage? Give it a break. That’s an old tired whine.

Mary Martin
1 year 11 months ago

Actually sir, I have read some of your past posts and determined that you are not worth a rebuttal.

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