Vermont Gas has asked the state Supreme Court to let it build the final section of the 41-mile pipeline to Addison County while the easement issue is pending before the justices.
Opponents Monday disputed the company’s claims that further construction delays would hurt customers and the environment.
Vermont Gas incurs about $750,000 in nonrecoverable expenses for every month of delay, according to its Nov. 4 motion asking to finish construction.
But two harms the company claims from delays in construction — increased greenhouse gas emissions and increased cost for ratepayers this winter — have been disproven, according to Bristol-based attorney Jim Dumont’s response to Vermont Gas.
Dumont represents seven Hinesburg residents who are fighting the company’s plan to lay a 2,000-foot section of the pipeline — the last unfinished piece — beneath the town’s Geprags Park. The state Supreme Court case proceeds from Vermont Gas’ attempt to secure an easement through the park.
Environmental advocate Bill McKibben in an affidavit argued against Vermont Gas’ claim that completing the pipeline this winter will reduce Vermonters’ greenhouse gas emissions. Vermont Gas says heating oil and propane cause more harm to the climate when burned than methane does. Natural gas consists almost entirely of methane.
“In fact, the opposite is true,” McKibben said in an affidavit dated Nov. 8. “Any delay in the use of the pipeline will actually decrease Vermont’s contributions of greenhouse gases.”
The fact that methane emits less carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels during combustion, McKibben said, is “clearly a red herring.”
The last three years, since the state granted Vermont Gas a permit for the pipeline, have seen advances in climate science showing that natural gas has no less an effect on the atmosphere than does coal, McKibben said in the filing.
The changing consensus has nothing to do with whether methane, coal or oil burns cleaner, McKibben said.
Instead, he said, scientists have recently found that gas producers lose enough methane while producing and transporting natural gas that any benefits from cleaner combustion are outweighed.
The delay also won’t cost Vermonters through their heating bills, Dumont claims.
He submitted a rate analysis to the court Monday that shows most Vermonters will in fact save money by using heating oil or propane this winter instead of the natural gas Vermont Gas hopes to supply with its pipeline.
He said the analyses Vermont Gas used to persuade the Public Service Board to approve its permit relied on years-old information, from when oil cost much more.
Furthermore, it’s the fault of Vermont Gas that the company is arguing for an easement across Geprags Park after all but 2,000 feet of the pipeline has been built, Dumont said.
The company until last winter had relied on an invalid agreement with the town of Hinesburg, Dumont said, and made no attempt to find alternate routes in case that agreement didn’t hold up.
A Vermont Gas representative said all these arguments by Dumont represented little more than a last-ditch effort by a handful of people to obstruct a pipeline eagerly awaited by Vermont families and businesses.
“We have folks that are waiting for us to start having gas flow through the pipeline,” said spokeswoman Beth Parent. Only “a small number of individuals” are preventing that, she said.
Completing the pipeline would take around four weeks, she said, and the company will begin pumping gas as soon as it’s done.
The court has not yet begun taking briefs in the easement case, Dumont said, but he added that based on past experience the court may begin taking briefs in four to six weeks.
If the court were to decide against Vermont Gas after the pipeline was already built beneath Geprags Park, it could be abandoned or removed, the company said in its Nov. 4 motion.
The appeal to the court stems from the Public Service Board’s Sept. 12 order granting an easement across Geprags Park.
Dumont argued that the board erred because land already dedicated to public use can’t be condemned through eminent domain unless the Legislature intervenes.
Parent said Vermont Gas will likely file a response to Dumont’s latest claims before the weekend.
“We are focused — and have been and will be — on serving these folks in Addison County as soon as we can,” Parent said.
(Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Dumont’s argument against the PSB order.)