Editor’s note: This commentary is by Roberta Carnwath, who is a member of the Cornwall Planning Commission.
In May of 2010, when Vermont attracted national attention by becoming the first state to outlaw fracking, our governor, Peter Shumlin, said:
“We don’t know that we don’t have natural gas in Vermont, and this measure will ensure we do not inject chemicals into groundwater in a desperate pursuit for energy … One of the biggest challenges that future generations are going to face is clean, drinkable water. We have an abundance of it in Vermont. I think it’s a great message that we’re going to protect it at all costs.”
In noting the impact of the decision on future generations, Shumlin was framing the prospect of poisoning drinking water as the moral issue that it is. A moral issue like, for example, child labor, outlawed in Vermont, but … what if it were legal somewhere else, say … Alberta? And what if the product of this child labor was cheaper and more convenient than other products produced by more ethical standards? Would Vermonters say: “Yes! Let’s bring ’em in – give ourselves more choices? Heck, let’s build a pipeline and bring more of them in faster!”
A moral issue like, for example, child labor, outlawed in Vermont, but … what if it were legal somewhere else, say … Alberta?
If it is wrong to poison drinking water in Vermont, it is wrong to take advantage of the fact that people at the other end of the pipeline may not have the means to protect their back yards from exploitation by corporations partnering with their government.
In the years since the Public Service Board approved the certificate of public good for the Addison Natural Gas Pipeline, the concept of “climate justice” has been gaining respect as a factor that should be considered in economic planning. Members of the Vermont Legislature should all support the initiative spelled out in a letter from the Vermont Assembly Coalition on Climate Solutions to June Tierney requesting that the certificate of public good for the Addison pipeline be reopened. The letter gives five reasons why this action should be taken. But there is a sixth reason. The PSB should ask whether the pipeline is a good idea in the light of our emerging understanding of “climate justice.” Can we knowingly inflict damage elsewhere and still be proud Vermonters?