Roberta Carnwath: Climate justice concerns over pipeline

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?

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  • Ray Mainer

    Fracking is not outlawed in VT. Water wells are regularly fracked.
    Shooting polar bears and walruses is outlawed in VT. We don’t have natural gas either. If we did and the legislature saw all that money, they’d change that law in a hurry.
    If people in other states don’t like fracking they can vote to outlaw it or control it, but they haven’t.

    • Mary Martin

      Ray, wells that are fracked in Vermont are done with high pressure water not polluting, cancer causing chemicals.
      People in other states have tried to stop the profit over people fracking and pipelines but government is in bed with the gas and oil industries. They don’t have a voice.

  • Mary Martin

    Thank you, Bobbie for this well thought out and clearly stated piece. We need to get off fossil fuels now and turn to renewable energy.
    The time to stop this pipeline was three years ago but the next best time to stop it is now.
    Climate justice is justice for all. Pipelines and fracking are for the financial gain of a few.

  • Sally Burrell

    Thank you, Roberta. This moral issue you so clearly described is the #1 reason I’ve been opposed to the pipeline from the start of the project. Poisoning another community’s water and land for our fossil fuel “needs” feels disrespectful and invasive, a violation of human justice.

  • Spencer Putnam

    Right on, Bobbie! There is no justification for violating the rights of others for our own benefit. If we want to protect our own natural resources, we can’t do it at the expense of the rights of others to their natural resources.

  • Veronica Ciambra

    Thanks so much for this thoughtful piece. This pipeline is a bad thing for so many reasons. I can’t but think back to the early 70s and VT Yankee and how we fought it and lost and are now cleaning up from that mess. If we let this pipeline operate, I am sure that in 40 years our kids and/or grandkids will be cleaning up after this new series of bad decisions.

  • Ray Mainer

    Tens of millions of gallons of toxic, fracked, flammable crude oil in tin can tank cars go rolling down along Lake Champlain every week. So why isn’t everybody up in arms about that? Why all the fuss about a relatively benign pipeline while ignoring the real danger?