For a growing segment of the population, questions involving climate change and energy have reached a point where only the most sweeping opposition is sufficient in addressing the looming crisis. In consequence, anything allowing the fossil fuel industry to continue to do business must be met with an unyielding no.
This unyielding resistance was on display in Middlebury at a Public Service Board hearing earlier this week. Vermont Gas Systems has proposed an extension of its natural gas pipeline down from Chittenden to Addison County, from which it would eventually make its way over to the International Paper plant in Ticonderoga, N.Y., and down to Rutland County.
As the PSB learned in Middlebury, a lot of Addison County residents want no part of it.
Opposition to the pipeline comes even though natural gas is a cleaner, cheaper fuel than oil, which it would replace in many places. It comes though businesses say that the availability of gas would be good for business, creating a competitive advantage and helping in the creation of jobs. It comes despite the reduced load of greenhouse gas emissions that would be produced if natural gas were used instead of oil.
Part of the opposition stems from the widespread using of fracking in gas-producing regions to extract gas from underground rock formations. Fracking is the technique of pumping large quantities of water and chemicals underground to force out trapped gas deposits, and it has led to a boom in gas production. Fracked gas is on the market in such abundance now that it is inevitably part of the mix of gas coming to Vermont.
But pollution from fracking itself has been a problem in some places, and environmental examination of the full effects of fracking has still not been accomplished. These uncertainties have only fanned the flames of opposition to the pipeline.
It may be that the most important source of opposition to the pipeline comes from fears of climate change. Action to address the climate crisis has lagged, even as the effects of climate change are galloping ahead. Scientific projections continue to be outpaced by the reality of change. People who see no other way have reached the conclusion that their only recourse is to try to throw as much sand in the gears of the fossil fuel industry as possible.
According to this view, it is past time for reasoning about more or less efficient fossil fuel alternatives, or the advantages to business of natural gas. It is time to shut down the fossil fuel industry, or to hinder it in whatever way is possible — to make the production and use of oil and gas too expensive, not by means of a carbon tax, which would be the reasonable approach, but by the added costs caused by opposition and delay. Out of this sense of frustration, efforts to block the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport tar sands oil from Canada, gained momentum. So has the effort to prevent use of a pipeline in northern Vermont for tar sands oil.
Rejectionism of fossil fuels is behind opposition to the Addison County pipeline. In the meantime, businesses, workers, residents and political leaders maintain a realistic understanding that we live in a fossil fuel economy, and it makes sense, for now, to replace dirty fuel with clean fuel that is cheaper.
It is the job of the Public Service Board to review the Vermont Gas proposal in light of existing laws and regulations, not to mount a revolution against the industry. As long as the climate crisis endures, which will be a long time, these decisions will continue to be made within an atmosphere of urgency, frustration, desperation and crisis, all of which may prove to be a motivation for more aggressive action on climate change. But in the context of the present economy, businesses and residents of Addison and Rutland counties still would benefit from a cleaner, cheaper choice. Saying no to the pipeline would do nothing for the climate, except to limit the option for Vermonters to burn a cleaner fuel.
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