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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Persistent Gas Pipeline Protesters Are Pushing the Limits (Their words, not mine)

I pondered what to post,
a pile of gas pipeline opposition emails in my in box.
start with the most recent, I told myself...

Persistent Gas Pipeline Protesters Are Pushing the Limits

From Mitchel Cohen:
This is huge! People from the Unistoten First Nation have been camping out along this proposed pipeline route for several months. Huge win!!:

New Canadian prime minister essentially kills Northern Gateway pipeline

By Katie Herzog
Environmental and First Nations groups are celebrating recently elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin “Hair Model” Trudeau’s decision to ban crude oil tankers from British Columbia’s northern coast.

The moratorium will stop progress on the $7 billion Northern Gateway pipeline, an unpopular project approved by former PM Stephen Harper last year. It would have moved diluted bitumen ­ a particularly nasty form of crude oil ­ from the tar sands of Alberta to the west coast of B.C. for shipment east to China.

The Vancouver Sun reports:

A ban would prevent hundreds of tankers each year from carrying diluted bitumen extracted from Alberta’s oil sands and piped up to northern B.C. from being shipped for export overseas.

“It will mean that Northern Gateway will never happen,” said Gerald Graham, a Victoria consultant specializing in oil spills for more than 40 years.

He said it remains to be seen what activities other than projects involving crude oil tankers will be permitted and which communities could be affected.

“It’s one thing to say what can’t take place, but another to say what will be allowed.”
Diluted bitumen from the tar sands is particularly concerning to environmentalists. It’s just about the worst oil on the planet in terms of climate impact, and when spilled it makes one hell of a mess. As Grist’s Heather Smith wrote last year, it is “something of a debutante, oil-spill-wise: when over a million gallons of it spilled out of an Enbridge pipeline and into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, spill response crews found that it behaved differently than the oil spills they had been trained on ­ instead of floating, it sank, and crawled blob-like along the river floor, eluding cleanup like a B-movie monster.”

For now, at least, that monster is being kept out of British Columbia’s northern boreal forests. Add that to the Keystone XL rejection, and tar-sands oil production should be looking decidedly less attractive to the fossil fuel industry these days.


The Department of Public Service is trying to figure out how it can be a better public advocate. After seeing them in action over the last three years, bending to Vermont Gas’ will at every turn, we have some pretty clear ideas about how DPS can better advocate for the people of Vermont, right?!? We need to make those ideas known at the DPS hearing TOMORROW.

This is not a pipeline protest event. It is, however, an opportunity to shine a light on problems with the process that are so enormous that if remedied we would probably have a different outcome on the pipeline. The pipeline is the example that we’re all familiar with, but it’s the process we’re trying to fix so that we can have fair and just outcomes. And in the process we’re going to remind folks about that whole pipeline controversy, because we keep showing up in the darnedest places, right? Here’s how you can help:

1. Come to a public hearing on Tuesday, Nov 17, held at the Shelburne Town Office (5420 Shelburne Road) 6:30-9 pm. It’s super important for you to be there, and if you feel you can speak, all the better. Rsvp to me so I have a rough idea of how many to expect. Some ideas of what to talk about are at the bottom of this email.

2. Offer to carpool your friends there — bring a carful of people!

4. There is also a hearing on Nov 18, Brattleboro High School, 131 Fairground Road, 6:30 - 9. Forward this information to your friends in the southeast!

5. If you cannot make it to the hearing, write your comment to by November 30, cc'ing the Governor and your legislators.

THANK YOU, and see you tomorrow,

Rebecca and Just Power

Here are some ideas put together by Melanie to get you started on a comment you might make for the hearing on Tuesday. Add your own points about how you envision the office, perhaps taken from your own experience in well-functioning bureaucracies — we need some new and creative ideas for an office that has fallen behind the times!

  • The Public Advocate Office must be truly independent! No matter where a Public Advocate Office is located (e.g. within DPS, at the Attorney General's Office, in a stand-alone agency or an independent nonprofit), the Office must be free from utility and political influence. The budget of the Office needs to be protected, and employees of the Office must be required to abide by a code of conduct and ethics that prohibits ties to utilities and strict financial disclosure rules. They should also benefit from whistleblower protections so that they feel safe to voice concerns or report problems.
  • The Public Advocate Office should be responsible for helping the public understand and participate in utility cases. Instead of acting as a gatekeeper that keeps the public out of the Section 248 process, the Public Advocate Office should be required to produce plain-language materials that explain not only the Section 248 process but also their rights as ratepayers, landowners, and the public AND the rate design and ratemaking process. Right now, it's nearly impossible for ratepayers to understand or participate in decisions that will affect their wallets, their health and safety, or the environment. Vermont needs a Public Advocate Office that respects our need for understandable and accessible information AND our right to participate in determining exactly what our interests are with respect to a given project or policy.
  • All Vermonters should have an equal right to assistance from a Public Advocate Office. Not all "public interests" are the same for all groups in any society. If different groups (e.g. ratepayers, property owners, small businesses) have differing interests, advocates should be assigned to represent the interests of each group, and/or funding should be provided to individuals and organizations, who want to intervene in the Section 248 process.
  • The Public Advocate Office should advocate for more than just lower rates! It's a myth that ratepayers care only about the cost of energy. Many ratepayers would be willing to pay a bit more for clean energy. Vermonters want a Public Advocate Office willing to stand up to utility pressure and advocate for our right not to pay for unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure. We want a Public Advocate Office that has the independence to demand that all utility customers should have the right to opt out of paying for dirty fossil fuel infrastructure!
  • The Public Advocate Office should be required to share complaints and communications received from ratepayers and members of the public with the Board and other parties during the course of Public Service Board proceedings. Nearly 500 Vermont Gas ratepayers wrote to the Public Advocate Office saying that they couldn't afford to pay for the increased rates necessary to pay for the ballooning ANGP costs. DPS never presented or even acknowledges these concerns during the technical hearings on the ANGP in June. Instead, the Department supported VGS claims that current customers would benefit from the project. This should never be allowed to happen again!
  • Improving the structure and effectiveness of the Public Advocate Office should start today - with a reasonable schedule for accessible public hearings and a comment process that makes sense! The way the Department is going about collecting public input for this report is a perfect example of how poorly the Public Advocate Office serves ratepayers and the public:
    • There are no public hearings being held in locations that are convenient for residential natural gas ratepayers, who could face the largest rate increases for energy infrastructure in the history of Vermont. Shelburne is still far from Burlington and St. Albans.
    • There has been almost no advertising or public outreach about the hearings!
    • And, DPS hasn't even bothered to produced any written materials, a draft report, or even a list of questions for the public but nevertheless wants the public to offer comments on how the Public Advocate Office should be structured! The average Vermonter isn't an expert of government organizational structure or public advocate offices. Why hasn't DPS given us something to respond to in public comments????
  • Until an effective and independent Public Advocate Office can be established, the Vermont public deserves to have Independent Counsel appointed for all large pending utility cases, including the Addison Natural Gas Project! Regardless of when or whether steps are taken to improve the structure and effectiveness of the Public Advocate Office, ratepayers and the public deserve an effective public advocate to represent them, now! Until something can be done to fix this problem, independent counsel should be appointed to represent ratepayers and other members of the public in all major utility cases, including the Addison Natural Gas Project. Currently, the Board isn't required to appoint independent counsel when ratepayers, the public, and the Governor or Department have differing interests, or when a conflict of interest arises. Whether to appoint independent counsel is at the discretion of the Board, and to date, the Board has pretty much never appointed independent counsel no matter how obvious it is that the Administration's and ratepayers' interests are at odds. This needs to change!
And these are AARP’s recommendations to improve the Department of Public Service’s Advocate Office:

  • The public advocate office should be an independent office that is removed from the political pressure to support utility company projects and rate proposals.
  • The public advocate office should be independently representing the interests of Vermont electric and gas customers so that your utility bills are fair and reasonable.
  • Public advocates for ratepayers should have technical and legal expertise and should have strong track record for independent action and advocacy. The ratepayer advocates should have limited direct ties with the utilities.
A friend couldn't get our local health officer to state the pipeline is bad for the health of our community. Armed with this info, folks near a compressor station of any size might have a better chance.

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