Vernon Gassing Up

Here is the VtDigger report on the gas meeting in Vernon this past Tuesday night. It was a standing-room only crowd. The moderator said that Vernon residents would speak first, but as the meeting went on he never said when non-residents could start speaking, but it was clear to me that the majority  of speakers were Vernon residents.

The VtDigger article is a good one, so please give it a read. We were surprised that the planning commission had not already looked at the public health impacts of emissions from a gas powered generating plant, which concerned several residents. Some residents pointed out the hypocrisy of using fracked gas for electricity when VT has banned fracking. Town officials made gross generalizations about the need for more power generating capacity in New England and about solar, wind and other renewables being intermittent and unreliable.

Members of the town planning commission stated firmly that looking beyond Vernon at the human and environmental impacts of fracking is not their job. Beyond the heartlessness of that stance, there is the issue of Vernon’s border town, Northfield. Vernon’s proposal depends on Kinder Morgan;s building a compressor station and pipeline in Northfield. At a minimum, Vernon should do the neighborly thing and listen, learn and work with Northfield. We have a lot of work ahead. –Leslie Sullivan Sachs

Ann Darling, a member of the Safe & Green Campaign’s steering committee, shared these thoughts after the meeting.

Just got home from the meeting in Vernon. This was supposed to be a meeting for the Planning Commission members to get a pulse of the town about whether or not to pursue a [fracked] gas-powered power generating station to be sited near the electric transmission infrastructure at Vermont Yankee. I found it surreal and scary.

The scary parts: The presentation by Martin Langeveld for the Planning Commission was totally and transparently pro doing the project. Langeveld stated that Kinder Morgan has a good safety record. Even the federal government doesn’t believe that: Read this list of deaths, accidents and evacuations from February 2015. Scary: the Planning Commission never looked at the health impacts of hosting a gas plant. More scary: When they didn’t like what residents said, Planning Commission members Patty O’Donnell and Janet Rasmussen responded/argued their position without recognition from the moderator, and belittled the residents with whom they disagreed. No one – called them on their bullying rants. Even more scary: It was clear from both direct comments and from tone that this discussion should be just “about Vernon” — in other words, not about the pros and cons of fracked gas or the pipeline, not how the Kinder Morgan compression station would impact Vernon’s neighbors in Northfield — just about Vernon and what Vernon needs. What does Vernon need? Tax dollars. People who brought up the ethics of benefitting from fracking or the risks of a gas plant explosion so close to all that radioactive fuel were shut down. Scary too, because there seemed to be general agreement that we can’t rely on solar and wind to get us through dark, still days, that and we need “back up” from hydrocarbons — no mention of conservation, no big picture thinking about how to go full tilt with renewables.

Surreal? Well, surreal that this group of people was discussing something over which they really have no control. If the developers and Kinder Morgan and the regulators and all the other players decide this will happen, it will happen whether or not the residents of Vernon want it to. Surreal because there were so many statements about how stringent the regulatory structure is and how they could rely on federal regulators to keep the town safe from air pollutants and explosions, and that, in fact, the heavy weight of those regulations is a burden to any industry Surreal because, as someone asked, what happens in 30 years [or 10, or 5] when the plant is no longer profitable and shuts down? Haven’t these folks lived through that, and isn’t once enough? As one friend of our work said after the meeting, there was a lot of playing to fear of higher taxes and not having enough electricity. And another one said that the tone of the meeting was very American. By that I think she meant that it was about individualism and local needs, not seeing this event in a larger context or thinking long-term.

It’s a lesson to all of us who want this country and this world to make very big shifts very quickly (so that we can ALL go on living on a beautiful and functioning planet) that it will be very, very hard work. The frameworks and values that people carry in their minds leave us very far apart and polarized. That’s perhaps the most scary of all, because if we don’t find common ground, we’re all going to be in for a bad ride, and our children will be in for an even worse one.



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