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Editorial: Vermont claims another first

The state legislature’s decision to debate and pass an anti-fracking bill, which Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law last week, is not only good government, it is consistent with the state’s history of being in the forefront of environmental protection efforts.
Just as the state took the lead on banning billboards, adopted Act 250 regulations and was one of the first states to pass a bottle deposit law, the state legislature and governor looked at the unknowns and possible downsides to fracking, and passed the first law banning the controversial process in the nation.
Three points make the decision smart policy: 1) judging by the impact other states have seen, the mix of chemicals that are pumped into the ground to fracture shale layers where the natural gas is trapped presents a real potential to pollute the state’s groundwater on which two-thirds of Vermonters depend; 2) the fact that there are no known natural gas reserves hiding under Vermont’s geological crust make it a clear-cut environmental issue without having to balance that against the potential of job growth and a cheaper source of energy; 3) legislative bills can be amended if future findings determine the ban is unnecessarily tough.
The only comment that is perplexing is why the American Petroleum Institute would bother to issue a contrary statement after the legislature passed the bill and sent it to the governor for his signature, particularly when it incriminates the industry for turning a blind eye to the environment and public safety. “The decision by the Vermont legislature to pass a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing follows an irresponsible path that ignores three major needs: jobs, government revenue and energy security,” wrote API’s public relations chief Rolf Hanson, who goes on to tout the federal government’s “robust regulations” on the industry — a ludicrous claim to anyone outside the industry.
It’s not surprising that industry promotes its strong points, but at least some reference to public safety and a concern for the environment would be politic, at the very least. Not so. The industry’s concern is solely about jobs and money for the industry, regardless of what costs individuals or the larger community might have to bear down the road. It’s yet another sign of how far the nation’s ethos has drifted toward corporate interests, and how fortunate we are to live in a state whose first instinct is public safety and environmental stewardship.
Angelo S. Lynn

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