Opinion: More to pipeline issue than clergy realize

In a letter to the editor, Addison Independent, Dec. 19. 2013, seven area clergy preach against the natural gas pipeline. They say, “We have a sacred responsibility to speak the truth as best we understand it.” I say take time to understand the truth before uttering a word.
It doesn’t seem that the seven clergy understand the issues or the truth of the issues, or the consequences of the issues. The question of our source and use of energy should be considered from a broad basis. Making a real effort to ferret out the ramifications of all sides of the issues. Emotional anecdotes are not particularly helpful.
The truth is that today we, society, depend on a large part of our electricity being generated by coal burning power plants. These plants discharge large amounts of dirty smoke and burn coal mined by mountain top removal in West Virginia and other states. This mining is a rape of our planet and not in keeping with what the seven clergy require of us, “that our parishioners and society at large serve as faithful stewards of our planet.”
It’s easy to search the Internet and see the horrors of mountain top coal removal. These travesties are real and destroy not only our land but the people living there, who are indeed part of our planet. Check out Wendell Berry on this subject.
Coal smoke is dirty and no amount of regulation will make it as clean burning as natural gas. Among many poisons coal smoke contains methyl mercury that has been linked to both reduced IQ and ADHD in children. No we don’t burn much coal in Vermont, but we breathe the air of other places that do. We should be supporting the conversion to natural gas.
There is new evidence, recently published in “Environmental Health Perspectives” that air pollution is linked to autism. One pollutant, in addition to coal smoke, is diesel smoke containing particulates and mercury. Pregnant women living in high pollution areas were twice as likely to have children with autism according to the Harvard study. And we have long known that diesel smoke is a cause of cancer.
One of the uses of natural gas is to replace diesel fuel in trucks and buses. In Burlington the buses have been switched to natural gas as have Casella’s trash trucks. For the Middlebury-Rutland area to make the switch we need the gas pipeline because natural gas is impracticable to move by tank truck.
In 2011 the state of VT set a goal of 90 percent renewable energy by 2050, see Public Service Department website. The truth is that recently the department announced that not much has transpired toward a plan to reach the goal, but that a “Total Energy Study” is in the works and expects a report by next summer. So there you have it — the state isn’t in any hurry to set a plan to reach the important goal of 90 percent by 2050. In the mean time we need clean energy.
Opponents of the pipeline say that a cheap source of energy, in this case natural gas, will delay conservation of energy and development of renewable sources of energy. In other words they want energy to be more expensive to force people to use less. They also say that cheap natural gas is a delusion, that won’t last, conveniently safeguarding themselves on both sides of the economic issue. Doesn’t this mean they are relying on the free market, on capitalism, to do the job of saving the environment? And at the same time saying that the free market can’t work because natural gas will increase in price?
Many serious thinkers feel that the free market is unable to solve our environmental problems. There just isn’t enough incentive. There will always be those who can afford energy no matter what it costs.
The truth is that regulation has been proven to work. There are many programs, incentives, regulations, in place today that really work. Most of these are not grounded in the free market. Such as recycling. In Vermont we recycle a very high percentage of our waste stream.
Such as waste water treatment. We learned long ago that we can’t keep on dumping waste water into streams and lakes.
Such as deposit on bottles and cans.
Such as getting the lead out of paint and auto exhaust.
Such as now requiring environmentally safe recycling of computers and electronics.
Such as requiring higher gas mileage in new cars and trucks.
Governments are going to have to step up and require conservation and adoption of renewable energy sources. Vermont has started this process but has a long way to go. One of the most important steps today is for the state to implement building codes that require rigorous energy efficiency of all buildings.
The truth is that the use of fracking to extract natural gas and oil is here to stay. It is our responsibility to require regulation to make sure this extraction is safe. A U.S. Department of Energy study, reported in the Rutland Herald, July 20, 2013 found, “no evidence of chemicals from the natural gas drilling process moved up to contaminate drinking water aquifers at a western Pennsylvania drilling site.” This is one study, but with more research and regulation by states and pressure from “the people,” fracking can be used safely.
Finally, Reuters News Service reported Nov. 11, 2013, that $100 million worth of natural gas is flared, burned off and wasted, every month in the North Dakota oil fields. This is due to the lack of pipelines to deliver the gas to customers. What a tragic waste of our natural resources and despicable source of CO2 pollution.
I hope we can all look at all sides of energy issues.
Paul Stone, Orwell

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