Guest Editorial: AARP stance on pipeline doesn’t consider all angles

The Vermont Department of Public Service has struck an agreement with Vermont Gas that would allow the company to recover $134 million of the $154 million budgeted to extend its natural gas system from Colchester to Middlebury. That means the company will be forced to absorb $20 million of the project’s total cost, not the ratepayers.
There are a variety of conditions tied to the agreement, but the intent remains intact: The company intends to push forward and the department still supports the project as something that benefits Vermonters.
The agreement has inflamed two groups: The first is obvious, it’s the Rising Tide advocacy organization (and others) that opposes the project because it involves the use of fossil fuels. This is the group whose members chain themselves to on-site machinery, etc. Group number two is the AARP — led by state director Greg Marchildon. He steadfastly opposes the project because of its impact on his constituents. He says the continuation of the project means ratepayers in Franklin and Chittenden counties will bear the burden.
Rising Tide’s opposition is understood, if not widely embraced. Natural gas is a cleaner, more efficient energy source than the fossil fuels it would be replacing, but it’s still a fossil fuel and it still emits dirty stuff into the atmosphere that solar panels don’t. The group’s view is extreme, and impractical, but it’s consistent. 
Mr. Marchildon’s position is anything but consistent, or practical. In fact, it’s a naked ploy to do little else other than fundraising fodder for AARP. He’s able to send notices to his members showing how he’s advocating for their best interests — lower fuel bills.
But is he arguing for his members’ best interests?
Only if you consider AARP’s universe to be made up of only those living in Franklin and Chittenden counties. And his argument is a weak one even within that constituency.
Vermont Gas’ objective is to extend the use of natural gas beyond Franklin and Chittenden counties to Addison County. Even with the cost overruns it’s still a cheaper, more efficient fuel to use than what’s being used now. And more environmentally suitable. As the system expands, the number of people who are able to take advantage of the cost savings grows. It also reduces our carbon footprint. And ultimately the cost declines as the system expands.
Doesn’t this help AARP members in Addison County? And Vermont?
Of course.
And here’s the kicker: Mr. Marchildon pushes his own economic analysis contending that if the natural gas pipeline is built, it will cost the state about $200 million in a loss of jobs for those who truck the oil and propane to Addison county homes and businesses.
So, Mr. Marchildon pays an economist to make the case that the continued use of oil and propane for Addison County homes and businesses is the preferred course?
The question becomes readily apparent: So are Mr. Marchildon and his AARP members opposed to renewable power proposals? How can they not be? The power is more expensive and the goal of renewables is to eliminate our dependency on fossil fuels. That affects those same drivers who truck oil, propane and compressed natural gas. For Mr. Marchildon’s argument to be consistent, he would need to advocate against solar, wind and all other forms of renewable energy.
The essence of Mr. Marchildon’s argument is one of maintaining the status quo. Nothing changes. And that should infuriate people beyond the infrastructure of Vermont Gas. They don’t have the same choices that we’ve had in Franklin and Chittenden counties for almost a half-century. It should also annoy anyone interested in efficiency and renewable energy.
If Mr. Marchildon’s purpose were understood by his constituency beyond Franklin and Chittenden counties, perhaps his members would say otherwise.
Emerson Lynn/St. Albans Messenger

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