Editorial: A deluge of news
The saying, “when it rains, it pours,” applies to more than weather. As well as warm temperatures, high winds and rain over the weekend, Addison County received a deluge of news last week as well.
In order of highest news value, the Public Service Board issued a ruling that allows Vermont Gas Systems to proceed with its proposed Phase 1 pipeline to Bristol, Vergennes and Middlebury; the Vermont Agency of Transportation agreed to review the necessity of the 21-foot height for the rail bridges in downtown Middlebury and potentially lower it to 19-feet; and, at the state level, Gov. Peter Shumlin gave his sixth and final State-of-the-State address in which he broke new ground by advocating divestment in coal companies and oil-giant Exxon-Mobil, and extending the state’s good will as a “beacon of hope and hospitality to Muslims, to our Syrian brothers and sisters, and to all who seek to build a better life right here in Vermont.”
Here’s a quick review of why those news stories are so significant:
• In its late Friday afternoon ruling, the PBS green-lighted Vermont Gas Systems’ Phase 1 project to extend a natural gas pipeline to Middlebury from its current terminus in Colchester. The 43-mile pipeline has been the subject of scrutiny and public protest, as well as support, for much of the past five years. It came under fire two years ago when costs for the pipeline nearly doubled from $85 million to $154 million, largely due to an unheralded boom in pipeline construction throughout North America. The opposition, however, was much more than about the cost of the pipeline. Rather, the most intense debates—as global warming and climate change prompted one of the largest worldwide political protests in history—were whether it was wise or foolhardy to invest in fossil fuel infrastructure knowing that society must reduce its carbon footprint.
Proponents consider natural gas a bridge fuel that currently provides energy at a lower cost and lower carbon dioxide output than fuel oil. With renewable energy currently only generating around 10-15 percent of current usage, it’s still years away before fossil fuel use can be replaced with non-fossil fuel alternatives.
The approval of the project means the pipeline will at least proceed to Middlebury and be in use by this summer-fall, while the next battle—approving the pipeline on down to Rutland—is on the horizon.
• The announcement by Vermont Agency of Transportation Secretary Chris Cole last week that he would have the Vermont Rail Council reconsider the 21-foot height requirement of the two rail underpasses through Middlebury’s downtown provides a momentary reprieve to what could be a economically detrimental four-year construction project. That Cole admits he has also questioned the need for the 21-foot clearance to allow for double-stack freight cars is good news to Middlebury’s opponents, if only because the town can believe their perspective is understood, if not also supported.
The potential outcome of such a review is huge: If it were determined that a 19-foot clearance is acceptable, that could significantly reduce the scope of the project in terms of cost, and length of time construction crews would be working 20 hours a day with the accompanying blasting, noise and economic disruption that would cause in the downtown.
• In the governor’s State-of-the-State Address, that Shumlin called on the state to divest its retirement portfolio of stocks in the coal industry and, specifically, in oil-giant Exxon-Mobil (because of its blatant betrayal of the public trust by knowingly providing misleading scientific evidence of global warming in studies several decades ago) reaffirms the state position as a leader in progressive thought and belief. And, by declaring Vermont would open its arms to Syrian refugees, the governor exudes the confidence that generosity of spirit trumps fear, even as other states and politicians embrace the politics of prejudice.
We would like to think that in the long-view, states that support what is right and good for all (as well as those that invest in education) will be the ones that attract young people and the innovative thinkers of tomorrow. But even if it doesn’t, it’s the right thing to do and it’s far better than being a state ruled by fear and loathing.
In what amounted to a three-day news cycle, that’s a deluge of news to ponder.
Angelo S. Lynn