Gregory Dennis: PSB stifling input on pipeline project

News and Notes:
If there was ever any doubt how publicly disoriented the state’s Department of Public Service really is when it comes to the fracked gas pipeline now making its way through the county — well, department Commissioner Chris Recchia put that doubt to rest a few days ago.
Not long after the Public Service Board tried to ban the public from a public hearing on the pipeline, Recchia made it clear that the department is sick of hearing from members of the public who oppose the pipeline.
Recchia told the Burlington Free Press why a memorandum of understanding (MOU) means the company’s customers could be on the hook for any extra costs that Vermont Gas has incurred due to protesters’ actions.
“The possibility of charging ratepayers was included in the MOU to send a message — to stop people from protesting,” Recchia told the paper.
At least he was being upfront about what’s being done to stifle dissent. It’s part of an official pro-pipeline campaign to pit pipeline foes against existing and future customers of Vermont Gas.
A lot of us think that, as is often customary, it should be company shareholders (not individual ratepayers) who should be at risk for those costs.
Joining Recchia in the “our way or the highway” world is Vermont Gas spokeswoman Beth Parent.
Several brave protesters, including Middlebury resident Jason Kaye (who chairs the town’s energy committee), have chained themselves to construction equipment to slow construction of the pipeline.
But Parent insisted to the Freeps that work has always continued despite the obvious shutdowns engineered by protesters.
I guess it’s always bright and sunny in her world — where what’s good for Vermont Gas is supposedly good for Vermont.
In fairness, I should note that the Department of Public Service did this week recommend that ratepayers not be on the hook for all the cost overruns experienced by Vermont Gas. The department recommended the company not be able to collect $35 million of those overruns from ratepayers.
At least Recchia was ready to say this week that ratepayers shouldn’t have to pay for all the “imprudence” of Vermont Gas’s poor handling of the project.
At this time, however, it’s just a recommendation. The final amount to be borne by ratepayers is the subject of hotly contested, ongoing deliberations.
In the meantime, the company’s credibility continues to erode as total pipeline costs rise above $165 million. That’s about twice what the company originally said the project would cost.
The pipeline is creating 50 years of fossil fuel infrastructure. And it’s being built in a world where if we continue the wide use of fossil fuels for even the next 20 years, we will be in deep trouble around the globe.
It’s inevitable this pipeline will be completed. And that it will just add to the fossil fuels we’re burning — postponing Vermont’s essential transition to renewable wind, solar and other green energy.
The Public Service Board’s efforts to stifle public input are one more sign that the real service isn’t being performed by the pro-fossil fuel push from Gov. Peter Shumlin, Middlebury College (which endorsed the pipeline) and others.
The real public service has come from the thousands of Vermonters who have opposed the pipeline.
That kind of opposition is occurring all over North America, wherever new climate-busting projects are being proposed.
We can only hope the rising tide of opposition to new fossil fuel projects makes them even more costly — and that investors and businesses begin to look elsewhere, beyond fossil fuel, for their next projects.
How’s That Again Department: If you’re driving Route 7 these days, there’s more to see than just traffic jams from road and pipeline construction. There’s a also a sign at a Ferrisburgh farm advertising “Pick your own pre-dug potatoes.”
Middlebury College has sent plenty of its alums to the Olympics. But it has usually involved the Winter Olympics and skiers such as Gordie Eaton, John Bower and double silver medalist Penny Pitou.
This year, though, the college saw three graduates compete in the summer Olympics. Those alums — Lea Davison, Megan Guarnier and Sarah Groff — were all part of the powerful U.S. women’s team. Joining a few sailors, kayakers and canoeists over the years, they are among the select few Middlebury College alums to compete in the summer games.
The continuing inability of the railway and state government to establish a firm timetable for construction in downtown Middlebury is a flat-out outrage. The project to repair downtown bridges and improve the rail bed will seriously hurt Middlebury’s downtown businesses. The least the state and railway can do is set a timetable and stick to it, so the businesses know what they’re facing and can adjust accordingly. Nuff said.
It sure looks like Porter Medical Center is on the glide path to affiliate with the UVM Healthcare System.
There are some advantages to doing so. But let’s not kid ourselves. This will eventually mean a loss of local autonomy and local control over our hospital system.
Among all the good suggestions made regarding this process, the one that really stood out to me was made by this paper in an editorial last week: We should push for more than five years of local control in such an affiliation. Let’s go for 10.
Gregory Dennis’s column appears here every other Thursday and is archived on his blog at www.GregDennis.wordpress.com. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @greengregdennis.

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