Letter to the editor: Lawsuit seeks to protect Bristol residents’ rights

I am one of the 37 plaintiffs who filed a complaint against the Bristol selectboard and Vermont Gas Systems, asking for our right to vote. It is not yet clear what a vote would conclude. However, one thing is certain: misleading industry advertising has skewed public opinion to believe natural gas is cheaper and cleaner.
In fact, it is less expensive in the long run to invest in efficiency, heat pumps and local renewable energy for most homeowners. Once the investment is paid off, heating costs are considerably lower or nonexistent. Natural gas bills will last forever and are predicted to rise. Even more concerning, the latest report from leading scientists says the greenhouse gas potency of natural gas is significantly higher than that of either oil or coal. Water and soil are also dangerously contaminated by gas extraction.
Our Bristol Town Energy Plan states, “Careful planning will be necessary to meet the energy needs of Bristol businesses and residents at a time of rapid technological, environmental and economic change. This will require both a spirit of innovation and close coordination with the Bristol Energy Committee and with statewide agencies such as Efficiency Vermont.” Bristol’s Energy policy states, “Avoid undue adverse effects to health, safety, property, and environmental quality from energy infrastructure and energy services. Explore possible funding alternatives to finance efficiency and conservation measures and renewable energy installations.” Surprisingly, the selectboard never consulted with the Bristol Planning Commission, Energy Committee or Conservation Commission regarding the decision to bring natural gas to our town.
In the spring of 2018, a petition for a vote on this issue was signed by 200 residents, which is well over the 5 percent or 142 required, but this request was denied by the selectboard. As an alternative to learn the will of the people, the Bristol Energy Committee began collaborating with our selectboard on a citizen survey. However, the selectboard opted to push forward on an agreement with VGS before this work was completed.
The citizens of Bristol have been denied our legal right and opportunity to vote on a significant project that affects us all, whether or not we choose to purchase natural gas. The intent of our legal action is to uphold our rights.
Sally Burrell

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