We need clean energy now
I’m in favor of the natural gas pipeline from Burlington to Middlebury, International Paper and Rutland. We need this cleaner and less expensive energy.
I believe climate change is real, that we should be conserving energy, especially in space heating and transportation and that some positive movement is happening. But not fast enough.
At the same time we need a strong healthy local economy and full employment. International Paper is part of our local economy. With the world economy driving our competition to ever lower costs of production, we are forced to also cut costs in order to keep employment and local business profitable. I would much rather cut energy costs than wages. Wages have been mostly stagnant for 30 years with no real increases. The only thing that has saved working people is lower costs of goods we buy. Our savior, big box stores for food and consumer goods.
The Rev. Barnaby Feder, minister of the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society in Middlebury, wrote July 21 in the Sunday Herald that we should ideally not build the pipeline, but rather conserve energy and find alternative sources. The immediate problem, however, is that we need to heat our homes now and heating costs are quite high, especially if heating with liquid propane. In the short run the pipeline can help. In the long run I think the ideal will be to stop using fossil fuels.
Opponents of the pipeline say that reduced energy costs will decrease the incentive to move toward alternative energy and conservation. It doesn’t have to. My father built an energy-efficient house in 1940 and took pride in how little fuel oil was needed for heating, when fuel oil was about 5 cents per gallon. We need a real commitment from the state to conserve. Yes, some efforts have been made, but one glaring gap is the lack of enforceable energy-efficiency standards for construction of housing and businesses.
Thirty years ago we borrowed to build a super-insulated house here on our farm to save heating costs, and we have saved despite the extra construction cost. Not everybody can afford energy-efficiency measures or realizes the cost savings, so there needs to be something more than gentle encouragement to build super-insulated buildings. One of the most important steps today is for the state to implement building codes that require high energy efficiency.
I believe that the technology of fracking is generally safe and can be made safer with state regulation. U.S. Department of Energy study, reported in the Rutland Herald on July 20, 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 state regulation and pressure for a safe industry from us, the people, fracking can be used safely.
One of the issues with fracking is that we don’t know what chemicals are being injected. This is because Dick Cheney when vice president, managed to get through Congress a law allowing this information to be kept secret. Let’s put some effort toward undoing that law.
We should be moving quickly toward alternative energy sources, but this process is going to take time and in the meantime we need to use the “least worst source of energy.” Natural gas is by far cleaner than coal mined by mountaintop removal, which is destroying West Virginia, far better than tar sands oil, and better than oil.
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 other places do and we should be supporting the use of 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.
Yes, the ideal is to move to alternative energy right away. The practical is to go with the pipe and make a commitment to the ideal.
Paul Stone is a resident of Orwell.