FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Vermont Voters Say No to Tar Sands Oil

by BRIAN TOKAR

March 5th was Town Meeting Day in Vermont and, following a long tradition of our towns taking a stand on issues of wider importance, at least 29 towns, including Montpelier and Burlington, overwhelmingly passed resolutions opposing the proposed transport of tar sands oil through our region. The resolutions also supported efforts to eliminate oil derived from the Alberta tar sands from fuel supplies across New England.

The main purpose of this effort was to challenge proposed changes to an aging oil pipeline that could have a serious impact on Vermont and our entire region. Recent weeks have seen visits to our state capitol by the CEO of the pipeline company – owned by ExxonMobil’s Canadian subsidiary – along with environmental officials from Alberta, confirming long-standing suspicions that companies are aiming to push forward with plans to use this old pipeline to pump tar sands oil from across the continent through northern New England.

The Portland-Montreal Pipeline was built more than 50 years ago and now imports up to 400,000 barrels of oil a day from the port of Portland, Maine to customers in Montreal and beyond, passing through ten northern Vermont towns. It is connected to a vast oil pipeline network across Canada, and companies like Enbridge – a main owner of Vermont’s largest electric utility, Green Mountain Power – are aiming to reverse the flow of a now-unused section of pipeline so they can transport highly corrosive and toxic material from the tar sands to be shipped out of Portland to Gulf refineries and to overseas customers.

Company officials continue to equivocate about their plans, but the evidence confirms plans to reverse the pipeline, including the reversal of a pipeline across eastern Ontario and efforts to build a new pumping station in Dunham, Quebec, just across the border from Vermont. With people across the U.S. and Canada challenging the Keystone XL Pipeline through Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, and First Nations in British Columbia steadfastly opposed to the proposed Northern Gateway through British Columbia, this “Plan C” option could be seen as a path of least resistance for getting tar sands to the coast for export.

Readers are probably already aware of the wider opposition to getting oil from the tar sands. We know that tar sands mining is a massively destructive business, and it has been called the most environmentally damaging project on earth. Tens of thousands of acres of Alberta’s northern forest are leveled in the extraction process, which puts 3 – 5 times as much carbon pollution into the atmosphere as conventional oil drilling. James Hansen, one of our most respected climate scientists, says that if oil from the tar sands is added to the effects of burning coal, it is “essentially game over” for the earth’s climate system. Cree and Dene people in Alberta are already facing elevated cancer rates and severe consequences for their entire way of life, as documented in the award-winning Canadian documentary, The Tipping Point.

The material that is mined from the tar sands is nothing like liquid crude oil: it is highly acidic, corrosive, and 40 – 70 times thicker. To transport it through a pipeline requires dilution with toxic chemicals such as n-hexane and benzene that damage the human nervous system and can cause cancer.

Vermonters are also examining the lessons of a 2010 tar sands pipeline rupture in southwestern Michigan, which dumped more than a million gallons of tar sands residues into the Kalamazoo River and forced the relocation of 150 families. The clean-up, still unfinished, is the most expensive inland oil clean-up in history, costing nearly $800 million so far. The old pipeline to Portland has already experienced leaks, just transporting crude oil, including one in 1977 that contaminated the Black River and Lake Memphremagog in Vermont.

Most of the resolutions passed in Vermont this week voice the town’s opposition to transporting tar sands through Vermont, and call for a thorough environmental review of any tar sands pipeline proposal. In most cases, towns also voted to investigate where our own fuel supplies come from, with a goal of phasing out purchases from refineries that use tar sands-derived oil. Larger cities and towns like Burlington will do most of the lifting here, with support from allies across New England. There is also an effort in our Legislature to get the state of Vermont to do the same.

The Alberta Tar Sands are far away, but the impacts of mining there are global in scope. By approving this resolution, Vermont voters have resoundingly supported efforts throughout North America and beyond to prevent the continued expansion of the tar sands catastrophe, along with worldwide campaigns to expose and challenge all forms of “extreme energy” extraction.

Brian Tokar is  director of the Institute for Social Ecology and a lecturer in environmental studies at the University of Vermont. His most recent books are Toward Climate Justice (New Compass Press, 2010, distributed by AK Press) and Agriculture and Food in Crisis (co-edited with Fred Magdoff, Monthly Review Press, 2010). 

A full list of the towns that passed resolutions on Town Meeting Day can be found in the Comments at http://vtdigger.org/2013/03/04/tokar-voters-to-address-oil-pipeline-issue-at-town-meeting/.

Brian Tokar is the director of the Institute for Social Ecology and a lecturer in environmental studies at the University of Vermont. A newly revised and expanded edition of Brian Tokar’s Toward Climate Justice, has just been issued by the New Compass Press. 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 27, 2017
Anthony DiMaggio
Media Ban! Making Sense of the War Between Trump and the Press
Dave Lindorff
Resume Inflation at the NSC: Lt. General McMaster’s Silver Star Was Essentially Earned for Target Practice
Conn Hallinan
Is Trump Moderating US Foreign Policy? Hardly
Norman Pollack
Political Castration of State: Militarization of Government
Kenneth Surin
Inside Dharavi, a Mumbai Slum
Lawrence Davidson
Truth vs. Trump
Binoy Kampmark
The Extradition Saga of Kim Dotcom
Robert Fisk
Why a Victory Over ISIS in Mosul Might Spell Defeat in Deir Ezzor
David Swanson
Open Guantanamo!
Ted Rall
The Republicans May Impeach Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Why Should Trump―or Anyone―Be Able to Launch a Nuclear War?
Andrew Stewart
Down with Obamacare, Up with Single Payer!
Colin Todhunter
Message to John Beddington and the Oxford Martin Commission
David Macaray
UFOs: The Myth That Won’t Die?
Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail