MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — About 40 protesters converged Tuesday outside Vermont Public Service Board offices to demand a halt to the natural gas pipeline expansion in western Vermont.
Anti-pipeline activists staged a "fish-in" — complete with poles, a canoe and a petition with 500 signatures to protest what they allege was a bait-and-switch tactic by project developer Vermont Gas.
The company this month increased the estimated cost of the first phase of the project by 40 percent, to more than $121 million, citing the cost of route changes to accommodate landowners.
Protesters said the revised cost would mean higher rates for customers. They also voiced concerns about reliance on fossil fuels tied to climate change and about hydraulic fracturing used to extract gas that would eventually move through the pipeline.
"The board needs to listen to ratepayers, who don't want to fund dirty energy projects," said Andy Simon, a Vermont Gas customer from Burlington.
Vermont Gas wants to extend its system from Franklin and Chittenden counties south through Addison and eventually Rutland counties, with a spur under Lake Champlain to serve the International Paper Co. mill in Ticonderoga, N.Y.
The company maintains the project will provide cheaper energy than heating oil and notes that greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas are lower than from oil. The project has won strong support from business groups, especially in the Rutland area. Addison and Rutland counties currently lack piped natural gas service.
Protesters tried Tuesday to enter the building and deliver their petition to the board but were stopped by a security guard who said the offices on the upper floors of the building were empty.
"There's nobody up there," he said about 40 minutes before state offices usually close at 4:30 p.m.
The guard eventually agreed to contact someone in the board offices, and board policy director George Young came down to meet with protest leaders. Young accepted the signed petition but said he could not discuss the project because the board was still considering aspects of it. The protesters then retreated to the sidewalk outside the building for speeches and songs, many focusing on the threat of climate change.
"Does short-term cheap fuel for a very few mean we should shortchange the long-term future for all of us," Jonathan Chapin asked.