To mark the anniversary of its admission to the union as the 14th state in 1791, Vermont has an annual Town Meeting Day the first Tuesday of every March. This year, tar sands crude will be the biggest issue on the public’s agenda.
At least 23 Vermont towns will ask their residents to vote on a petition to keep dirty and corrosive tar sands oil out of the Green Mountain State. According to the Vermont branch of 350.org, those are the towns where at least five percent of registered voters have agreed to consider the issue on March 5. Grand Isle’s select board already passed the resolution, and more are sure to follow.
In November, Canada’s Enbridge Oil filed an application with the Canadian government to reverse the flow its Line 9 pipeline between Ontario and Montreal to transport tar sands crude to central Canada and the Maritimes. Although Enbridge representatives have repeatedly denied plans to pipe tar sands oil from Montreal to Vermont, Larry Wilson, CEO of the Portland Pipe Line Corp. that owns the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line, said he would like to. But that sentiment is not universally shared.
Vermont legislators have already introduced two bills aimed at regulating the piping of tar sands oil through the Northern Kingdom, and environmental groups and residents have asked a state land-use commission to determine whether such a proposal would fall under its jurisdiction.
Next week, Vermont citizens will have their say on Town Meeting Day.
Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason doesn’t think environmentalists are radical extremists. Instead, he challenged federal and B.C. government’s “do everything possible to meet the challenges being issued by environmental watchdogs rightfully highlighting the risks” of new pipeline proposals and the increased oil tanker traffic that threatens the West Coast.
“When the government fails on this front,” he argues, “it undermines its case for taking advantage of new resource opportunities.”
And it is failing. Canada’s Environment Commissioner Scott Vaughan’s latest report indicates that environmental protection is not keeping pace with intensive natural resource-based economic development.
According to Vaughn, the federal government’s capacity to identify the cumulative effects of large-scale tar sands projects and to enforce compliance is lacking, and inspections of industrial activity in Canada’s North are inadequate. The government does not know the actual cost of its support to the fossil fuel sector, even as offshore drilling rapidly expands without adequate measures to establish marine protected areas.
Perhaps most troubling as the National Energy Board considers Enbridge’s application to build the Northern Gateway pipeline, which would significantly increase oil tanker traffic on the dangerously wild West Coast, is that petroleum boards and their federal partners “are not adequately prepared to respond to a major oil spill should they need to step in.”
“That bit of news was the last thing Ottawa, or the Alberta government for that matter, needed to hear,” writes Mason. “It was simply more ammunition for the forces fighting to kill the project and any like it.”
If truth is ammunition, then we need more of it. Thank you Mr. Vaughn for your contribution!