Hundreds joined a Saturday demonstration against the Vermont Gas Systems Addison County pipeline outside the state office building that houses Vermont’s utility regulators. A leader in the group says about 20 protestors camped out Saturday and Sunday nights before three were arrested Monday morning.
“About 300 folks showed up on Saturday in the aftermath of the Department of Public Service (DPS) signing a back-room deal with Vermont Gas saying that they’re going to support this project – the fracked gas pipeline buildout,” said Avery Pittman, an organizer with Rising Tide Vermont.
The group has been vocally opposed to the Vermont Gas project and routinely organizes non-violent demonstrations – at Vermont Gas headquarters in South Burlington and at work sites related to pipeline construction – that end in arrests.
The group has taken its fight to regulators as well. Pittman and other activists say the Department of Public Service is failing its job of representing ratepayers and other Vermonters.
A recent agreement between the department and Vermont Gas drew intense criticism within the quasi-judicial hearing room in Montpelier on Oct. 15, with opponents arguing the deal was inappropriately designed to sway the Public Service Board.
The board is in the process of deciding whether to revoke or amend its approval for the pipeline and force the company to stop construction or make changes to the project.
Outside that hearing room, on the street three stories below this weekend, the demonstrators raised those same criticisms.
“This is totally outside of the process,” Pittman said of the deal. “It’s basically the department that’s supposed to be representing customers and those who are affected by the project colluding with the corporation that’s going to benefit from the project.”
Vermont Gas CEO Don Rendall and DPS Commissioner Chris Recchia said after the deal was announced that the agreement, which limits the amount of pipeline costs Vermont Gas may recover from ratepayers, is an assurance from both parties that they’re looking out for ratepayers’ interests.