A natural gas pipeline planned for Addison County has prompted dozens of individuals and organizations to seek a voice in the upcoming permit hearings.
The groups include the state Agency of Agriculture, an association of fuel dealers, and towns located along the route.
Vermont Gas Systems wants to extend a pipeline south from Chittenden County to Middlebury and then under Lake Champlain to a paper mill in Ticonderoga, NY.
The $60 million proposal is now before the Public Service Board. About three-dozen groups have asked the board to be admitted into the case. If they're allowed in, they can introduce testimony and cross examine witnesses.
The Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, which represents oil and propane companies, wants to get involved to challenge many aspects of the project. Executive director Matt Cota said Vermont Gas will use the hearings to sell the project to the public. Cota said his organization and others will provide alternative arguments.
"They're promising economic benefits that they simply can't deliver. They're promising environmental advantages that simply aren't true," Cota said. "And the public needs to know the full truth. And that's what will happen if all these parties are allowed to gain status and intervene in the process."
Vermont Gas officials said they welcome most groups into the process. But they oppose the intervention by the fuel dealers and an advocacy organization calling itself Vermont Intergenerational Stewards.
Eileen Simollardes, a Vermont Gas vice president for supply and regulatory affairs, said the environmental concerns raised by Intergenerational Stewards will be addressed by the state Agency of Natural Resources. And she said the fuel dealers simply want to use the hearings to go after a competitor.
"I can't think of another business model where you invite your competitor into the table to discuss your business plans with them," she said.
The PSB will weigh the public benefits of the pipeline projects, including its impact on the environment. Methane, or natural gas, is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide when it's released unburned into the atmosphere. But Simollardes said natural gas produces fewer emissions when used as fuel, and has clear environmental advantages.
"I haven't actually heard actually heard anybody anywhere in the world clamoring to say we need to use more oil. And I'm confident that the Agency of Natural Resources is in a perfect position to look at all the environmental attributes of natural gas," she said. "I don't think it's disputed that natural gas is cleaner than fuel oil."
But the fuel dealer's association does plan to challenge the environmental claims made by Vermont Gas.
"We still think we offer a superior product, and an environmentally superior product, and one that customers will ultimately chose to use," Cota said. "Vermont Gas has a different opinion. However, when they go through a permit hearing they shouldn't be allowed to make these assumptions about economic and environmental advantages that are left unchecked.
Sandra Levine of the Conservation Law Foundation said natural gas may be a cleaner fossil fuel, but it still releases greenhouse gases when burned.
Levine said her organization wants to get involved in the pipeline case because of the direction it could set for future energy development in Vermont.
"We're putting in place a pipeline that will provide gas for the next 100 years over a time frame where we really need to be moving away from fossil fuels," she said. "So we're also concerned about the broader and longer term impacts of continuing to rely on fossil fuels for 100 years."
The Agency of Agriculture has also asked to intervene in the case. The agency said the pipeline will run through prime farmland, as well as across farms that have been conserved through the investment of state funds.