“What’s next?” is the perpetually-asked question of all activists, and it echoes throughout the halls of the State House – reverberating all the way back here in 350VT’s Burlington office. Just yesterday I found myself alongside journalists, reverends, nurses, my coworkers, and even Bill McKibben as we loudly (but peacefully) tried to meet with our representatives… no such luck!

In the chaos of climate activism, sometimes we forget to ask ourselves another tough question: “what’s motivating this work in the first place?” I’ve felt tension with that question lately—it often feels like fear of what happens if I were to do nothing is my motivator. I recalled to how I got started in the first place– risking arrest on a rainy day in October of 2016: my friends and allies were with me, wedged between slabs of concrete, desperately trying to protect Geprags Park– a public park which was the site of the last 2,000 feet of construction for Vermont Gas Systems’ fracked gas pipeline. I waited my turn to be handcuffed for blocking construction and trespassing –which was terrifying– but I was more afraid of what would happen to the rare songbirds that nest in Hinesburg, and the Lubicon Cree First Nations all the way in Alberta where the natural gas for the ANGP (Addison Natural Gas Project) is fracked. I’ve never met those rare golden-winged warblers, or even members of the Cree nation (who are already dying from fracking-related illness, as well as losing their land), but I knew we were there to defend their right to exist on this Earth. It’s not my place to tell their story for them (find more info here), but I can tell you mine; 6 arrests were made that day, but I was left alone– unfortunately the park was not.  

A view from inside the roughly 10-foot-deep trench at Geprags Park during a protest 10/20/2016. Over 200 people marched onto the construction site, and over a dozen of us climbed into the pit.

In the two years since then, Vermont Gas’ boondoggle of a pipeline has become my “area of expertise.” It has left a 41-mile scar across our state, and left residents and wildlife struggling to remain safe in their homes. My concerns had started with long-term harm to the environment, but since then have morphed into immediate fears of a leak or explosion due to haphazard construction.

Vermont Gas’ project has been in service for just over a year now, and still only serves about 2,000 customers– despite a nearly-doubled price tag of $166,000,000

In Hinesburg, the grassroots group Protect Geprags Park is working tirelessly to ensure that a pending investigation into 8 alleged safety, construction, and environmental violations on the part of VGS and their contractors stays truly INDEPENDENT of VGS’ influence. These allegations are serious ones which lead to corrosion of the pipe—something that can and has lead to leaks, explosions, and ultimately deaths elsewhere in the country. Each allegation against Vermont Gas is backed by a mountain of evidence compiled by Protect Geprags volunteers. Without the efforts of these concerned citizens, these issues would have never come to light. 

A photo of construction of the ANGP in New Haven, VT, where the pipeline is not buried deep enough. Photographic evidence, coupled with research from Protect Geprags volunteers lead the Public Utility Commission to order third-party investigation. Over 300 people signed a petition to thank the PUC for their diligence.

Almost two years after my time in that muddy pit at Gerpags, I found myself with the same people, but this time up in Montpelier– along with allies from UVAG. We put together a presentation for the Climate Caucus (a group of legislators interested in climate issues) at the State House. We are pushing for bold legislation known as H.746, which calls for a ban on all new fossil fuel infrastructure in the state. We warned our representatives about the climate-killing effects of methane and oil, while illustrating that even without our planet’s health to worry about, our existing fossil fuel infrastructure has been built in a way that puts people and ecosystems in danger. We don’t have to look any further than Vermont Gas’ pipeline in our own backyard– which fails to meet even the MINIMUM requirements for numerous construction practices.

Hinesburg continues to push for safety, but the rest of the state is busy, too: in Monkton, proceedings for VGS to construct a gate station for the same pipeline have been delayed until the investigation takes place, and Bristol residents are working to promote alternatives to the fossil fuel after their Selectboard denied a petition (with over 200 signatures) to put distribution lines in the town to a non-binding vote. Meanwhile, in anticipation of the potential “Phase III” of construction that would expand the pipeline from Middlebury to Rutland, 350VT is working folks in Southern Vermont who are concerned about everything that has gone wrong in other parts of the state.

I’d say we’re “firing on all cylinders,” but that seems inappropriate considering I’m the intern whose priority is moving Vermont away from the use of fossil fuels. And while it’s easy for me to say that my work is motivated by fear and a sense of urgency, as I sit here on Church Street fondly looking out at the birds passing by—I realize the motivation for my work is not actually fear, but love. I am afraid of losing all that we have on this planet because I love it so deeply.

Whether we’re in the trenches, on the steps of the State House, or find ourselves in the form of a blog post, 350VT and I will be here. If you’re like us and refuse to let apathy or the fossil fuel industry destroy our home, come join the resistance!

For more information on fossil fuel issues in Vermont, please contact me at Resist@350VT.org

Written by Julie Macuga, Extreme Energy Intern