The following blog post is by Terence Cuneo, UVM professor, father, and resident of Williston, VT, who faces eminent domain. Terence and his family aren’t giving in. Please consider helping them in their legal battle with a donation.
It’s a big deal when the state decides to seize a family’s land. Yet, given its agreement with Vermont Gas (VGS), this is exactly what the state of Vermont is now doing to our family. I would be hard pressed to find the words to express our anger about this. The decision makes no sense.
The right to own and retain property is among the most fundamental rights that we enjoy as US citizens. I think everyone agrees to that. I think everyone also realizes that the right is not absolute. There are circumstances in which the state must appropriate land that belongs to others. But the circumstances are rare. And the reasons for doing so had better be extremely powerful. The bar they must clear is very high.
It is plainly obvious to me that the primary reason the state has offered for seizing our property is not powerful. It does not clear the bar. Here is the reason the state offers: providing natural gas to roughly 2600 customers over fifteen years is a public good. This public good, moreover, is of such importance that it entitles the state to seize the land of property-owners. Nobody denies that installing this pipeline has some benefits. But I strenuously deny that the good is of such importance that it justifies the state seizing our property.
In fact, the more I’ve learned about this pipeline, the more I’ve found myself baffled by how it could’ve seemed like a good idea. I’ve asked myself three questions when trying to think through this issues: First, does the project make financial sense? Second, does it make sense as state policy? And, third, does it make ethical sense?
As for the first question, many of you know that the original estimate of the cost of this project was $60-70 million. It is now $154 million. Who pays the additional $80 million? The customers of Vermont Gas do. Moreover, as of today, oil costs roughly $1.45 a gallon. Given the present price of oil and natural gas, customers will save no money by switching to natural gas. In fact, they would lose anywhere from $80 to over $300 per year by doing so. The project makes no financial sense.
As for the second question, the state of Vermont’s comprehensive energy plan states that it will achieve “90% of Vermont’s total energy needs from renewable sources by 2050“. Yet this project is estimated to operate in the red for over thirty years. By building the pipeline, the state virtually guarantees that it cannot meet is aims. As a matter of state policy, this project makes no sense.
Honestly, it’s the third question that most bothers me. The state of Vermont has banned fracking, for excellent reason. It is, by the state’s own admission, an environmental disaster. Yet the state is happy for Canada to provide fracked gas to Vermont citizens. This would be like abolishing slavery within our borders because it’s wrong but paying Canadian slave-owners to make what we want. This makes no ethical sense.
As I write this, I am listening to the buzz of chainsaws and wood chippers as VGS demolishes my neighbors’ trees. Against our will, VGS intends to do the same to our property. In doing so, it will violate our family’s rights. Not only will it violate our rights, it will also make it much more difficult for you and me to fulfill the obligations we have. These obligations are not what they were fifty or one hundred years ago. Back then, we didn’t know what the massive use of fossil fuels would do to our world. We now know and are experiencing what it does. Our obligation is to do better, to act in the interests of my children and yours. Installing a fracked gas pipeline is not doing better. It is not acting in their interests. It is going backward. It is a failure to provide for my children and yours what we owe them.
Terence Cuneo, Williston, VT
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