By Roger White, a member of 350VT’s Writing for Climate Justice group
Climate activism takes many different forms, from broad public demonstrations to focused interventions—and sometimes, small-scale actions can have potentially big effects. Last week in Montreal, a cross-border group of Vermont- and Quebec-based climate activists attended the annual shareholder meeting for Energir (the parent company of Vermont Gas). Their goal was to draw attention to the company’s weak record on addressing climate change and the ongoing safety concerns around Vermont Gas’s two-year-old ANGP pipeline. I spoke to 350VT’s Julie Macuga, who began attending the shareholder meetings in 2017, about this year’s action.
“In past years I tried to take a very nonconfrontational approach,” said Macuga. “This year, I made it clear I couldn’t do that anymore. Because it’s clear that the company is not addressing climate change, even though they say it’s a priority for them.”
Members of the group—representing 350VT and Quebec’s anti-fracking organization, Coule Pas Chez Nous—decided to tackle different issues in their questions to the board. Lucy Gluck (a former 350VT board member who now works with SunCommon) brought up the ongoing “greenwashing” of Energir’s operations: the company’s marketing heavily emphasizes its “renewable natural gas” program—despite the fact that renewable natural gas makes up less than one percent of Vermont Gas’s annual consumption. Karen Bixler spoke about the effects of eminent domain in Vermont, and the anxiety and community disruption caused by the threat of further pipeline construction. Laura Simon discussed the myth of clean natural gas: although proponents of natural gas extraction are quick to point to its environmental superiority over coal and oil, methane actually captures 86 times more heat than carbon dioxide.
Macuga herself focused on the numerous safety concerns plaguing the ANGP pipeline, the last stage of the pipeline delivering fracked natural gas from First Nations territory in Alberta to Vermont consumers. The 41-mile ANGP is currently under investigation for nine categories of alleged safety and construction violations, and critics across the state are sounding the alarm about the potentially catastrophic consequences of a leak. “I thought the shareholders should be aware of this potential $165 million stranded asset, if the pipeline gets shut down,” she said.
Macuga expressed frustration with the experience of the meeting—particularly, with the way that Energir consistently downplays the severe, well-documented environmental risks of fracking and gas transport. However, she was hopeful that by voicing their concerns with the company’s operations, the group was “planting the seeds of doubt” in the minds of Energir shareholders about its credibility. “I don’t know how they convince themselves that natural gas is safe for the climate, and how they try to convince their customers that,” she said. “It’s frankly ridiculous.”