Hiding the Ball

Sandy Levine | @CLFLevine

Photo courtesy of David Joyce @ flickr.com

Photo courtesy of David Joyce @ flickr.com

With our energy supply, when utilities hide the ball, the environment suffers.

In Vermont, regulators just imposed a $100,000 fine on the developer of a large natural gas pipeline, Vermont Gas Systems.  You can read the order here.

The company waited more than six months to disclose a significant cost increase for the project.

The Board wrote that the company “failed in its obligation of transparency,”  thus, undermining the regulatory process and “creating mistrust” among the public.

Harsh words, and a harsh fine. One of the largest ever imposed in Vermont and very near the maximum penalty allowed.

This project has been plagued with problems from the beginning.  CLF was the first to highlight the faulty analysis about the project’s significant greenhouse gas emissions. With the high cost of climate change, this project is simply a bad deal for Vermont.

Later problems include failure to treat landowners fairly, bulldozing wetlands that were to be protected,  and overall poor management.  Instead of transparency and responsibility, Vermont Gas seems to be taking a page from Entergy’s untrustworthy and lackluster management of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant that closed at the end of  2014.

As the regulators recognized, utilities need to build and maintain trust. When they hide the ball, keep costs and other important matters secret, or keep citizens out of the process and in the dark, the environment suffers.

Openness and transparency foster good management and good projects. A year ago, CLF challenged the withholding of public information about regional energy plans for new pipelines and transmission projects. The public should know about the real costs and impacts of our energy use. Good projects should have nothing to hide and no reason to keep the public out.

When it comes to energy decisions, hiding the ball just doesn’t cut it.



Focus Areas

Climate Change




3 Responses to “Hiding the Ball”

  1. Stephan Syz

    This is a letter I sent to John McLaughry regarding repealing the ethanol mandate published in the August 20 Times Argus. Thank you for your consideration. This is a personal point of view. Perhaps it would be of interest to Sandy Levine.

    Dear John,

    It is not always that I agree with your comments on the radio but your
    commentary about ethanol in the Times Argus in my view is absolutely,
    totally and unconditionally on point. I can’t even guess how many
    times I have had to take lawn mowers, chain saws, pumps and other
    motors to mechanics because of the damage of ethanol. I’d like you to
    add to your list the time and productivity lost nationwide that
    results from equipment damaged by ethanol as well as the time energy
    needed to unnecessarily manufacture replacement parts.

    I do have a suggestion as to how Vermont might lead the nation in
    repealing the ethanol mandate. That would be the legislature passing a
    polite resolution that encourages every Vermont town and village to
    voluntarily make ethanol-free gasoline available at some convenient
    location. There is one gas station in Montpelier that does this by
    offering their high test (31 octane) ethanol-free while the lower
    grades are with ethanol. Because of this one pump they told me that
    all parts of their business are way up. I have now gone ethanol-free
    for all my small motors. They have my business too. People can still
    get cheap ethanol gas there if they wish.

    It is my opinion that this gentle, optional move would gain a lot of
    publicity and before long the Vermont camel would get its nose under
    the ethanol tent nationally. This is such a simple step.

    I am so furious about the ethanol mandate for all the reasons that you
    describe in your article that I am forwarding this message to the
    Vermont Natural Resources Council and the Environmental Law Foundation
    in the hope that someone will prepare a resolution and ask for their
    members’ support. John thank you for writing such an important


    Stephan Syz
    P.S. I hope that the people copied will get this email into the
    correct hands. Thank you.

    Stephan Syz, Co-Founder and Trustee
    Vermont River Conservancy, Inc.
    29 Main Street, Montpelier, VT 05602
    Email: ssyz@vermontriverconservancy.org
    802.229.0820 VRC
    802-522-4002 Mobile

  2. I was not sure who to alert about the one mile oil-gas train I suspect is coming from Alberta through Vermont now. As I drove today, 8/25/15 from Lyndonville through W. Burke to Barton Vermont, the train was stopped along antiquated rail lines before Barton parallel with Sutton Vermont It was over the one mile line on the same tightly packed oil-gas freight cars we have been warned about.

    I tried to investigate, but did not get far on the web tonight.

    Please pass this along to anyone in pipeline and rails climate groups that are concerned about this phenomenon in Vermont.

    IT seemed a ghost train that would not end.. Longest train I have seen in recent years with all brand new cars.

    • Jan van Eck

      That would appear to be the St Lawrence and Atlantic RR trackage, which originates in Portland, Maine and by interconnect with the Canadian equivalent company (same owners) goes in to Montreal and Sorel, Quebec. Those railcars are more likely than not filled with refined product, i.e. truck diesel. offloaded from tankers in Portland and carried to markets in Eastern Canada. They may also carry middle distillate heating oil (i.e. home heating oil) for both local and Vermont markets. The St. L. and Atl. is owned by Genesee and Wyoming Corp., which owns some 100 railroads known as “short-lines.” These are experienced operators and I would not be alarmed in the least. Depending on which way the train was going, all the cars may have been “empties,” thus cobbled together into a long string as there is no huge weight load on the locomotives, being without the cargo. This is not a route for North Dakota shale oil, as you had at lac Megantic.

      Then again, if the train derails and spills diesel into some river, then you have a big mess. Treat yourself to one of my neat electric bicycles (they go 40 mph) and you remove your contribution to liquid fuels demand. Cheers.

      Jan van Eck

      DJ Engineering in VT


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