Members of Rising Tide Vermont, 350-Vermont and supporting Addison county residents held a press conference Friday to denounce the attempt by Vermont Gas to criminalize activists involved in nonviolent protest against the fracked gas pipeline. Demonstrators on May 27 hung a banner from the Vermont Gas Systems headquarters roof in South Burlington and chained a member to the front door to protest the natural gas pipeline planned to run through Addison and into Rutland counties. Vermont Gas claimed those who placed the banner were trespassing and also that during the action of chaining the door, a VGS employee was assaulted and injured by a demonstrator.
George Klohck, a retired Methodist minister from Middlebury, and Jane Palmer, a landowner in Monkton whose farm is under threat by the pipeline, joined Arthur Hines of 350-Vermont and Keith Brunner of Rising Tide Vermont in a press conference at the Palmers' farm on the proposed pipeline right of way. Brunner read a statement by Will Bennington and Henry Harris, members of Rising Tide Vermont who have been targeted by Vermont Gas for dropping a banner off the company's roof.
Sara Mehalick is interviewed by a WPTZ Channel 5 reporter Tuesday morning as she is chained to the front door of Vermont Gas Systems in South Burlington. Photo by Katie Kittell, Vermont Business Magazine.
The statement reads: "Last Tuesday we went on Vermont Gas Systems' roof and hung a banner making it clear that we'd prefer a livable planet over fracked gas, but we know we can't have both. We did not break any laws and we are proud of what we did. The real criminal is Vermont Gas, who continues to lie about the events of that day, and violate the rights of communities from Alberta to Vermont."
The third activist who is facing the most serious and slanderous allegations is at this time not stepping forward publicly, and is consulting with legal aid to determine their next steps.
Retired Methodist minister George Klohck said: "There are those who would like to believe and have others believe that the action at VT Gas Systems' offices last week was a group of unruly young people attacking an important business. But these very good young people are making great sacrifices of themselves to call attention to a critically serious problem. And, they are lending mutual support to thousands of Vermont residents who are speaking up at their town selectboard meetings, Public Service Board hearings, and other public meetings to try to change the course of history because we care about people more than profit and love Lake Champlain and all the rest of Vermont that makes life good here."
Jane Palmer said: "It doesn't surprise me that Vermont Gas would make something like this assault up. They have been making stuff up -- exaggerating savings, ignoring inherent costs, and skewing the truth all along…Vermont Gas has trespassed on land and left flags and removed fences without the owner's permission. Landowners had to issue notices against trespass against them. Vermont Gas is upset because a couple of protesters hung a banner on their building yet they want to bury a bomb in our backyard."
Arthur Hines read from a statement released by 350-Vermont supporting nonviolent civil disobedience to stop the pipeline. He said: "350Vermont supports and stands in solidarity with Rising Tide Vermont, who organized the non-violent civil disobedience at Vermont Gas last Tuesday, May 27, 2014. We believe acts of civil disobedience are warranted in the face of injustice. Vermont Gas is trying to build a pipeline through Northwest Vermont and under Lake Champlain to fuel International Paper, a multi-billion-dollar corporation in Ticonderoga, NY. 350Vermont works together with Rising Tide and other organizations to halt the development of business-as-usual fossil fuel projects. We need to rapidly switch to a renewable energy system in order to avoid catastrophic effects of global warming, and we don’t have much time."
Keith Brunner of Rising Tide Vermont said:
"Vermont Gas alleges that one of our activists assaulted an employee with a chain during the action deployment. In reality, this employee attempted to intervene as the chain was being carried around the door assembly, by grabbing the chain, wrapping it around their arm, and yanking hard in an attempt to stop the action from occurring. It's unfortunate that they put themselves at risk of injury and we send our regards, but maintain that the accusations are fabricated and an attempt to criminalize nonviolent activists using a time-tested form of protest.
Why is direct action justified? Because even here in our beloved Vermont, the fox is guarding the henhouse. Steve Wark, who has spearheaded the sensationalist allegations as Vermont Gas' Communications Director, was formerly the Deputy Commissioner for the Vermont Department of Public Service -- the entity charged with regulating gas and other utilities. Jim Condos, our Secretary of State? He was the manager of public affairs and community and government relations prior to taking office. This is what we call a "revolving door" between industry and the government which is supposed to regulate it. And this is why the Public Service Department and Public Service Board rubber-stamped Phase I of the pipeline, despite Vermont's renewable energy goals and thousands of public comments overwhelmingly opposed to the fracked gas pipeline.
When the democratic decision-making process has been taken over by corporate interests, it is the right of our communities to stand up and directly intervene to ensure the public good. This is why Rising Tide Vermont, along with our allies, has and will continue to stand on the shoulders of the long tradition of nonviolent direct action for justice and human rights in Vermont and in this country."
A public hearing on Phase II of the fracked gas pipeline, which will be Thursday, June 12th at 7pm at the Middlebury Union High School.