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Despite Support For Vermont Gas Pipeline, Shumlin Celebrates Keystone's Failure

After President Barack Obama announced his rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline Friday, Vermont’s elected officials were quick to praise the decision as a victory against climate change.

“This has been a long time coming, but the president has made the right decision,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy in a statement.

“Keystone XL represents the energy past,” the statement said. “This inherently dirty tar sands project would be a wasteful diversion from the cleaner and more sustainable energy future and energy security that we want for ourselves and our children.  It has no place in the energy future and the energy economy that we want. And it has no place in any strategy to avert the disastrous effects of climate change.”

Leahy said the move was important in the context of upcoming climate talks in Paris because it shows “that the United States is willing to walk the walk when it comes to climate change.”

Rep. Peter Welch and Sen. Bernie Sanders also praised the decision for environmental reasons.

Gov. Peter Shumlin added his statement to the mix as well.

“Despite what some say, climate change is real and is in large part caused by human activity,” the statement said. “But humans also have the capacity to do something about it. President Obama showed that today by rejecting this ill-conceived and dangerous project. For seven years, the Keystone XL Pipeline has represented a turning point in the battle between climate change deniers and those fighting to preserve our planet for future generations. Now that this project has been rejected, it’s also time to reject those who deny climate change. It’s time to move forward and work together to ensure a livable planet for our kids and grandkids.”

Shumlin has strong views in support of another pipeline designed to bring fossil fuels from Canada into new U.S. markets. The Vermont Gas Systems pipeline to Addison County has been a major issue for the Shumlin administration as environmental groups, traditional fuel companies and concerned landowners have united against Shumlin and Vermont Gas.

Climate activist Bill McKibben hailed Obama’s Keystone decision as “a game-changing moment” because it is the “first full-on defeat of a plan for fossil fuel infrastructure on climate grounds anywhere in the world.”

While he acknowledges differences between Keystone XL and the Vermont Gas pipeline, McKibben says the two projects have a fundamental similarity.

“The thing that’s similar about them is that they’re both things that would extend the fossil fuel age a few more decades,” he said, adding that environmental and economic shifts in the past decade have changed the viability of such projects.

"One would increase emissions, one would decrease emissions. So I think there's a very significant difference between the two, and any effort to conflate them is just not right." - Scott Coriell, Spokesman for Gov. Shumlin

Shumlin spokesman Scott Coriell said it’s “ridiculous” to compare the two pipelines. He also said the pipelines have a fundamental difference.

“They’re different in magnitude, but they’re also different in effect,” he said. “One would increase emissions, one would decrease emissions. So I think there’s a very significant difference between the two, and any effort to conflate them is just not right.”

The Shumlin administration and Vermont Gas say that as Vermonters switch from traditional fuel oil to cleaner-burning natural gas, there will be less greenhouse gas emitted from home heating in Vermont.

Coriell said opposition to any new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure is unrealistic.

“We’d all like to live in a world where no one uses fossil fuels, but that’s not the world that we live in,” he said, adding that “[t]his governor has been probably one of the most effective governors in combating climate change” with policies encouraging renewable energy, electric vehicles and energy efficiency.

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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