Vermonters Marched 65 Miles for Climate Justice

Vermont could become the first state to ban future fossil fuel infrastructure

Olivia Box

Around 350 activists walked 65 miles from Middlebury to the Vermont State House in Montpelier, to demand that state legislators ban fossil fuel development statewide. (Photo by Zac Rudge)

MONT­PE­LIER, VT. — On April 9, after a five-day, 65-mile walk from Mid­dle­bury, approx­i­mate­ly 350 activists, from tod­dlers to octo­ge­nar­i­ans, stood silent­ly with their fists in the air at the Ver­mont State House to demand leg­is­la­tors ban fos­sil fuel infra­struc­ture development. 

In 2018, 37 Bristol residents sued Vermont Gas and the town select board for not holding a public vote regarding the pipeline construction. On March 18, the town voted to cease their agreement with Vermont Gas.

The walk, called Next Steps, was orga­nized by 350Vermont (350VT), a non­prof­it that advo­cates for cli­mate jus­tice, to per­suade state leg­is­la­tors to pass bills H.51, S.66 and H.175. Bills H.51 and S.66 would ban future fos­sil fuel infra­struc­ture statewide, while H.175 would ban the use of emi­nent domain (seiz­ing pri­vate prop­er­ty for pub­lic use) for fos­sil fuel projects. 350VT and its allied walk spon­sors, includ­ing Migrant Jus­tice, Sier­ra Club-VT Chap­ter and Sun­rise Mid­dle­bury, hope Ver­mont will fol­low Port­land, Ore., and Port­land, Maine, which passed sim­i­lar mea­sures in 2015 and 2018, respectively. 

The fight comes at a moment when many states are at odds with the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment over pipeline con­struc­tion. One Trump admin­is­tra­tion exec­u­tive order tries to accel­er­ate fos­sil fuel projects by lim­it­ing state envi­ron­men­tal reviews. If the bills pass, Ver­mont will become the first state to ban such construction.

While leg­is­la­tors were in ses­sion upstairs, around 90 young peo­ple marched into the lob­by of the state­house car­ry­ing pussy wil­lows gath­ered dur­ing the walk. Pro­test­ers had tied paper tags to the plants with their writ­ten demands for cli­mate jus­tice, which they read aloud.

Please pre­serve Ver­mont to assure our chil­dren will know clean air and water, not des­per­a­tion, despair, drought and pol­lu­tion,” one read. 

Ver­mont Gas Sys­tems’ 41-mile pipeline, fin­ished in 2017, deliv­ers fracked gas from the Tran­sCana­da Main­line in Alber­ta to Mid­dle­bury. Pro­test­ers marched through the areas that could be affect­ed by future dis­tri­b­u­tion lines in Addi­son County. 

Events were planned along the route to cel­e­brate ongo­ing cli­mate actions, includ­ing an inter­faith cer­e­mo­ny in Geprags Park in Hines­burg, where the ini­tial push­back against the Ver­mont pipeline began while it was still under con­struc­tion. In 2016, activists protest­ed the last 2,000 feet of the pipeline, tem­porar­i­ly delay­ing its con­struc­tion. That same year, mem­bers of the grass­roots group Pro­tect Geprags Park brought pho­tographs to a local pub­lic util­i­ties com­mis­sion meet­ing show­ing the unfin­ished pipeline was not dug deep enough, vio­lat­ing fed­er­al reg­u­la­tions and putting the sur­round­ing wet­lands at risk. The plain­tiffs claimed that the pipelines could pro­duce explo­sions with cat­a­stroph­ic effects” if dam­aged. An ongo­ing inves­ti­ga­tion will deter­mine whether the con­struc­tion fol­lowed state safe­ty standards.

The Next Steps walk passed through Bris­tol on its sec­ond day to cel­e­brate the suc­cess­ful block­ing of planned dis­tri­b­u­tion lines there. In 2018, 37 res­i­dents sued Ver­mont Gas and the town select board for not hold­ing a pub­lic vote regard­ing the con­struc­tion. On March 18, the town vot­ed to cease their agree­ment with Ver­mont Gas. 

The orga­ni­za­tions that are cre­at­ing most of the prob­lem are absolved from any respon­si­bil­i­ty … that’s injus­tice,” said Melanie Brotz, 55, an artist from Burling­ton whose work appears in pam­phlets for 350VT. Brotz walked all five days and was joined by her 17-year-old daugh­ter for four. We’ve seen some of the effects here, like super extreme weath­er sit­u­a­tions. We have to think about everyone.” 

Brotz refers to the walk as a kind of spir­i­tu­al pil­grim­age,” adding, There were a lot of church­es that were sup­port­ing us.” 

Tara Bossard-Kruger, 14, of Dum­mer­ston, walked all five days and notes the ener­gy and pas­sion of the crowd. At the end of a tir­ing day, peo­ple weren’t moan­ing and groan­ing, she said. They would be singing … and planning.” 

Julie Macu­ga, 27, 350VT’s extreme ener­gy field orga­niz­er, hopes the bills will pass but argues Ver­mont still needs stricter water qual­i­ty laws and should pro­hib­it the use of emi­nent domain for fos­sil fuel projects. 

After the ral­ly at the state­house, pro­test­ers gath­ered for a clos­ing cer­e­mo­ny inside Christ Epis­co­pal Church in down­town Mont­pe­lier, where Bev­er­ly Lit­tle Thun­der, 72, a mem­ber of the Stand­ing Rock Lako­ta tribe, gave open­ing remarks. Lit­tle Thun­der, of Hunt­ing­ton, is a long­time vol­un­teer with 350VT and the Peace and Jus­tice Cen­ter, and walked all five days. She pre­vi­ous­ly walked from San Fran­cis­co to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., in the 1978 Longest Walk for Native Amer­i­can rights. 

If we don’t start act­ing real­ly soon, there will be noth­ing there for these chil­dren. … The young peo­ple rec­og­nize that and are will­ing to put them­selves in a place of dis­com­fort to bring atten­tion to it,” Lit­tle Thun­der said.

End­ing with a prayer, Lit­tle Thun­der remind­ed her fel­low activists: Blis­ters heal, but the Earth cannot.”

Olivia Box is a grad­u­ate stu­dent at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ver­mont study­ing nat­ur­al resources.
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