Protesting continued government support of fossil fuels, more than 60 demonstrators were arrested in Montpelier, Vermont after staging a sit-in at the State House Monday evening.
The civil disobedience action followed a mass rally, dubbed Time's Up, Rise Up! Rally for Climate Justice, during which over 300 Vermont residents converged on the State House lawn to demand that Governor Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, rescind his support for the expansion of a fracked gas pipeline, put an end to new fossil fuel infrastructure, and take "real action to protect our communities from the climate crisis."
The protest was organized after the state's Public Service Board issued a renewed Certificate of Public Good for the Vermont Gas pipeline project, also known as the Addison Natural Gas Project. The proposed pipeline will significantly expand natural gas throughout the state by connecting the region south of Burlington with pipes that transport shale gas from Alberta, Canada.
Rising Tide Vermont, one of the groups challenging the pipeline proposal, argues that it will "lock Vermont communities into decades more of dirty fossil fuel use, at a time when a rapid transition away from fossil fuels and extreme energy use is needed."
Further, opponents of the project say that natural gas drilled by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has been linked to air and water contamination as well as significant emissions of methane gas—which is estimated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to be as much as 25 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
"The science is clear - whether the goal is avoiding CO2 emissions or sparking a transition to an emissions-free energy system, the fracked gas boom and this pipeline are no substitute for ambitious energy and climate policies, weatherization, efficiency and decreased consumption," said Dr. Rachel Smolker, a resident Hinesburg, Vermont. "Once the gas bubble pops, ratepayers are going to be stuck with higher bills, paying the cost of this pipeline for years to come and still struggling to heat their homes."
Though Shumlin was not at the building at the time of the protest, he issued a statement Monday night saying: "While I agree that climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing our state, nation, and world, I disagree with the protester's position on the natural gas pipeline, which I believe will help hasten our state's transition away from dirtier fuel oil and help our economy."
According to Vermont State Police, 64 people were arrested after police issued a "dispersal order" at roughly 8 pm Monday. They were then escorted from the building and ticketed at a nearby van. Thomas Grace of Burlington, who was among those arrested, told the Burlington Free Press: "I came down here because the policies of the Shumlin administration and the Democrats are sending the planet on the road to ruin."
The BFP, which described the protest and arrests as being "orderly and cordial," reported that as demonstrators entered the Pavilion Building they were joined by a brass band that played "We Shall Overcome" while people sang: "We shall not give up the fight. We have only started."
Dr. Maeve McBride, coordinator of 350 Vermont, which was among the groups behind the action, said in a statement following the action: "Today, hundreds of grassroots Vermonters are sitting in to call for a ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure, including Vermont Gas/Gaz-Metro’s proposed fracked gas pipeline, and to demand energy and climate solutions that are transparent, accountable to our communities and put people and the planet first."
McBride, who was among those arrested, reiterated Shumlin's own statement: "As the Governor said himself, these solutions need to come from the grassroots, not from the top down."
According to Rising Tide Vermont, another sit-in is planned for Saturday at the Vermont Gas pipe yard in Williston.
Burlington Free Press reporter Sally Pollak posted pictures throughout the action while more are available on the news website.