By Guy Page
President Donald Trump threw fossil fuel pipeline opponents in the Vermont Legislature a curve with an April 10 executive order to streamline pipeline permitting. Tuesday afternoon they gathered in the House Energy and Technology Committee to ask: will the executive order pre-empt H.51 and other bills intended to stop new natural gas pipelines?
Answer: Not now. Not next week. And probably not next year either, Luke Martland, director of Office of Legislative Council told concerned legislators, including Chair Tim Briglin, D-Thetford, Robin Chesnut-Tangerman, P-Middletown Springs, and Mike Yantachka, D-Charlotte.
On the one hand, “federal regulation trumps state law,” Martland said. On the other hand, the federal Clean Water Act lets states, in practice, delay or even stop a project. And, Trump’s executive order cannot replace the Clean Water Act passed by Congress. It also will likely be challenged in court.
“I think it’s very early in the process,” Martland said. “How do we predict the future? We have to see what happens. I don’t see this executive order having any impact over the next year or two.”
Martland’s carefully-framed answers did not appear to wholly satisfy lawmakers, who asked for clarification several times.
The executive order directs the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to rewrite regulations that cover the states’ power to approve — or not approve — pipeline projects’ compliance with the federal Clean Water Act. The new regulations could not supersede the federal legislation, but are intended to speed and ease the permitting process. The executive action was spurred by the state of New York’s refusal to grant Clean Water Act permission to big natural gas pipeline projects.
H.51 and two other bills will be the subject of a public hearing at the State House in Room 11 5-7 pm Tuesday, April 23. Supporters of pipeline construction from New York to New England say the region needs added natural gas supply to maintain electrical grid reliability and heating fuel supply during cold snaps. In January 2018, the region endured a prolonged deep freeze that nearly overwhelmed the combined supply of natural gas, oil and coal, according to ISO-New England, the region’s power grid operator.
Opponents of pipeline construction say construction of new delivery systems — both instate and interstate — will lock Vermont into fossil-fuel heat for the rest of the century, and inhibit the state’s ability to reach its goal of 90 percent total renewable energy by 2050.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.