Laying Pipe in Addison County

This week, President of the College Ronald D. Liebowitz released a statement reiterating the College’s support for the Vermont Gas pipeline. This comes in the face of motivated and organized student and community opposition that has made its presence well known over the last few weeks. This decision repudiates the state’s ban on hydraulic fracturing by supporting a pipeline that will carry natural gas produced by the process across Vermont. It is also the right thing to do; it is the right thing for Middlebury College, the town of Middlebury and the state of Vermont.

I could spend pages debating the merits of fracking. It has become a dirty word within the environmental movement, and it is an undeniable fact that fracking has an environmental impact. Yet the severity of that impact has been overstated. Natural gas has replaced coal as the go-to method of electrical generation in the United States. This is a step forward; natural gas contains half the carbon dioxide and none of the particulate emissions of coal. Natural gas extraction, through hydraulic fracturing or any other means, has less of an impact on the landscape than the strip mining and mountaintop removal used to produce coal.

In this case, the gas delivered by the pipeline would mainly replace the fuel oil and propane that Vermont residents use to heat their homes. The process of producing either of these is no less fraught with pollution and environmental degradation than fracking. Propane is a byproduct of — surprise — natural gas or petroleum refining. Fuel oil is a similar, dirty leftover of this process. As conventional sources of oil disappear, oil companies increasingly turn to oil sand and oil shale. I don’t need to sell anybody at Middlebury on the harms of oil sand extraction, and oil from shale is produced by a mechanism similar to fracking for natural gas. Whether or not Addison County allows the pipeline, then, its residents will rely on the byproducts of the technological achievement that is fuel extraction through hydraulic fracturing. Continue reading

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Middlebury Reaffirms Pipeline Support

Middlebury College President Ron Liebowitz has released a new statement reaffirming the College’s support of the VT Gas pipeline in light of an SGA resolution and a petition created by students asking that the college withdraw its support. The statement focuses on the economic impact of the pipeline. For curious parties without a Middlebury email account, I’m reproducing it here:  Continue reading

In Which I Get Public Fan Mail

A pair of Middlebury students – Anna Shireman-Grabowski ‘15.5 and Cailey Cron ‘13.5 – took the time this week to write a personal letter attempting to refute my analysis of the VT Gas pipeline project in the pages of The Campus. While I appreciate the gesture, they missed the larger point of my piece: that the pipeline will help real people and that benefits of this pipeline are greater than the cost. Unfortunately, they mostly ignored these larger issues and spent much of their piece instead accusing me of journalistic malpractice. The great thing about having a blog is that I can go through their letter point-by-point and defend myself while pointing out the serious holes in their logic. So get comfortable; here we go:

We wish to address serious factual inaccuracies in Zach Drennen’s April 25 column “Middlebury Finds a New Pipeline to Protest.” First, a clarification of terms: Zach, you mislead readers by describing the product transported by this pipeline as “natural gas.” Conventionally drilled natural gas is not without its own problems, but fracked gas, which this pipeline will carry, poses even more serious concerns.

I do not mislead my readers because the pipeline will, in fact carry natural gas. They’re taking a calculated gamble here by pretending that they support real natural gas but are most concerned about fracking – and that you will be too. But here’s why you shouldn’t: fracking is not nearly as bad as innacurate but powerful portrayals like Josh Fox’s Gasland might lead you to believe. And even if you do believe Fox’s perspective, it’s better than the mountain top removal used for coal mining, and the final product is both cleaner and cheaper than coal. Continue reading

Red Lines, Red Blood

People on Syrian streets are dying horrible deaths, asphyxiated as the air around them gives way to clouds of toxic gas released upon them by their government. Last week, blood samples of the victims confirmed that the regime of Bashar al-Assad has used weapons of mass destruction in the form of Sarin nerve gas on at least three occasions, including once on the streets of the rebel stronghold of Homs. Today, horrifying images have flooded the internet of bodies lying inert, otherwise undamaged on the streets of Damascus. Assad has shown a willingness to use any and all means to crush dissent in Syria. These attacks are just the tip of the spear, a small taste of the largest arsenal of chemical weapons in the Middle East.  Unless he is stopped, there is no reason to assume that these will not continue.

Soure: The Atlantic Wire

We’ve sat back as Assad has slaughtered his opponents with machine guns and helicopter gunships. We’ve stalled with sanctions and arms embargoes and provided non-lethal aid to the rebels. These were less than half-measures. Had we intervened before, we could have prevented the deaths of 70,000 Syrians at the hands of their ruler and his security forces. We could have prevented Syria from being overrun with foreign jihadi fighters and its middle class from fleeing in one of the region’s worst refugee crises. These things have all happened, but we no longer have a choice.

The United States and United Nations cannot remain on the sidelines of this conflict any longer. President Obama long ago said that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime represented a red line that the international community would not tolerate. The time has come to stand by these words. Continue reading

The Middlebury College Student Divestment Panel

On Sunday, April 28th, I had the opportunity to join six other Middlebury students for the student panel on divestment. If you missed it, the college has posted it online so that you can watch it here.

Note: the opening statements are way too long (I had pushed for them to be capped at 3-4 minutes, but they were much, much longer) and that part of the panel is somewhat deadly. (It’s also hard to hear the student reaction to the statements, so it sounds like literally nobody laughed at my jokes.) If you want to see what I had to say, skip ahead to 34:40. I speak again at 1:06:15 to rebut some of the claims made by the other panelists. Starting from 1:19:00 onward, it moves onto a Q and A and gets slightly more lively.

Continue reading