A series of actions against the use of fossil fuels in New York and Vermont led to nine arrests on July 7.
The actions, along with others across the United States and Canada, were staged in remembrance of the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster on July 6, 2013, when a 74-car freight train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec killing 47 people and destroying much of the town.
Various environmentalist groups have planned protests for this week aimed at stopping the transportation and use of fossil fuels and preventing another Lac-Mégantic rail disaster from happening ever again.
On Tuesday morning, Rising Tide Vermont held a flotilla and symbolic blockade at the Ticonderoga Ferry and Train Station in Ticonderoga, New York. The flotilla consisted of many activists from Vermont kayaking across Lake Champlain in order to get to the protest. After a speakout near the lake, about 100 demonstrators converged on the train tracks at the station. Once there, 47 protesters blockaded the tracks for 47 minutes in memory of the people who died during the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster. They also counted out loud to 47. Police were nearby at all times monitoring the protest, but no arrests were made.
“Fossil fuels are harmful and violent to communities along every point of production, from extraction to combustion,” Meaghan LaSala, a member of SEEDs for Justice in Maine, told Times of TI. “We’re here to say that we’re not going to let the oil be transported by train along Lake Champlain any longer.”
Earlier that day in Williston, Vermont, Rising Tide Vermont and about 30 protesters disrupted work at a construction site owned by Vermont Gas Systems. A natural gas pipeline from Chittenden County to Addison County is currently being built at the site. Local police arrived on the scene, and four protesters were ultimately arrested for unlawfully trespassing on the site. Thomas Buckley, 34, and Martha Waterman, 25, chained themselves together across a ditch digging machine, and Avery Pittman, 25, chained himself to Waterman. All three were then arrested before 9 a.m. Grayson Flory, 28, was also later arrested simply for refusing to leave the site. They were all later released and appeared in court in Burlington on July 9.
“I’m locking down today to defend my community from a future of fossil fuel use and climate chaos,” Waterman said in a statement. “And I’m also here to put an end to the destruction of lives and wild places. The time is now to prevent runaway climate change.”
Though the protesters claimed that the pipeline would destroy the environment and that they were looking to stop this destruction, Vermont Gas disagreed with the accusation and the tactics of the protests.
“We are committed to bringing an affordable, clean energy choice to Vermont communities, families and businesses,” Beth Parent, Vermont Gas’ spokeswoman, told the Burlington Free Press. “We respect the right to a peaceful and safe demonstration. Today’s event in Williston took place at an active worksite that put our employees, public safety officials and the protesters at risk.”
Parent also said that though the protests are “disruptive,” Vermont Gas is “prepared for it” and able to continue their work “on time and on budget.”
Later on that afternoon, yet another disruption of the fossil fuel industry’s daily business-as-usual occurred. In Addison, Vermont, about 40 protesters with the Trans and/or Women’s Action Camp, or TWAC, blocked a truck from NG Advantage, a distributor for Natural Gas of Milton, at the foot of the Vermont side of the Champlain bridge. The truck was on its daily trip to deliver compressed natural gas to an International Paper plant in Ticonderoga, New York.
When the truck was stopped, one of the protesters, 18-year-old Damian Gabriel, chained himself to the rear bumper. By 2 p.m. a Vergennes rescue team arrived and cut the bumper of the truck to detach Gabriel from it. The protesters shut down a lane of Route 17 on the bridge for about two hours before police arrived and arrested Gabriel along with Elizabeth C. Catlin, 25, Emily F. Eck, 24, Kara Ann Barndollar, 23, and Althea R. Redfield, 22. All five arrestees were charged with disorderly conduct and are due in court in late August. Gabriel may also be forced to pay for repairs to the truck’s bumper.
NG Advantage’s CEO, Tom Evslin, thought the protesters’ actions were counterproductive. He insisted that stopping the transportation of natural gas only encourages the use of more environmentally-harmful fuels like oil.
“What they’re doing is forcing more oil to be burned,” Evslin told the Burlington Free Press. “It seems very contrary to what they’re trying to do.”
He also claimed that the protesters’ tactics were unsafe.
“Look where it is,” Evslin told WCAX. “This is on the approach to a bridge. This is a truck carrying flammable fuels. It’s a safer fuel than oil or propane, but it’s still a flammable fuel. And to stop it in a traffic lane is incredibly irresponsible.”
TWAC, on the other hand, insisted that the transportation and use of fossil fuels is what is truly dangerous rather than their tactics.
“I hope that we can all recognize the need to end extreme energy extraction in all of its forms,” Emma McCumbert of TWAC told WCAX. “The transportation of fracked gas and other fossil fuels is dangerous. It’s volatile in all its forms whether it’s by truck, by rail, by pipeline. It really does endanger the health and safety of communities, the health of ecosystems, especially here in the Champlain Valley region, but also, very importantly, at the points of extraction.”
A recent report by the National Wildlife Federation outlined the threat oil-by-rail transport poses to the Lake Champlain region. An NBC news analysis also found that “American oil trains spilled crude oil more often in 2014 than in any year since the federal government began collecting data on such incidents in 1975.”
Along with the marches in Montreal in memory of Lac-Mégantic on July 4, blockades in Portland, Oregon on July 6, and a banner unfurling from a major bridge in Oakland, California, there are even more actions planned for the near future. Two demos, expected by organizers to be the biggest ones, are set to take place in Richmond, California and Baltimore, Maryland this Saturday.
As the left increasingly focuses on electoral politics, a new framework is emerging for how candidates who win should partner with social movements.
As autocrats become savvier in using technology to repress dissent, activists are striving to preserve the benefits of digital activism and mitigate the risks.
Environmental activist Evgeniya Chirikova once helped save a forest in Moscow. Now she’s trying to give voice to Russian activists and journalists resisting Putin’s regime.