With Local Support, Environmentalists Hope To Stop Tar Sands Pipeline

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In March, voters in Burlington will vote on a resolution that would oppose the shipment of tar-sands oil across northeastern sections of the state.

Now, environmental activists want voters to put the issue on Town Meeting Day ballots in other towns.

Environmentalists worry the oil industry plans to reverse the flow of an existing pipeline that runs from Portland, Maine, to Montreal. They say that would allow tar-sands oil from western Canada to be shipped east, through Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.

They’ve staunchly opposed the possibility. They say wildlife could be endangered – and they say oil from tar sands is especially harmful to the environment.

The organization 350Vermont launched a campaign called "Keep Vermont Tar Sands Free" to persuade towns to put the issue on their Town Meeting Day ballots in March.

"Just heard from friends here in Ripton that they’re making sure it will be on the ballot here in our small town," says Middlebury College Professor Bill McKibben, who thinks there’s no issue too big for small towns.

McKibben hopes the tar-sands resolution will encourage towns to think about what they can do to protect the environment.

"We can’t solve our biggest problems – especially climate change – one town at a time," McKibben says. "We also have to work globally. And that’s why there are lots of local places that are figuring out how to come together in those broader movements."

Last month, Burlington became the first New England community to place the tar-sands issue on its ballot. With the support of Mayor Miro Weinberger, the City Council passed a nonbinding resolution that characterized the potential pipeline as a risk to public health and safety.

Now environmentalists hope other towns will follow Burlington’s lead.

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