Kids hold signs that read "More Tarzan less tar sands." Signs showing oil-covered animals decorate the City Hall steps as environmental activists say an oil spill could take place if we don't act quickly.
"Vermont is the greenest of states in more ways than one. If our values and our commitments are to mean anything then we must stand up against this travesty of corporate greed," said Dan Jones of the Montpelier Energy Committee.
They're fighting a company called Enbridge. Jones and other activists believe the company wants to reverse the flow of an oil pipeline currently carrying crude oil from Portland, Maine, to Montreal. Activists assert the company also wants to pump tar sands oil, a heavier form of crude oil, through the pipeline which runs through the Northeast Kingdom. The problem? Enbridge doesn't own the pipeline, Portland Montreal Pipe Line does, and both companies say no such plan exists.
"We have been saying for months and months, even years now, that this project is dead we are not pursuing it," said Graham White, a spokesman for Enbridge.
Activists called a press conference based on a national report which studies the potential impact of this hypothetical plan. Even the writers of the plan say it's speculation at this point.
"Absolutely it would not be accurate to say that tar sands is coming to New England," said Danielle Droitsch of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
But the speculation did come from somewhere. In 2008 when Enbridge originally announced the Trailbreaker project it was proposed in pieces. Environmental groups say they speculate the Portland Montreal pipeline reversal will take place because the other pieces have come into play. Part of the Trailbreaker project was to expand the pipeline from Michigan to Ontario; that plan is back in place. The next step was to reverse the flow from Sarnia, Ontario, to Montreal; that plan is back in place. That makes environmental groups concerned that the Portland Montreal Pipeline could be next, despite repeated announcements from Portland Montreal Pipeline and Enbridge that no such plan exists.
"They're certainly saying that they're not pursing it, but on the other hand they're pursuing a good chunk of what they pursued in 2008," Droitsch said.
Activists say they want to get the message out before a plan is put in place because they want the public to be informed and ready to fight any proposal, should there be one, in the future.
The other concern is that if a plan like this were to be put in place, the state does not have the right to regulate these pipelines. Oil pipelines are regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. So the state's control of the matter would likely be extremely limited.