Land Use Law Permitting Required If Northeast Pipeline Transports Tar Sands Oil Through Vermont

Apr 17, 2013

Portland Pipeline terminal in Maine
Credit Rigby27/Wikimedia Commons

Vermont environmental regulators have ruled that Vermont’s Act 250 land use law would apply to any proposal to reverse the flow in an oil pipeline that crosses northern Vermont.

The Portland Montreal Pipeline transverses New England, transporting crude oil from Montreal to South Portland Maine. Company officials have repeatedly stated there are no current plans to reverse its flow in order to transport tar sands, but would welcome the opportunity.
A petition filed in January with the Vermont Natural Resources Board requested a formal determination whether an Act 250 permit would be required should the pipeline reverse the flow to carry tar sand oil.
A District 7 Environmental Commission regulator based in St. Johnsbury ruled Monday that such a project would require review under several criteria of the environmental law. The ruling states that “although there are no concrete this point (it) is not hypothethical.”  It notes that the company’s owner has aggressively sought opportunities to convey tar sands through the pipeline. The decision says such re-use has the potential for significant adverse impact under several of the land use law’s 10 criteria.
Vermont Public Interest Research Group Clean Energy Advocate Ben Walsh says tar sands are significantly different than the crude oil currently moving through the line.

Vermont Natural Resources Council Energy Program Director Johanna Miller says it’s an important  clarification and tool for Vermont’s land use and development law.

Vermont Petroleum Association Government Affairs Director Joe Choquette notes that the request for jurisdictional opinion was specific to the Portland Montreal Pipeline.

Choquette also says the regulator took the data presented at face value.

In published reports, Jim Murphy of the National Wildlife Federation says the ruling likely makes a bill in the Legislature to make Act 250 apply to such projects unnecessary.  Johanna Miller was at a Statehouse hearing Wednesday morning taking jurisdiction opinion on the bill.

Calls to officials from the Portland Montreal Pipeline were not returned in time for this broadcast.