Vt. towns mull oil sands, assault weapons ban

MONTPELIER, Vt. — While Vermonters debate school budgets and whether to spend money on new equipment on Town Meeting Day, some communities also will take up resolutions opposing the transport of tar sands oil through Vermont and recommending a ban on assault weapons, following the mass school shooting in Connecticut.

The resolutions are nonbinding but petitioners hope they send a message on the annual state holiday, when residents gather to debate and vote on local budgets and elect officials.

“The overarching intent is to signal to big oil that we don’t want them to transport tar sands through the 10 towns of the Northeast Kingdom, and we don’t want to use any of the tar sands or derivatives in our community,” said Anne Dillon of 350 Vermont, a group concerned about climate change that has pushed to get the tar sands free resolution on the ballot in 24 towns.

Portland Pipe Line Corp CEO Larry Wilson told Vermont lawmakers this week that his company is willing to move tar sands oil from western Canada across northern New England but has no plans to do so.

If it did, it would have to reverse the flow of the pipeline, which carries oil from South Portland, Maine, where it was delivered by ship, to a refinery in Montreal.

Environmentalists have raised concerns about potential spills and worry that burning tar sands oil will worsen climate change.

“The 62-year-old Portland-Montreal pipeline runs through Vermont’s most pristine region,” including 15 natural waterways and nine towns, the group says.

The resolution encourages Vermont and other Northeast states to support policies phasing out fuel purchases as quickly as possible from vendors whose refinery sources of origin use any form of tar sands. It also has the towns call on the Vermont Legislature and U.S. Congress to ensure thorough environmental impact reviews are done of any tar sands-related pipeline proposals, including the health and safety impacts of any potential spills.

In response to the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 schoolchildren and six educators in Newtown, Conn., 10 to 25 people have been meeting weekly in Norwich to discuss what they could do as possible responses. Called Communities Against Assault Weapons, the group decided to work up an article for the March town meeting that will be considered in six towns: Norwich, Theftford, Vershire, Strafford, Hartland and Woodstock.

The group had hoped to get more towns to weigh in but had just two weeks to file petitions with 5 percent of the voters’ signatures in each town.

The resolution calls for a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines and the requirement of criminal background checks for every gun sold and makes gun trafficking a federal crime. It’s based on language from the Mayors Against Illegal Guns group.

Before the resolution is taken up, the town of Thetford will hold a meeting Sunday to discuss concerns and thoughts about the proposed gun legislation article.

“Right now we’re hoping and encouraging people to come out and vote and vote for the article and then we’ll see what the votes look like and then we’ll pass that on to the Legislature and just continuing to have the conversation and encouraging them to do the same,” said Laurie Levin, a leader of the group.