If you’re an oil company trying to get dirty tar sands oil from central Canada to a tanker port on the Maine Coast, why not just reverse the flow of a 71-year old pipeline that already carries crude oil from South Portland, Maine, to Montreal, passing through Vermont, New Hampshire, and Quebec, on the way?
One reason would be the Canadian court decision last February that denied permission for pipeline owners to build a pumping station in an agricultural zone in Dunham, Quebec, near the Vermont border.
Another reason not to proceed would be that Enbridge, Inc., owner of a pipeline from the central Canadian tar sands to Montreal, has recently suspended development of that pipeline for hotter, more corrosive tar sands oil. But the company continues to seek the permits to make its so-called “Trailbreaker Project” possible under better economic conditions.
A third reason to move toward an alternative fuel would be the growing popular opposition in Maine and Vermont – especially in Vermont where opponents have a Facebook page called “Occupy The Portland Montreal Pipe Line Route.”
Pipeline protestors were only one of many groups that will gather in Burlington, Vermont this weekend to make their voices heard at the 36th annual Conference of New England Governors, which includes six American governors, five Canadian premiers, and an ambassador from each country, a group that traditionally conducts public business in private, but holds a press conference afterwards.
Public Officials to Meet Privately, FBI Chills Dissenters
This year’s two-day conference on July 29-30 starts with informal meeting on Sunday, followed by a Monday program with no published agenda. According to the governors’ press release, the group will discuss “shared issues, including managing the fiscal reality, enhancing the trade relationship, maximizing the potential of each region’s energy resources, and confronting environmental challenges.” A detailed agenda of Monday’s events, apparently open to “credentialed” reporters only, can be found online at the Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat.
The agenda does not list the conference sponsors who, in the past, have included major regional and international power companies, such as TransCanada and Gaz Metro. According to Maine Atlantica Watch, a website that responds to “threats against Maine’s democracy, workers, and the environment, TransCanada and Gaz Metro are among the 40 or so sponsors for the 2012 conference, along with other energy companies and banks. It also lists 14 or so “delegates,” all of them with corporate credentials, none from environmental or public interest groups.
Protestors, by contrast, have published numerous detailed outlines of their plans, all relating to the distinction between the governors’ apparent vision of maximizing adequate energy supplies” and the protestors preference for maximizing an adequate planet. CUTV, the television station of Concordia University in Montreal, is livestreaming the two-day event and produced an introductory video tying the Convergence to the student demonstrations in Quebec.
Apparently there’s something about this public protest that persuaded two FBI agents to drop in unannounced at a house in Winooski on Thursday afternoon. A member of the Vermont Solidarity Network posted on Facebook soon after the apparent intimidation attempt: “ALERT: Some of our folks had a drop-in visit from men wearing shiny black FBI shoes today. I guess they’re trying to put a chill on our outrageousness this weekend. Do not be intimidated. We are only doing what is within our imploding rights, and what is our responsibility. If you are approached by anyone suspicious, do not talk to them.”
Inquisitive FBI agents are but one manifestation of the intense security the governors apparently feel they need. Even reporters allowed into the otherwise private meetings face strict security conditions, according to a conference “notice to the media”: “Accreditation for this conference is being done online…. All Media must register in the Vermont Conference Room upon their arrival at the hotel…. As an enhanced security feature at this conference, passes with photo will be given to media at time of registration. Media will be asked to wear them at all times.”
FBI Ferrets Out Widely Available Information
Presumably the FBI already knew the “Convergence on the Conference” – also known as the “Occupy New England Regional Gathering” — had posted detailed, non-violent protest plans on its website by July 17 and that participants in the “People’s Convergence” would have a welcoming at Burlington’s Universalist Unitarian Church and could get Saturday night supper at the Vermont Workers’ Center.
The FBI would also know that the first major event of the Convergence will be a rally at City Hall Park, with a clearly stated purpose: “While powerful groups of politicians, advisers, lobbyists, investors and venture capitalists meet behind closed doors to plan the future of our region, we’re going to build power where it counts — in the streets!”
After the rally, the Convergence plans to march through the streets, winding up at Battery Park, where free meals will be served by volunteers from Food Not Bombs and the Vermont Workers’ Center. The park will also be the scene of “a GIANT HUMAN OIL SPILL at the New England Governors’ Conference,” for which protestors have been asked to wear black clothing. This is an expression of opposition to: “Oil companies are plotting to ship their TAR SANDS OIL through northern Vermont and New England.”
Other Battery Park activities will include a Student Bloc speak out and debt march, followed by the Occupy New England Regional Gathering.
Following a community dinner at the Universalist Unitarian Church, the audience, including any FBI present, will hear a presentations: “Innu First Nations Delegates Speak Out on Hydro-Quebec, Migrant Justice & Somali Bantu Community share their stories.”
Although the Vermont Legislature voted in 2010 that electricity from Hydro-Quebec was “benign” renewable energy, Hydro-Quebec’s impact on native people has been anything but benign, and with no known FBI interest. Despite knowing from the website that “Since March, Innu activists have blockaded highways, marched to Montreal, and organized protests to halt the construction of Hydro-Quebec’s ongoing mega-dam project on the Romaine River, which is the first stage of a 25-year, $80bn energy extraction, forestry and mining scheme launched by the Charest government, and packaged as the Plan Nord. Elyse Vollant and other Innu delegates will share stories from the frontlines, and offer possibilities for Vermonters to join in solidarity with their struggle.”
Press Conference, Puppets, and Pickets at Citizens Bank
On Monday, the delegation of Innu First Nations are planning a morning press conference at the Hilton Hotel where the governors are conferencing across from Battery Park. This will be followed by a political theater performance by the world-renowned Bread& Puppet Theater. The Burlington Occupy General Assembly is scheduled for noon and at 4, the months-long picket of Citizens Bank will continue. Since April 29, Occupy marchers have been demanding “that Citizens Bank, a wholly owned subsidiary of the most bailed out bank in the world [Royal Bank of Scotland] which had recently settled for $137.5 million after being caught defrauding its low-income customers, close its downtown branch and leave our city. To make this demand a reality, the local movement has been maintaining pickets four days per week in front of the branch, waving signs, unfurling banners, handing out literature, and encouraging the bank’s customers to move their patronage to a cooperative, member-owned credit union. “
Commenting on Thursday’s FBI alert, another Vermont Solidarity member posted: “I’d much prefer to see security culture information posted inside the convergence space and mentioned prominently during the opening march and over the course of the weekend’s protest, when we can stand together in solidarity. This is qualitatively very different from people, isolated in front of their computers, receiving this news of state intimidation and thereby increasing the level of paranoia and disempowerment they’ll be feeling coming into this weekend…. [Let’s have] us and not the po-po controlling our narrative, and not inadvertently doing authorities work of sowing seeds of panic for them….”
FBI Presence Part of National Pattern
The FBI’s police state tactic in Burlington is apparently part of a growing national pattern, though not yet as intense in Vermont as recently in the Pacific Northwest which has seen a series of FBI raids on the houses of supposed anarchists.
The closing press conference for the governors’ conference is scheduled to take place at the same time as the Citizens Bank Picket. According to its official release: “The Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers is an inter-regional, bi-national, trans-border organization established in 1973 in recognition of the special bond that exists between the six New England states and the five Eastern Canadian provinces. Its members are the governors and the premiers of those provinces and states.”