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Vt. voters support public bank, pipeline ban

Voters in many Vermont communities approved nonbinding resolutions this town meeting season for a state-owned “public bank” and against a Northeast Kingdom oil pipeline.

The group Vermonters for a New Economy won support from at least 18 towns for a state bank to store government money and support loans through community banks and credit unions to students, homeowners, businesses and municipalities.

The resolution — available on the website — was approved in Albany, Bakersfield, Calais, Craftsbury, East Montpelier, Enosburg, Marshfield, Montgomery, Montpelier, Plainfield, Putney, Randolph, Rochester, Royalton, Ryegate, Tunbridge, Waitsfield and Warren, organizers reported Wednesday.

The group stressed the proposal wouldn’t compete with commercial banks because it wouldn’t hold individual or business deposits, just government money now invested in out-of-state entities. According to a new study, using such funds for lending in Vermont would add an estimated $340 million to the gross domestic product and, if used to finance infrastructure, could save more than $100 million in interest now going out of state.

Some are skeptical. The resolution was rejected in Barnet, Fayston, Greensboro and Marlboro.

“The predominant sentiment was ‘I don’t want the state involved in banking’ and ‘I don’t trust the government,’” a Barnet supporter summed up debate there.

The Tar Sands Free Vermont campaign — headed by, the Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation — saw 13 more communities support its non-binding “Keep Vermont Tar Sands Free” resolution seeking to block the use of a 1950s pipeline to transport Canadian oil through the state.

The 29 communities that approved the ban last year were joined this week by Albany, Barton, Charleston, Glover, Hartland, Jay, Richmond, Shelburne, Stannard, Strafford, Sutton, Westmore and Wheelock, increasing the total number of supporting towns to 42, organizers reported Wednesday.

“Sutton voters don’t want to be overlooked,” said one pipeline opponent in the community, population 1,029, that hosts a pumping station. “Our town’s natural beauty is valuable to us, and we don’t want even the possibility of an environmental accident here to be ignored just because we are such a small town.”

Ripton environmental activist Bill McKibben has made headlines for his opposition to a proposed $7 billion, 1,700-mile oil pipeline from Canada’s tar sands to Texas refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. But Vermont organizers at also are concerned about plans to move oil through the state’s Northeast Kingdom for export in Portland, Maine.

The pipeline path runs through the towns of Barton, Burke, Guildhall, Irasburg, Jay, Lunenburg, Newport, Sutton, Troy and Victory and intersects 15 natural waterways that lead to other parts of the state.

As a result, the campaign will continue to ask municipalities to voice their opposition “because of the risks that a spill would pose on public health and safety, drinking water, property values and our wilderness” and to ask the state and federal government “to ensure thorough environmental impact reviews of any tar sands-related pipeline proposals,” according to wording on the website

In other action, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group reports a split decision from the two towns that considered its non-binding “Bigger Better Bottle Bill Town Meeting Resolution” to expand the state’s current deposit law for alcoholic and carbonated beverages to include containers for water, juice and sports drinks.

Calais supported the proposal, while Jamaica rejected it, organizers reported Wednesday.

An expanded law would recycle about 100 million more bottles and cans each year, VPIRG estimates, and reduce energy use and greenhouse-gas emissions by the equivalent of removing 1,200 vehicles from the road.

VPIRG also wants to amend current law that gives unclaimed deposits to bottlers and distributors and instead follow the example of seven out of 10 states with similar legislation and keep all or most such money — an estimated $3 million to $5 million a year — for recycling and other government programs.

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