Becca: Nate, I know exactly where you were last night from 5:30 to 9:45 p.m. — stuck in an industrial-white vortex! This was an extraordinary Rockland City Council meeting; the Zoom exceeded its 100-person limit before the meeting even started, with something like 65 people stuck in the “waiting room.” Over these four hours of the first public meeting in the midcoast to address the fracked gas pipeline Summit Natural Gas wants to lay from Thomaston to Belfast, people from all over the state participated, with passion and power. What are some of your takeaways from last night?

Nate: Indeed: a vortex of time, hope, and history; a gravid gyre; a ruckus! I, too, was inspired. I was also proud of Rockland for being the first community to hold a high-profile, inclusive public discussion of this issue. In particular, I like how the organizing is acquiring a decentralized aspect: some individuals and groups are playing prominent roles, but also a lot of folks are just riled up and doing their own thing. I’ve also spoken with a couple of people for whom this struggle recalls their parents’ or grandparents’ struggles against ill-judged projects in their own communities. What do you think comes next, Becca?

Becca: People writing letters to the editor, politicians, and talking with coworkers, family, friends (and frenemies) about the myth of natural gas being “clean” and cheaper. And I think the fundamental question is about legal ways to stop fracked gas from coming to the midcoast. Rockland’s city lawyer last night seemed completely unprepared to offer anything about what a municipality can do to stop a giant fossil fuel company from ripping up the roads and settling in to profit from us for the next many decades. I know you’ve been looking into what other towns, cities and states are doing to try to stop fracked gas companies from coming to their communities. Can you share some of those?

Nate: Lots of other communities (especially in California) have banned gas hookups for new construction; several states have passed laws preventing municipalities from doing this, however. I think this might not be a sufficient strategy for the midcoast since most of Summit’s customers in the near future would presumably reside in existing buildings. I’m intrigued by the Clear Skies Ordinance in South Portland, which was written to block the flow of tar sands oil through an existing pipeline in that city. It’s being challenged by the Portland Pipe Line Corporation in federal court due to issues related to international exports, but it was already upheld by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court as consistent with Maine law. We could perhaps take an analogous approach here: not regulating the pipeline itself, but regulating (and restricting) the use of gas that would flow through the pipeline. Though it would obviously be better to simply block the pipeline! But I’m not yet ready to offer an opinion on the best strategy for doing that.

Becca: Let’s talk about too-good-to-be-true deals. When natural gas first came to Brunswick, my aunt jumped at the chance. There were rebates to help replace her very old oil furnace, and natural gas seemed pretty inexpensive to her when she switched 10 years ago. But each year since, the cost has steadily increased. She showed me the original pricing, compared to the price she now pays to Maine Natural Gas: Ten years ago, the customer charge was $20.12 per month; it has now increased by around 75%, to $35 per month. The rate per heating unit has more than doubled, with the first 50 therms rising from $0.3237 per therm to $0.6968.

I want to make it clear that we aren’t simply opposing natural gas because it’s a new fossil fuel for this area; after all, I currently heat my home partly with propane, and I fill my car with a petroleum product. This struggle isn’t specifically about natural gas or about a particular company, rather, it’s about saying: let’s go forward. What Summit is selling is just more of the same “dirty” fossil fuel, no matter how much they want to claim they are “working on” so-called “renewable natural gas” and other technologies. If they lay their pipelines in the earth, they are embedding their fossil fuel infrastructure in our towns for decades to come. We desperately need to move forward, and some of the answers are already in front of us; much of it is in The Green New Deal, the legislation that combines well-paying jobs with truly environmentally forward policies and programs. I also strongly believe we need to dump CMP and replace it with a locally, publicly controlled electricity utility.

Nate: I agree: this isn’t really about a particular company or a particular fuel. It’s about casting a clear eye on crumbling structures of power, health, money, and influence, and then building what comes next.