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John Gregg: Shumlin Speaks Out on Utility Lines

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin this week reiterated his opposition to the Keystone XL oil pipeline, saying the proposal to carry oil extracted from tar sands in western Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast would contribute to global warming.

“If we can’t get through our thick heads — after what we have been through as a nation in terms of weather challenges, just since (Barack) Obama has been president — that we can’t afford to burn every drop of fossil fuel that we can extract from the ground with technology, then we are going to destroy the planet,” Shumlin said during a meeting Tuesday with Valley News editors and reporters.

“And tar sands is a whole new level of extraction that will make contributions to our greenhouse gases that will destroy us.”

The two-term Democrat has been calling for the Obama administration to deny the project a presidential permit since at least 2011, but Shumlin is now also the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, and the Keystone project is politically popular in some states.

In fact, 65 percent of Americans, including a narrow majority of Democrats, said they supported the project, according to a Washington Post-ABC poll released in early March.

But Shumlin said it’s important to not burn “dirty fuel.”

“You can find Democratic governors that disagree with me, I guarantee you that, but I feel strongly that this is a place where we’ve got to draw a line,” Shumlin said.

Meanwhile, Shumlin is more bullish on proposals to transport electricity generated from Canadian hydro power through Vermont to southern New England and New York.

Asked if he would insist that such lines be buried through Vermont to have his blessing, Shumlin said “in most cases” the proposals already factor the costs of burying lines into their price.

“Listen, this is what I know — if we are going to address climate change in any significant way, which we must, it makes sense for us to find ways to bring green, clean renewable hydro power in from Canada to New England,” he said.

As for burying lines under Interstate 91, Shumlin said, “I would love for the federal highway infrastructure to be a corridor for transmission, it would solve a lot of problems, but there’s real federal hurdles to do that. It doesn’t mean it can’t be changed, but currently it’s very difficult to do.”

Shumlin is gearing up for a re-election bid and might, just might, face a challenge from the Upper Valley.

Scott Milne, a Pomfret Republican who runs Milne Travel American Express, told some Vermont media outlets this week that he is weighing a run for governor.

Milne is traveling overseas and couldn’t be reached for comment, but he has a background in politics. He ran for a Hartford-area House seat in 2006, but lost to Democrat Mark Mitchell, and is the son and grandson of former Republican legislators. Milne grew up in Washington, Vt., and his mother, Marion Milne, was a Republican state representative from Orange County who lost her seat in 2000 after voting in favor of civil unions.

Milne also has other major items on his plate. Besides his travel business, he is one of the co-developers behind the proposed 168-acre Quechee Highlands development along Route 4 near the Interstate 89 interchange. Milne and his business partner are currently appealing the denial of an Act 250 permit for the mixed-use commercial and residential project.

Another Republican who had been considering a challenge against Shumlin, state Rep. Heidi Scheuermann of Stowe, said this week she will instead run for another term in the Vermont House.

Briefly Noted

∎ The annual New Hampshire State of the State poll by the Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth College has some interesting findings.

While U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., led all four prospective GOP challengers, Republican Scott Brown trailed her by less than 4 percentage points.

Meanwhile, in prospective 2016 presidential matchups, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, actually trailed U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, 38.4 percent to 35.8 percent.

Some 46.4 percent of respondents said Granite State gun sale laws should be stricter, while 11.2 percent wanted less regulation and 34.2 percent liked the status quo.

In a separate poll for Gun Sense Vermont, 81 percent of respondents said they either strongly or moderately support criminal background checks for all gun buyers.

∎ Progressive Democrats concerned about livable wages for workers last week squawked when President Obama staged an event promoting energy efficiency at a Wal-Mart.

“It’s hard for me to believe, but Barack Obama just staged one of the most ill-advised photo opportunities of his presidency,” former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich wrote in a fund-raising appeal for Democracy for America. “What numbskull in the White House arranged this idiotic appearance?”