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What is the “Public Good”?

For the majority of Americans, the political concept we call the “public good” might seem vague, fuzzy, and perhaps controversial.  Historically, whenever a proposed public works project such as a school, road, or a hospital was deemed to be in the public good, then the Federal government or the State of Vermont has the right to exercise eminent domain. Eminent domain is the legal process that condemns and then legally yet forcibly transfers private property ownership to the State regardless of the property owner’s willingness to yield the property’s ownership. The property owner is paid for the property with fair compensation, usually negotiated as the property’s current market value. Eminent domain is authorized by the United States constitution in the Fifth Amendment [[1]]:

nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

In the time since our country ratified the constitution, the legal interpretation of eminent domain and what is public good has evolved. Towards the beginning of the last century, the types of public works projects eligible to use eminent domain was expanded to include various utility projects such as electric power lines, telephone lines, and gas distribution pipelines.

The last thirty years of the Supreme Court’s decisions have shown a hostile trend towards interpreting a justified “public use” [[2]] as projects advocated by state and local government entities in partnership with corporations. These corporations would then subsequently profit from the taking of the private property. Among the most notorious of these was the Kelo vs. City of New London case in 2005. In the dissenting opinion, Sandra Day O’Connor wrote:

Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms.” She argued that the decision eliminates “any distinction between private and public use of property—and thereby effectively delete[s] the words ‘for public use’ from the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment“.

The application of eminent domain can not be justified for the Addison Natural Gas Pipeline. By an overwhelming margin, the International Paper corporation will be the primary economic beneficiary of the pipeline’s asserted energy savings.  Vermont’s communities, including Middlebury and Rutland, are token secondary beneficiaries who are being exploited as a crutch to justify the project’s approval in front of the Public Service Board. Vermont Gas Systems freely admits as much, as it has disclosed that 70% of the natural gas volume to be transmitted through the proposed phase 1 pipeline is destined for the International Paper’s Ticonderoga paper mill.

The Vermont Citizens for the Public Good oppose the Vermont Gas Systems Addison County Natural Gas Pipeline project. We consider this project to be misrepresented by Vermont Gas System as being in the “public good” when in fact it primarily benefits an out of state private corporation, and not Vermont.  The Public Service Board’s decision on the Addison County Natural Gas Pipeline should recognize that Vermont Gas Systems has misappropriated the term “public good”. Given this finding, the State of Vermont’s Public Service Board should reject the pipeline’s phase 1 application for a Certificate of Public Good.

We encourage you to join us in advocating for the genuine public good. Send an e-mail to info@vtcpg.org to subscribe to our e-mail list and participate in our activities. Regardless of whether you join VTCPG, please speak in opposition to the Addison Natural Gas Pipeline project at the September 10th Public Service Board public hearing at the Middlebury Union Middle School. Our rally begins at 6:00PM and the public hearing begins at

Permanent link to this article: http://www.vtcpg.org/what-is-the-public-good/