OPINION: ‘Shock and Hope’ From Yale Student Opposed To Northern Pass

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Liz Wyman photo

Coos County Commissioner Three Rick Samson speaks to a group at Yale University opposed to Northern Pass last October.

InDepthNH.org takes no position on Northern Pass, but encourages people to express their opinions.

By Hannah Schmitt, senior at Yale

When the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee voted 7-0 to reject Northern Pass, the project’s spokesperson expressed “shock and outrage.” As a senior at Yale who is coming of age in a time when corporate power feels insurmountable, I felt shock and hope.

Hannah Schmitt

I’ve been part of the fight against Northern Pass since Yale’s hidden role became public and people from New Hampshire reached out to our campus for help. I traveled to New Hampshire’s North Country, attended teach-ins at Yale, and testified against Northern Pass in a Site Evaluation Commission (SEC) hearing. Even so, though, the SEC’s decision stunned me. I didn’t doubt the strength of the community; I knew thousands rigorously made their case in the SEC hearing against Northern Pass. Rather, I had learned to expect that governmental bodies will consistently side with powerful corporations like Eversource. Everywhere I look, I see odds that are impossibly stacked. Although corporate power can feel absolute, the SEC’s decision gives me hope in our democracy.

Last April, I learned that Yale is the largest land-owner in Coos County, and that it facilitated the development of Northern Pass by leasing 24 miles of its land for the project’s proposed route. Yale leased this land even as small landowners refused multi-million dollar offers as a strategy to build a firewall against the transmission-line. Later I learned that as New Hampshire stakeholders lined up to intervene against the project, Yale’s land manager intervened in favor of it. My disappointment deepened after I travelled to Coos County. It is one thing to know that Yale is doing something wrong. It is another thing entirely to know the people whose lives Yale had no qualms about disrupting—to have coffee in their diners and break bread around their dining tables, to trundle through the forest in the back of their trucks, to hear them talk about their love for the land that my school was not hesitating to ruin. My dismay sharpened into heartbreak and anger. As hundreds of Yale students learned about Coos County, they began to feel the same.

The willingness of the communities in New Hampshire to sacrifice so much for so long to protect their land, state, and culture turned our heartbreak into inspiration. To see so many people take a public process seriously, engaging in it with democratic tools like letter-writing, oral testimony, and rigorous research, made me believe that, when a community comes together to fight for what they believe in, representative government works. Citizens became experts, and the SEC stuck to the facts of the hearing and its mission.

The SEC’s decision is a tangible victory for New Hampshire with important and broad implications for students like me.  The opponents of Northern Pass made their voices heard: the SEC’s decision prevents undue harm to their communities. More broadly, their victory proves that people can build power, and my generation needs responsive government more than ever. I see the social and ecological problems that corporations create, and I feel terrified. I also feel betrayed. By working with corporations to undermine communities, my own university makes it harder for me to believe that I can affect the world around me. But the SEC’s decision affirms that public participation can still make a difference.

Still, this victory is not guaranteed. Governor Sununu’s recent questioning of the SEC’s decision, though not surprising, is disappointing. In the last two rounds of public testimony at the SEC hearings, Eversource did not produce a single person to voice support for the project. Among the 1,500 written comments, opponents outnumbered supporters by 11 to 1. Yet, Eversource has signaled that it will continue to lobby the governor and other elected officials. Despite opposition from across his state, the governor has sided with an out-of-state utility—a significant political contributor, unsurprisingly.

But for once, corporate power was caught by surprise. People across New Hampshire will continue fighting in every forum that is available to them, and Yale students will stand with them. We will continue to push our university to respect New Hampshire’s residents, and to stay true to its own purported mission to use education to build sustainable, democratic communities. Over the past eight years, the grassroots movement opposed to Northern Pass has become a formidable opponent for even the most powerful corporations. I think about the society my friends and I are about to inherit, and I feel more ready, knowing that when communities work together we are not so easy to beat.

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