Vermont Pols Headline Anti-Nuke Rally: Sanders, Sorrell, and Shumlin Respond to Federal Court Ruling (Audio)
It wasn’t your typical anti-nuke protest — nobody got arrested at the crowded, family-friendly event. And top elected officials, instead of ducking controversy, proudly briefed Vermonters on their battle to send the Entergy Corporation packing.
BRATTLEBORO, Vt. — Governor Peter Shumlin, Attorney General William Sorrell, and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders rallied a crowd of about 1500 who gathered at the town common here last Saturday to protest the continued operation of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant past March 21, the date the plant’s 20-year state license expired.
Shumlin, Sanders and Sorrell’s message, delivered as legal wrangling plays out in federal court over the plant’s future, was unequivocal: Shut It Down.
Dozens of Western Massachusetts residents made the trip to Brattleboro for the event as well, and were treated to a statement from Senator Stan Rosenberg, who’s recovering from cancer treatment, read by Rep. Paul Mark of the 2nd Berkshire District.
Vermont’s senior U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy wasn’t at Saturday’s event, but issued a statement.
The Louisiana-based Entergy Corporation has owned and operated the 40-year-old nuke, located on the banks of the Connecticut River in Vernon, since 2002. The company at the time agreed to seek a Certificate of Public Good from the Vermont Public Service Board if it decided to run the plant beyond March 2012.
But in 2006, the Vermont passed Act 160, which says the state’s Public Service Board must obtain legislative approval before granting a Certificate of Public Good for licensing or re-licensing the power plants.
In 2010 the Vermont Senate voted 26-4 to deny granting that approval, citing recent radioactive tritium leaks, the collapse of a cooling tower in 2007, and inaccurate testimony under oath by Entergy officials. Plant officials had testified to state regulators that there were no buried pipes at Vermont Yankee that could leak tritium, statements which proved to be false.
Vermont is the only state that reserves the right to overrule the Nuclear Regulatory Commission when it comes to permitting power plants. The federal agency issued a 20-year license renewal to Vermont Yankee in 2011.
In 2011 Entergy filed a federal lawsuit against the State of Vermont, charging breach of contract and challenging the state’s preemption of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
In January U.S. District Judge J. Garvan Murtha ruled in favor of Entergy.
Murtha argued there’s “overwhelming evidence” that Act 160, the 2006 Vermont law that gave the legislature veto power over the nuke’s license renewal, is “grounded in radiological safety concerns.” Safety is the sole purview of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, not the legislature, wrote Murtha.
Sorrell has appealed Murtha’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York.
Entergy has also filed an appeal. Even though Murtha’s ruling looks good for Entergy at first glance, it still preserves the right of the state’s Public Service Board to require a Certificate of Public Good for the plant’s continued operation. Entergy had argued in its filings that the Federal Power Act preempts any form of state regulation over the plant.
Entergy, after winning round one in the trial court, is demanding that the state pay $4.62 million in attorney fees and costs.
The legal battle is more about states’ rights than the merits of nuclear power, Sorrell told Northampton Media on Saturday. But as the lawsuit’s outcome will likely determine whether the plant stays open, it is being carefully watched by advocates on both sides of the issue.
Murtha also issued an injunction in March that bars Vermont from trying to shut down the plant by enforcing a provision of Act 160 which prohibits the storage of high-level radioactive waste generated at the plant after March 21.
So as long as the matter is in the courts, the controversial 620-megawatt plant along the banks of the Connecticut River, just south of Brattleboro, will continue to crank out power and store its spent fuel rods on-site.
But Vermont officials seem sanguine about the idea of a nuclear-free future — the state’s new comprehensive energy plan, released in December, presumes that the nuke won’t be around.
“Vermont utilities are transitioning to new long-term contracts with Hydro Quebec and others over the next few years, and are expected to end purchases from Vermont Yankee in 2012,” reads the plan.
Vermont’s battle with Entergy rages even as President Obama calls for a new generation of nuclear power plants.
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Mary Serreze can be reached at email@example.com