Environment
2:52 pm
Wed October 24, 2012

Vermont Yankee Debate Heats Up On Two Fronts

The legal debate over the future of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant is heating up at federal appeals court and at the state Public Service Board.

Vermont Yankee Power Plant
Vermont Yankee Power Plant
Credit US Nuclear Regulatory Comission

The state this week laid out a detailed case for why the plant should not get a new 20 year state permit to operate.

And in a brief filed at the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, lawyers for the state argued that District Judge Garvan Murtha got it wrong when he struck down a state law last January that gave the Legislature a say in Yankee's continued operation.

Vermont's brief notes that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recognizes a role for state oversight and approval of nuclear power plants. The brief includes a recent letter from the NRC to the state that acknowledges Vermont's jurisdiction so that "the plant will continue to promote the general good of the state."

Vermont law school professor Patrick Parenteau has followed the legal wrangling. He says the state made a useful reminder to the appeals court.

"It is a dual track regulatory process under the Atomic Energy Act, with the NRC taking exclusive authority over radiological health and safety, and really everything else - land use, environment, economics, need - everything else is within the purview of the state," Parenteau says.

The "everything else" the state has control over was laid out in documents filed Monday at the Public Service Board. The state submitted extensive testimony from environmental scientists, utility experts, power planners and others to buttress its case that Yankee should not get a new 20 year state permit, called a certificate of public good.

For example, a biologist said Yankee's hot water discharge into the Connecticut River could harm migrating shad and other fish.

Another witness said that long-term storage of radioactive waste at the plant would impede the orderly growth and development of the region. Other experts said the plant was not needed to ensure the reliability of the electric grid.

Elizabeth Miller is commissioner of the Department of Public Service, the state agency that represents ratepayers.

"Overall our assessment is that Entergy has not made a case for continued operation of this plant for a continued certificate of public good," Miller says. "And really the witness testimony at this initial stage of the proceeding where we are filing written testimony is focused very much on... whether Entergy's case is adequate to receive a certificate of public good under Vermont law. And our assessment of that is no, they have not done so."

Entergy has argued strongly before the Public Service Board that it has made the case for continued operation. The company says Vermont Yankee helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the region, has enough funds to safely decommission the plant, and will contribute more than $200 million in tax revenue to the state over the next 20 years.

The Public Service Board will hold the first round of hearings in the case in February.

Read recent testimony filed in Yankee case at the Public Service Board.

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