Shumlin: “I don’t believe it’s healthy to second guess the Attorney General”

Court drawing from the first round of hearings. Deb Lazar/The Commons

Court drawing from the first round of hearings. Deb Lazar/The Commons

Gov. Peter Shumlin said he has not decided whether the state will appeal a federal judge’s decision last week that allows Entergy Corp. to continue to operate Vermont Yankee without legislative approval.

“Obviously the decision from Judge Murtha is a disappointment,” Shumlin said. “We’re exploring all of our options. We’ll make a decision on the appeal within the timeframe allowed by the courts, and until we do I’ll be uncharacteristically quiet.”

The Vermont Attorney General, Bill Sorrell, has 30 days to file an appeal of Judge Garvan Murtha’s decision.

Shumlin commented on the case in his first press conference since the ruling was issued six days prior. Reporters peppered him with questions about how the state would proceed and whether the governor had faith in Sorrell’s ability to win an appeal given his painful defeat last week and two previous high profile cases that he lost before the U.S. Supreme Court — one regarding campaign contribution limits and another prohibiting datamining prescription drug information from doctors. In a report on Tuesday, Dave Gram of the Associated Press detailed how the losses have caused observers to raise doubts about Sorrell’s performance.

Does the governor have confidence in the attorney general, despite his string of defeats?

“This is an absolutely inappropriate time to question our attorney general,” Shumlin said. “They work very hard there and … I really don’t believe it’s healthy to second guess the attorney general. They argued forcefully for the state of Vermont.”

Should the state hire outside counsel to help the attorney general shape an appeal?

Shumlin said Sorrell had done so previously and “we’re certainly open to continuing that going forward. That’s a decision we’ll be making in the coming weeks.”

When asked if cost was a factor, Shumlin initially said it wasn’t his “first consideration.” So far, Sorrell said Entergy has spent more than his annual budget, or about $8 million, on the case, according to the report by Gram.

“The first consideration is how do you take a disappointing decision that doesn’t make a lot of sense and ensure that you proceed in a way that meets the objective of the state of Vermont,” Shumlin said.

The question came up again in a slightly different form. How much more would the state spend?

“Obviously we’re going to spend whatever we need to spend to ensure that Vermonters get a good decision,” Shumlin said. “I’ve read a lot about how much this is going to cost … This year alone, the attorney general brought in about $40 million from the attorney general’s office winning cases — (that’s) a lot more than we’ve spent on legal fees on any cases. So when we have this conversation about cost, it’s very important to know the attorney general’s office has done a good job of winning cases and bringing in more than they pay out.”

Though Shumlin is listed as a defendant in the Entergy lawsuit against the state of Vermont, the attorney general will ultimately decide whether to appeal.

“I have a very good relationship with the attorney general and I appreciate he’s consulted me at every turn in this case,” Shumlin said. “I don’t expect that to change going forward.”

As for whether the nuclear power plant in Vernon will be shut down any time soon, the governor said Judge Murtha’s decision means that Entergy will be able to continue to run Vermont Yankee beyond the March 21 expiration of its license to operate.

Entergy still must obtain a certificate of public good from the Vermont Public Service Board in order to extend the license for the 40-year-old plant another 20 years.

Shumlin said Judge Murtha’s ruling affirms Vermont’s ability to control the destiny of the plant through the Public Service Board process. On Wednesday, the Department of Public Service filed a request for a status conference with the three member board that would occur, he said, “as soon as the 30-day period (for an appeal filing) has expired.”

The governor said whether the appeal and certification process can move forward simultaneously is unresolved.

Reporters wanted to know whether the governor had any regrets about how the Legislature handled the issue. He declined to comment. They then questioned why he appeared to have more faith in the Public Service Board process now than he did a few years ago when as President Pro Tempore of the Senate he spearheaded the 26-4 vote that scuttled Entergy’s opportunity to seek a certificate of public good from the Public Service Board.

Shumlin recounted that James Volz, the chair of the Public Service Board, approached him and House Speaker Shap Smith in 2009 and told the legislative leaders they had to clarify whether the board could take up the case without legislative approval.

“The way Act 160 was written, the Legislature had to make a judgment yes or no,” Shumlin said. “As you know, I thought the answer was no. We didn’t have the option of saying ‘we can’t decide.’”

He pointed out that he wasn’t involved in the drafting of Act 160, which required legislative approval for the continued operation of Vermont Yankee.

“I was not in public service when Act 160 passed,” Shumlin said. “I just want to remind you it was the Legislature at the time and the governor at the time, Gov. Douglas, who signed Act 160. When I took over the Senate, the law said in order for Vermont Yankee to run past its design life it was required that the Legislature vote affirmatively that it was in the best interest of Vermonters or the Public Service Board couldn’t issue a certificate of public good.

“All I did as Senate president was follow the law,” Shumlin said. “I didn’t write the law. I didn’t vote on the law. I inherited the law.”

At the time he said Gov. Jim Douglas and “Entergy Louisiana” were “begging us to vote.”

“They didn’t decide they didn’t want a vote until they thought maybe the outcome wouldn’t be what they wanted.”

Shumlin’s views on Vermont Yankee haven’t changed, he said.

“It has been no secret that I feel strongly it’s in the best interest of Vermont to close the plant on schedule in 2012,” Shumlin said. “What we’re focusing on now is how are we going to get the best decision we can get.”

Editor’s note: Material was added to this story at 5:30 a.m. Jan. 26.

Correction: Entergy has spent $8 million on the case, according to Sorrell.

Anne Galloway

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14 Comments on "Shumlin: “I don’t believe it’s healthy to second guess the Attorney General”"

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lex luther
4 years 11 days ago

The Gram article did not say VT spent 8 million on this case. Rather, the story reported that Sorrell expected Entergy had spent over 8 million on the case. Significant difference.

“Sorrell said he expected Entergy had spent more on legal fees than the entire annual budget of his office — about $8 million.”

Fred Woogmaster
4 years 11 days ago

The Governor is correct; second guessing is worthless.
The Attorney General’s track record in important cases is lousy. His reviews of cases of allegations of excessive force or inappropriate behavior by police have been highly questionable (especially the recent case in Hartland). He has held the office long enough and has amply demonstrated how he operates. Vermont needs something different.

Randy Koch
4 years 11 days ago

I don’t know about the other cases Sorrell has lost, but in the Entergy case it seems absurd to slam the state’s lawyers as Cheryl Hanna and others have done. They were after all fighting with both hands tied behind their backs in that none of the terrifying safety issues could be raised. Sort of like not being able to mention death in a murder trial. It would tend to make the industry lawyers look pretty good.

Fred Woogmaster
4 years 11 days ago

In the case I referred to, the man was from Wilder i believe – not Hartland.

4 years 10 days ago

Gov. Shumlin said: “When I took over the Senate, the law said in order for Vermont Yankee to run past its “design life” it was required that the Legislature vote affirmatively that it was in the best interest of Vermonters or the Public Service Board couldn’t issue a certificate of public good.” Vermont Yankee’s NRC original license is for 40 years. Vermont Yankee’s DESIGN LIFE is something entirely different and has nothing to do with the license period. The engineered “design life” is much longer than 40 years. With proper O&M, it may be 60 years, 70 years or longer.… Read more »

Josh Fitzhugh
4 years 10 days ago

The Governor may say “he has not decided whether to appeal” but the decision lies with the Attorney General. 3 VSA 157, 159.

4 years 7 days ago

Gov. Shumlin was for Vermont Yankee until he was against it. Nostaglia Time: Shumlin in Favor of Vermont Yankee in 1998 Shumlin and Vermont Yankee: The Old Days In 1998, Peter Shumlin was President Pro Tem of the Vermont Senate, and Vermont Yankee was owned by a consortium of utilities. In 1998, Shumlin sent a letter in support of Vermont Yankee to Mike Empey, a Vermont Yankee supporter. Mike Empey just sent the letter to me and gave me permission to post it. Shumlin writes that he fought an effort to prematurely close Vermont Yankee, “I can assure you that… Read more »

Ken Dean
4 years 7 days ago

In October 2010 Peter Shumlin and Brian Dubie were invited to a group in Bradford, Vermont to discuss their energy policy positions on renewables, Vermont Yankee, Hydro Quebec and how to build a safe and sound energy future for Vermont, create low electrical rates, create good jobs, make it comprehensive. Peter Shumlin, spoke at length to this group, of the time when he was supportive of Vermont Yankee, the largest job producer in his county of Windham, solid supporter of the community, the schools, the region. Then he spoke of the the lies, the leaks, the cover ups, the breakdown… Read more »

4 years 7 days ago

Ken, A group of utilities owned Vermont Yankee until 2002. They likely did not have the staff or experience to manage a 600 MW plant and a nuclear plant at that. The plant likely was in less than satisfactory condition in 2002, because Entergy bought it for a song and a dance. Entergy, which already owned 5 other nuclear plants, made significant improvements worth at least $200 million over the years. As a result, it was able to increase the plant’s reliability, as reflected in its capacity factor of 0.92, one of the highest in the US and the world.… Read more »

don eggleston
4 years 6 days ago

When Shumlin was a strong supporter of VY, and said he would fight any effort to close it, he knew that the plant was licensed for 40 years. There’s no difference in the plant itself between the time when he was a strong supporter of it, and now, when he’s a violent opponent of it. In fact, the plant’s maintenance and reliability have improved since Entergy bought it in 2002. The ONLY thing that has changed since Shumlin made his pro-VY remarks in 1998 and today is politics. In planning his run for Governor, Shumlin understood that the left-wing of… Read more »

4 years 6 days ago

Don, Many months ago, I predicted Vermont Yankee would not be closed down by the state and that VY would not need a certificate of public good if it sold its low-cost, near-CO2-free energy directly to the grid and to out-of-state utilities. Judge Murtha made it abundantly clear several Vermont laws regarding VY are unconstitutional and ruled against their provisions. Judge Murtha saved a $90 million dollar payroll, and 650 high-paying, high-benefit jobs at VY and about 1,500 jobs within a 25-mile radius of VY. Some state government leaders are still planning to waste scarce funds for finding suitable grounds… Read more »

Rob Simoneau
4 years 4 days ago

“Reliability is indeed a red herring, as Vermont Yankee has one of the highest capacity factors in the US. The plant runs near rated output for 500 days, refuels and does major maintenance for 4 weeks with over 1,000 outside contractor personnel on the site, and then runs again near rated output for 500 days. It HAS to be reliable to able to do that. BTW: The US nuclear industry has the highest capacity factor of all nations.” From an operational point of view you are implying that capacity factor somehow translates into safety. Let us take Southwest airlines as… Read more »

3 years 11 months ago

Bob, The damage done to the US environment, the number of people killed and maimed, and damage to people’s health by the automobile industry during the past 40 years proves it is the most dangerous industry? Unsafe at any speed? A nuclear plant is safe, if operated by properly trained personnel and if proper O&M is performed and supervised by the resident NRC person, who is a nuclear engineer backed up by a staff of experts in the federal government. No state, including Vermont, has the expertise to judge what is safe and what is not. For that reason the… Read more »

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