Editor’s note: This article was first published by The Commons.
BRATTLEBORO—U.S. District Court Judge J. Garvan Murtha heard opening arguments from the state and from Entergy attorneys on Monday morning in a trial that could decide the fate of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power station in Vernon.
Entergy Corp., owner of Vermont’s only nuclear plant, filed suit against the state in April, claiming legislators had pre-empted the federal government’s authority by trying to regulate radiological safety.
Their lead attorney, Kathleen Sullivan, stressed that point in her presentation, calling the state’s concerns about reliability and economic impacts “pretexts for nuclear safety.”
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) extended VY’s operating license for another 20 years in March. Vermont, however, requires nuclear plants to obtain a Certificate of Public Good (CPG) from the Public Service Board (PSB) to operate.
In February 2010, the Vermont Senate voted 26-4 against awarding VY a CPG, citing its authority under Act 160, a 2006 law that effectively gives the Legislature veto power over the continued operation of the plant. Without a new CPG, says the state, VY must close when its current 40-year operating license expires in March 2012.
Assistant Attorney General Scott Kline, who is leading the state’s legal team, contended that the case is really about whether Entergy will live up to the agreements it made with the state when it purchased VY in 2002 — mainly, not to challenge the state’s authority regarding non-safety issues at the plant.
“This case is really about honoring commitments,” he said.
After opening arguments, Murtha heard from two of Entergy’s witnesses.
One of the witnesses, Vice President for Power Marketing Marc Potkin, said he was pressured by the state to offer a favorable price of VY’s electricity to Vermont’s utilities as a condition of getting a CPG.
Potkin said that the 2010 Senate vote — which on the heels of revelations of tritium leaks from underground pipes that plant officials said didn’t exist — influenced the power purchase agreement talks. He also said that the electric utilities wouldn’t sign an agreement until Entergy sold the plant.
Also on the stand was President, CEO, and Chief Nuclear Officer John Herron.
Before proceedings began on Monday morning, there were dueling vigils in support of, as well as opposition to, keeping Vermont Yankee open another 20 years.
Representatives from the Ethan Allen Institute’s Energy Education Project, the American Nuclear Society Vermont Pilot Project, and the Coalition for Energy Solutions organized the pro-VY vigil, while the Safe and Green Campaign sponsored what they called “a vigil to support the state of Vermont” in its legal fight against Entergy.