Digger Tidbits: Yankee “impairment” hurts Entergy stocks; Speaker says budget bill will be stripped of unrelated amendments

Vermont Yankee
Vermont Yankee on the banks of the Connecticut River. Photo by Deborah Lazar/Special to The Commons

Entergy Corp. stock has dipped by almost a dollar per share in part because of an “impairment” in connection with the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

According to a an earnings report by the Louisiana-based company that owns Vermont’s only nuclear plant, actions by the state of Vermont to shut down the plant this year triggered quarterly evaluations by Entergy.

The company’s quarterly report shows that the Vermont Yankee asset impairment represented a $1.26 negative impact on earnings per share.

According to the company’s report, “A number of factors and inputs are used in the Vermont Yankee impairment evaluation, including the status of pending legal and state regulatory matters, as well as assumptions about future revenues and costs of the plant.”

The company is currently in litigation with the state in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Both Entergy and the state are appealing a lower court decision that found that two state laws requiring legislative approval for the plant to continue operating violated the U.S. Constitution.

The “impairment,” caused in part by legal wrangling with the state, does not change Entergy’s future outlook, according to its quarterly report.

“This impairment does not reflect a change in Entergy’s point of view of the economic value of the plant assuming continued operation through 2032, nor does it impact the company’s continued commitment to invest to assure safe operations of the plant, which is always the top priority,” the report states.

The report states that it also does not reflect a change in the company’s point of view on the legal and state regulatory proceedings surrounding the plant.

Entergy is also seeking a new license from the Vermont Public Service Board. Its state license expired March 21 along with its contracts with state utilities. The plant continues to operate while the proceeding continues. All the power is being sold out of state.

~Alan Panebaker

Scott scolds Senate for lack of decorum

Though Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell is the Senate leader, it’s Lt. Gov. Phil Scott who presides over the Senate Chamber.

And from his perch at the elaborate wood podium in the center of the Green Room, Scott has been the stoic arbiter of disputes in what by all accounts has been a contentious session.

But even Scott, who has been the voice of reason in the Senate, had enough on Friday morning. Senators at that point had worked through two back-to-back late nights and early morning calls. Tempers flared throughout the 12- to 14-hour floor debates. It wasn’t the first day that individual senators stood up to apologize for bad behavior.

“I want to voice my concern about the decorum of the Senate,” Scott said. “I’ve thought about it a lot. I know how frustrated, tired and irritable you are. Just because we disagree with someone reporting a bill or making a comment … or might be bored with what they say doesn’t mean we can interrupt them.”

The points of order, points of personal privilege, interruptions and amendments to amendments to amendments have been at an all-time high this year.

Scott said he tries to make points of order based on the rules of the Senate, not as a way to stifle the debate, “because I think it makes it harder in some ways.”

The debate on Thursday he said was healthy and good, but “I would ask you to remember we’re Vermonters first.”

“The Senate is a body that treats each other with respect,” Scott said. “I want to remind you of that … just remember who we are. We’re better than that.”

~Anne Galloway

Speaker says budget bill will be stripped of amendments

Speaker of the House Shap Smith Friday said he expected the budget legislation, which took on multiple unrelated amendments Thursday in the Senate, to be stripped back down in conference committee.

One Senate amendment would grant child-care providers the right to unionize and collectively bargain with state government.

“I made it clear that if [that amendment] came over on the budget, I would not be able to support it as part of the conference,” Smith said.

The lack of support, he said, is due to the way the legislation is presented, not a disagreement with its ideals.

“I believe it’s an issue of great importance for Vermonters, and I believe that should stand alone for an up or down vote or on a bill that actually deals with labor issues,” Smith said.

~Taylor Dobbs

House won’t budge on philosophical exemption

After the Senate approved a bill that would eliminate the philosophical exemption for children’s vaccines Monday, the legislation has been largely neutralized after it met resistance from the House.

The legislation was drafted in the Senate and would remove the philosophical exemption, which currently allows parents to let their children go unvaccinated if they have “philosophical convictions opposed to immunization.”

The Senate approved the bill, S.199, on Monday. The House voted to keep the exemption, which is utilized by about 350 families in the state. There are also exemptions for religion and for children with weak immune systems who are likely to have health complications from vaccines.

Rep. Michael Fisher, D-Addison, chair of the House Committee on Health Care, said the House agrees that immunization rates are a concern, but advocated a different approach.

“Given the numbers and given the level of concern,” Fisher said, “the house position is that we need to employ education and outreach.”

Sen. Kevin Mullin, who serves on the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and introduced the bill in the Senate, said public health should prevail.

Mullin said the House is “bending over backwards” to accommodate the concerns of the 350 families who use the exemption, and that the Senate was “amazed” public good doesn’t win out.

Fisher said the House has compromised on the issue, adding language that would suspend the philosophical exemption if immunization rates for certain diseases fell below 90 percent statewide. Senators advocated for school or school-district level monitoring and suspension, but the the House would not accept that plan.

“It’s the Senate’s turn to make a proposal or accept the house idea,” Fisher said in an interview.

It seems senators are taking the latter path; the conference committee is set to meet again Monday to discuss the House’s changes to a working group tasked by the legislation with studying how to best protect “immunocompromised students” who are put at risk by unvaccinated peers.

~Taylor Dobbs

Senate passes search and rescue study bill

The Vermont Senate today passed a version of a search and rescue reform bill that was developed by Sen. Vince Illuzzi, R/D-Essex-Orleans, in the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs. The Senate version differs significantly from H.794, the search and rescue bill which passed unanimously in the House last week, most notably by omitting interim search and rescue protocols and by calling for licensing of state emergency medical services providers. The Senate bill also calls for a smaller legislative study committee, and requires it to examine both search and rescue and emergency medical services.

Illuzzi said that a small legislative study committee will be best able to pull together the disparate volunteer search and rescue groups around the state, and that the interim protocols envisioned by the House search and rescue bill were unnecessary.

“Since the Vermont State Police already has modified its search and rescue protocols, now automatically alerting the local fire department of a potential search and rescue need, we felt that no interim law change is necessary,” Illuzzi said. “We would like to wait until the study recommendations are developed before enacting legislation.” He said examining both search and rescue protocols and emergency services licensing and organizational requirements will improve emergency services for Vermonters.

Members of the family of Levi Duclos — the 19-year-old hiker whose death from hypothermia on a popular hiking trail in Ripton this past January sparked public criticism of Vermont State Police search and rescue procedures — were present when the Senate bill passed. The family thanked the wide array of legislators, volunteer search and rescue personnel and other members of the public who have worked to speed legislation through the House and Senate since Levi’s death.

The family’s support, however, is for the House version of the search and rescue bill.

“The House bill not only sets up interim protocols, thereby not leaving those decisions to the VSP, but also defines a new Incident Command System and mandates assessing, utilizing and training resources,” said Kathy Duclos, Levi’s aunt. “None of these things will happen for at least another year if the language in the House bill, H.794, is not utilized in the final bill. It would be a shame to not make use of this well-researched and thoughtful bill.”

The legislation will now move to conference committee where members of the House and Senate will resolve differences between the two versions. Rep. Willem Jewett, D-Addison, is optimistic that action will be taken before the legislative session closes. He said the support of the Duclos family and friends for the more extensive House bill “will position us well in any negotiations that may be necessary with the Senate.”

~Cindy Ellen Hill

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 7:27 a.m. April 28. Correction: Sen. Mullin is a member of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, not the chair, as previously reported.

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  • Walter Carpenter

    Taylor: Senator Mullin does not chair the senate health and welfare committee. Senator Claire Ayer chairs that committee. Mullin is the vice-chair.