Former state regulator now an Entergy ally

Department of Public Service Commissioner Elizabeth Miller announces the release of the final version of the state's Comprehensive Energy Plan. VTD/Josh Larkin
Department of Public Service Commissioner Elizabeth Miller announces the release of the final version of the state’s Comprehensive Energy Plan. VTD/Josh Larkin

Entergy has found an unlikely ally in its quest to sell Vermont Yankee, and some anti-nuclear activists aren’t happy about it.

Elizabeth Miller – formerly an Entergy adversary in two prominent roles in state government – now is listed among the attorneys representing the company as it seeks state Public Service Board permission to sell the defunct Vernon plant to a New York-based cleanup specialist.

Miller, who’s now a private attorney in Burlington, confirmed her role in the sale proceeding but said she doesn’t comment on client retentions. And an Entergy Vermont Yankee spokesman said the company, as a matter of policy, would have no comment on the matter.

But some Entergy critics wonder whether Miller’s deep and recent involvement in Vermont Yankee regulatory affairs could give the company an important advantage in the Public Service Board’s upcoming deliberations.

“She has been hired because the hope is that, with the kind of influence she had in the Shumlin administration, she’ll be able to grease the wheels in the sale to NorthStar,” said Deb Katz, Citizens Awareness Network executive director.

“We are very concerned about, basically, the dog and pony show that Entergy and NorthStar are creating to make this look like a really great deal for the state of Vermont,” Katz added.

Both Entergy and NorthStar Group Services Inc., the plant’s potential buyer, are touting the proposed sale as a win for Windham County and the state.

Entergy stopped power production at Vermont Yankee two years ago and had been planning to use the SAFSTOR method of cleanup, which would have allowed decommissioning to take up to 60 years.

NorthStar, however, is pledging to finish decommissioning and site restoration on most of the property by 2030 and possibly as early as 2026.

The sale requires approval from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the state Public Service Board. Entergy and NorthStar filed their state paperwork Dec. 16, kicking off what’s expected to be a long permitting process.

Among that paperwork is a notice of appearance from Miller, who’s representing three Entergy corporate entities involved in the transaction.

Miller was working as a private attorney six years ago when then Gov.-elect Peter Shumlin appointed her to lead the state Public Service Department, which is tasked with representing the public interest in matters including energy and telecommunications.

Shumlin was a prominent Vermont Yankee opponent both before and after he became governor, and Miller’s role included advocating for the state’s positions during a tumultuous time that included tritium leaks and an extended relicensing battle.

In November 2012, Miller became Shumlin’s chief of staff. She was succeeded at the Public Service Department by Chris Recchia, who has been a central figure in the Vermont Yankee decommissioning debate.

Miller left state government in May 2015.

Her renewed involvement in state energy issues is not out of sync with statements she made in a 2012 interview. At the time, Miller indicated that she had no issues with cross-pollination between the public and private sectors.

“I think the government is well-served by pulling in individuals who have had private sector experience and vice versa,” she said.

Nor does her new role appear to conflict with Shumlin’s Executive Code of Ethics, which governs the actions of appointed state officials both during and after their time in office.

For one year after leaving, that code says, a former appointee cannot “for pecuniary gain, be an advocate for any private entity before any public body or before the state Legislature or its committees regarding any particular matter in which the appointee had exercised any official responsibility.”

Miller is well beyond that one-year time frame.

Nonetheless, some are less than comfortable with her role in such a critical Public Service Board case.

Clay Turnbull, a trustee and staffer with the Brattleboro-based New England Coalition, decried a “revolving door” between government and business in Vermont. He believes that the influence arising from such close relations may stifle the work of an advocacy group like his own.

“It is a concern to us because our experience has been, in recent years, that a decision has been made before a docket even begins,” Turnbull said. “And some of that (happens) because there’s a revolving door.”

Turnbull said Miller’s prior knowledge and experience as a state official in Vermont Yankee matters “might give her an edge or a leg up over other intervenors” in this case.

He also wondered whether Entergy could benefit from Miller’s history as a face of the Shumlin administration’s renewable energy policies. She was “very much associated with clean energy, progressive thinking,” Turnbull said.

Entergy and NorthStar executives have characterized the Vermont Yankee sale proposal as a progressive, first-of-its-kind solution to nuclear cleanup. But Katz isn’t buying it, and she’s worried that the deal will go through without proper scrutiny.

“The danger is that this will turn into a dirty and cheap cleanup,” she said.

Katz said she’s not convinced that NorthStar has the expertise or resources to do the job right. NorthStar hasn’t specifically done this type of decomissioning job before, although the company has worked on smaller reactors and larger fossil fuel plants and also plans to partner at Vermont Yankee with a Paris-based nuclear specialist.

“This is an experiment,” Katz said. “And the state has to decide whether they’re willing to risk an experiment going on in Vermont.”

Attorneys like Miller will be attempting to refute such arguments in the coming months. Also joining in that effort will be Anthony Iarrapino, a Montpelier attorney who said he’s working on “communications and outreach efforts” – not direct legal representation – for NorthStar.

Iarrapino’s new role could be seen as a departure given his previous environmental advocacy work as a Conservation Law Foundation attorney.

But Iarrapino draws a direct line between his concern for the environment and NorthStar’s plan to accelerate Vermont Yankee decommissioning.

“I would say that the work that I have done in the past … has been aimed at a positive outcome like this since Entergy announced the closure of Vermont Yankee,” he said. “I’m excited to be working with NorthStar because the company has an exemplary record of completing big decommissioning projects.”

If you read us, please support us.

Comment Policy requires that all commenters identify themselves by their authentic first and last names. Initials, pseudonyms or screen names are not permissible.

No personal harrassment, abuse, or hate speech is permitted. Comments should be 1000 characters or fewer.

We moderate every comment. Please go to our FAQ for the full policy.

Mike Faher

Recent Stories

Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "Former state regulator now an Entergy ally"
  • Bob Zeliff

    I am disappointed and disturbed about Elisabeth Miller’s taking on this role. It is clearly all about money on her part. She is unabashedly leveraging her past Government role for her personal profit.

    I am also disturbed that NorthStar’s strategy is to immediately hire a highly political lawyer. This does not speak well of their confidence in a straight up vetting of their proposal.

    While I like Northstar’s clean up goals and time line, I remain highly skeptical that they have the means, skills and resource to complete a job of this scale.

    REMEMBER…if they go bankrupt…..Vermonters will be holding the bag of doing what ever is left. $$$$$$$

    Entergy will have escaped liability….some thing they have tried to do in the past, remember their undercapitalize shell company they wanted to set up.

    • “It is all about the money on her part.” Bob Zeliff tells us.

      Zeliff then goes on to say “I am also disturbed that NorthStar’s strategy is to immediately hire a highly political lawyer.” Speaking of “hiring a highly political lawyer”, does Zeliff remember David Blittersdorf hiring a lawyer from House Speaker Shap Smith’s law firm? Also, lets not forget that this same lawyer then made allegations to the AG that Annette Smth was improperly practicing law in an attempt to stop her important advocacy work.

      Willem Post along with many many others have been telling us that the entire Shumlin energy policy and the ensuing development of industrial wind and solar is all about the money.

      Sadly, Vermont’s recent energy polices have been determined by political connections and the money…….it didn’t start with Ms. Miller.

      Today, Bob Zeliff belatedly speaks up on the realities that have dominated energy policy under Gov. Shumlin’s tenure. He isn’t telling us anything new.

      • Bob Zeliff

        So your point is since some one on Shap Smith’s law ferm worked for an energy company it is ok for Elisabeth Miller, herself!!! to do it!! OK?

        Talk about twisted over reaching logic!!!

      • Randy Koch

        Speaking of Annette Smith, she was recently hailed by the Freeps as Vermonter of the Year an honor that Ann Galloway, intrepid vtdigger honcho, was also nominated for but passed over. Did I miss something or did digger ignore this award?.

  • The state of Vermont needs to implement a code of ethics for state employees leaving government to go to work for private industry. I am so sick of the “revolving door” that
    these government employees use to benefit themselves after working for the state.

    • Kathy Leonard

      Vermont’s hat rack is full of black and white chapeaus. We desperately need meaningful ethics requirements for legislators and administration. (Maybe VTDigger will consider creating an organizational-type chart showing how the various players resurface..that would be most helpful). And lawyers choose whether to be hired guns, advocates or public servants but in practice some of them more closely resemble paid lobbyists.

    • Tom Grout

      This needs to be extended in the education field on a local level. Ex or retired teachers run for schoolboard and when elected increase the union benefit package.Give a couple of years and next thing you know these same teacher-schoolboard members become the substitute, special or music teacher.

  • George Paine

    Contrary to the negative comments provided, why shouldn’t anyone, even Entergy, hire an attorney that knows very well how the system works?
    “Turnbull said Miller’s prior knowledge and experience as a state official in Vermont Yankee matters “might give her an edge or a leg up over other intervenors” in this case.”

    If Ms. Miller’s influence is still that strong, perhaps the intervenors should have retained her.
    The Public Service Board still has the vote.

    VT politics aside, of more importance (from a Nuclear QA perspective gleaned from 35 yrs in the industry), is the Independent Oversight of NorthStar during D&D with Entergy out of the picture as well as NorthStar taking over the license and performing the long-term operational control of the Spent Fuel. Since the decommissioning of the Zion plant has been used as an example, it should be noted for that project the Utility will retain control and responsibility for the Spent Fuel.

  • Isn’t it Clever how State Employees can make these jumps…..Where is the Left? There is absolutely no ethics in Vermont State government. Look at the EB5 mess, all the State “Regulators jumped like Rats from a sinking ship.

    • Well stated Steve…..seems there is very little ethics involved in many of our elected state officials……and out lawmakers can’t even get it together to have an ETHICS COMMITTEE.

      • walter moses

        What did Senator White say about an ethics committee? ” no that’s not going to happen”. Yet she was reelected. Sad

  • Lester French

    Anything to stir up the Anti’s. Katz has a stirling record of protesting anything related to nuclear power, truth, facts and objective are irrelevant. Instead of working to improve safety, economics and reduce polution the results of their activities result in the opposite.