Friday November 2, 2012

Next week, we the people will get to express ourselves to our government. In addition to the partial value of exercising our right to vote on Tuesday, a more direct chance to exercise citizen clout will be on the following day in Vernon, where the Public Service Board will be holding public hearings about the continuing operation of the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor.

The PSB is one state entity left standing after Entergy Nuclear’s assault on Vermont in the Federal court system. To continue operating, the Vernon reactor still needs the PSB to issue a Certificate of Public Good. The CPG is in abeyance at the moment, caught in the tangle of judge Garvin Murtha’s ruling in Entergy’s successful suit that has challenged our state government’s right to have any say at all about continued reactor operation.

In spite of the delay and uncertainty caused by Murtha’s ruling, the PSB has re-opened its hearings on the CPG, hearing testimony from various entities. On Nov. 7 they want Vermonters to tell them directly what we think about Entergy wanting operate the VY reactor for another twenty years (or more) beyond its design life, all the while accumulating additional tons of high-level radioactive waste on site. The PSB is basically charged with ensuring that the utilities that operate in the state do so without harming Vermonters. Whether they are adjudicating rate increase requests, permitting energy development projects or re-certifying nuclear reactors, they are to be mindful of the expressed will and policies of the state legislative and executive branches. They also pay attention to public testimony and this is where we can all play a role.

As was the state legislature, the PSB is constrained from considering arguments concerning radiological safety. (This issue has been pre-empted by the Federal government and given to the NRC to bungle.) But there are a large number of issues that citizens can raise at this hearing that will be pertinent and will help to inform the board’s decision.

One of the PSB’s primary concerns is the reliability of nuclear power generation. Entergy’s repeated accidents, missing fuel rods, collapsed cooling towers, or renegade radiation riding the interstates on flat bed trailers do nothing to instill confidence for future operations. Coupled with Entergy’s tendency to fix problems on the cheap, rather than to fix them right, it makes an argument that future reliability will only decrease as the plant gets older and the problems become more serious.

Environmental concerns are within the purview of the state and VY raises a number of them. In order to increase profit, Entergy is raising the temperature of Connecticut River by using its water to cool operations; rather than face the actual (more expensive) cost of cooling, Entergy would prefer that, along with the people of New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont, even the fish do their fair share to help the corporation increase their profit margin. Along with the higher water temperatures come the occasional leak of one radioactive substance or another. We’re supposed to pretend that there is no safety risk, but we can point out the obvious environmental hazards.

Vermonters could tell the board how Entergy’s behavior towards the state has affected us as sovereign citizens. Is it in the public good for a corporation to lie, bully, show contempt, and repeatedly sue the state when it can’t get what it wants? Entergy has shown that if it couldn’t buy our approval, then it will bludgeon us to get its way. How is it in the public good to launch an assault on the commonweal of Vermont. How is it in the public good to have our coffers drained as our representatives struggle in the Federal courts to maintain state sovereignty?

The issues are many and complicated. On Monday, Nov. 5, the Safe and Green campaign will hold a free, catered dinner and forum about the upcoming PSB hearings. Information will be shared and questions taken. Learning factual information about the operation of VY goes a long way in being able to make a cogent and compelling case about your opinion. The dinner will be at 6 p.m. at the Center Congregational Church, 196 Main St., in Brattleboro. RSVP at safeandgreencampaign@gmail.com.

The PSB hearing will be at the Vernon Elementary School at 7 p.m., where you can make your comments directly to the board. On Monday, Nov. 19, the PSB will take comments from the public via Vermont Interactive Television. If you can’t make either of those hearings, you can send your comments directly to the PSB through their website or by posting a letter. All too often, public hearings by regulators are like the dog and pony shows the NRC usually conduct. They defend industry’s practices, they deflect criticism, they ignore difficult questions, and they wonder why no one takes them seriously. The upcoming PSB public hearings are a chance to voice your opinion to a body that actually has significant power to decide the future of the VY reactor. When you express your opinion to this board, you can at least rest assured that they are there to act in the public interest and will listen to your words. Even if we despair at the corporate assault on democratic principles nationally, we can at least take meaningful action closer to home.

Dan DeWalt writes from Newfane. He is also a contributor to www.thiscantbehappening.net.