Tuesday June 25, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- A motion by Entergy Vermont Yankee to limit discussion of the impacts of the nuclear power plant's operation on the Connecticut River in hearings before the Vermont Public Service Board was scuttled on June 19.

The PSB is currently reviewing Entergy's application for a new certificate of public good, issuance of which would allow Yankee to continue operating until 2032. Yankee's previous CPG expired on March 21, 2012, but because of litigation filed against the state by Entergy, the PSB is allowing Yankee to continue operating under the old certificate.

Yankee is also operating with a Clean Water Act permit that expired on 2006; Entergy's application for a new National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit has been under review since 2005.

Though the Environmental Protection Agency issues regulations and minimum standards as part of the National Environmental Protection Act, Vermont has been delegated authority to enforce the standards, and can even write standards that are tougher than those issued by the federal government.

The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources has been reviewing Entergy's NPDES application, but has been delayed by legal maneuvering and the EPA's issuance of updated regulations related to the best technology available to limit impacts on river water.

In November 2012, Entergy submitted a motion to the PSB contending the board had no jurisdiction to consider impacts on the river as that was under the purview of ANR.

On June 19, the board denied Entergy's motion.

Noting Vermont law allows for concurrent jurisdictions, the board wrote that even though ANR previously found Yankee does not present "an undue adverse impact upon the environment," the board must consider whether the plant's operation is in the best interests of the state and its residents.

One such consideration is how the power plant's operation is affecting the river, noted the board.

Continued ownership and operation of Yankee "will result in continuing thermal discharges from the VY Station into the Connecticut River, which have the potential to affect water quality," wrote the board.

Yankee withdraws millions of gallons of water from the river to cool its reactor. While the water is not contaminated with radioactivity during the cooling process, it is returned to the river at temperatures approaching 100 degrees. On particularly warm days, the plant is prohibited from discharging heated water into the river and must rely on its twin banks of cooling fans to cool the reactor.

Because the Public Service Board has the authority to review the environmental effects of Yankee during its certificate hearing process, it has jurisdiction to consider water quality impacts on the river, noted the board in its June 19 ruling.

While ANR is responsible for implementing environmental laws, noted the board, "The Board's review is much broader ... Consideration of water quality and other environmental impacts, and compliance with the environmental laws, are factors in the decision, not necessarily the deciding issues."

Entergy also raised the contention that the board's review of water quality issues is barred by federal law, implying the board's approval would be the same as the issuance of a NPDES permit. The PSB found no support for Entergy's "broad assertion."

"The Clean Water Act itself does not limit the board's jurisdiction," wrote the board, and contains provisions protecting a state's jurisdiction over waters within its boundaries.

Even the Agency of Natural Resources has encouraged the PSB to consider "whether there is an undue adverse environmental impact" as part of its certificate hearings, noted the June 19 ruling.

"The Board is also mindful that Entergy VY's claims arise in the context of an expired NPDES permit," noted the ruling. "Here, the permit has been expired fro more than seven years. The evidence on which it was based was older."

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.