Editor of the Reformer:
Having been an attorney, economist, public utility employee and energy utility expert for over 35 years, I know the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), its issues and methods well. Their agenda is often inflexible, dogmatic and consistent. As a regulator, their participation in a case can be a complicating nuisance. However, in their continued opposition to the Vermont Yankee clean up, Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and liability transfer, they are correct.
In a recent Reformer article, "Conservation Law Foundation Details Concerns About Vermont Yankee Sale" the four points they raise are not obstructionist, wild-eyed or nit-picking. They are sobering and valid. The money necessary to satisfactorily complete a decommissioning are mindbogglingly large. Any financial statements detailing the expenses are probably rounded to the tens-of-millions so they will fit on multipage-spreadsheets of small print. Any numbers known only to the signatories of the potential contracts may seem sufficient to them now, but rest assured that any clear financial responsibilities promised towards cleanup will be inadequate in the future. That's why the promises for tomorrow matter today. The devil is not only in the details, it's whether there is genuine ability to keep those future financial promises. Promises are great, but once given, deals signed and sealed, they are worth only the BTU content of the paper they are written on. No blood out of a turnip; no money out of a bankrupt.
When the CLF warns that the promisors have not demonstrated that they are sufficiently capitalized to honor their future promises, we should perk up our ears and listen carefully. When the CLF cites the lack of proof that the promisors have the future ability to keep their promises, the hair on your neck should stand up. Then, when the promisors and the MOU signers tell us and the CLF that you can only look at the actual contract if you don't tell anyone what you see, that's when we all need to get out of our easy chairs and stand straight up.
As a State Hearing Officer and Commission legal advisor, I wrote dozens of these protective orders for sealed documents. They can contain genuine trade secrets of the Coke Formula type. More often they were merely embarrassing or innocuous. The legal standard is supposed to be whether making something open to the public hurts the secret holder more than it benefits the public. All "ties" goes to making information public. Mold doesn't grow in the clear light air. Except for personal customer information like names and addresses, I always recommended not to keep secrets for at least two reasons. The first is the public's right to know. What's the real harm? The second was that secrets breed suspicion. On both these counts, the contracts should see the light. Either there's "nothing here to see, so move along folks" or the boogie man under the bed fear that some skullduggery is afoot is unfounded. If there's nothing to see and no skeletons to hide, what's the problem? I suspect skeletons in the closeted contract. There is just too much money involved to actually want people to know what's what.
As I've said earlier, CLF can be a pain. The money involved can be on the national debt level. Secrets are usually proposed for bad reasons. CLF is offering Vermont a hand getting up. We may be the last one standing. Vermont may end up holding a great big steaming bag of radioactive regrets; woulda, shoulda, coulda, but didn't-duh.
Wayne Vernon Estey
Democratic Candidate Vermont State Senate, Windham County
Brattleboro, April 21