Vt. ready for legal action by Yankee


BRATTLEBORO -- If Entergy continues to operate Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant past March 21, 2012, the state will be ready to enforce its laws.

"We are not going to sit on our hands and let Vermont law be ignored," said Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell in a telephone interview with the Reformer.

Sorrell said he and his staff have already met a number of times to prepare for whatever legal action might be necessary if Entergy, which owns and operates the plant, ignores the state's refusal to issue a certificate of public good for continued operation of Yankee.

"We are prepared for any eventuality," he said.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently issued a new 20-year license that allows the plant to continue to operate until 2032.

However, when Entergy bought Yankee in 2002, it agreed it would abide by the Vermont Public Service Board's decision on whether it would issue a certificate of public good, which is required to operate a utility in the state.

In 2006, the Legislature passed Act 160, which gave itself the power to forbid the PSB from issuing the certificate.

In January 2010, the Senate voted 26 to 4 against its issuance. The House of Representatives didn't take up the issue and doesn't appear likely to do so during this legislative session.

Entergy could file in federal court for a declaratory ruling prior to March 2012, or prior to the October refueling of the reactor, contesting Vermont is trying to pre-empt the NRC's decision. Or Entergy could continue to operate Yankee and wait for the state to sue it to shut the plant down.

What Entergy might or might not do is not known.

"We have no comment on possible litigation," said Larry Smith, spokesman for Yankee.

"We've been of the view that Entergy was going to be suing us and we would be defending the law, but it's seeming more likely that they might not be filing a suit against us," said Sorrell.

He added that Entergy's intentions might become clearer when the refueling begins -- or doesn't begin -- in October.

"Refueling could be taken as another indicator that they are expecting to be here for the long haul," said Sorrell.

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Filing suit or defending Act 160 in court could be quite expensive for the state, but Gov. Peter Shumlin said Vermont will take whatever actions are necessary to enforce its laws.

"As governor, my job is to enforce the law," he said, adding the state will find the money necessary to defend its laws in court. "We will always make the resources available to insure that corporations are held to the same standard as our citizens are and obey our laws."

Shumlin, who was Senate President Pro Tem at the time the Senate voted against the plant's continued operation, voted in the majority and has not changed his position since becoming governor.

Shumlin also questioned whether Entergy, a publicly traded company, would actually flout the state's laws.

"They are a very profitable company that does business in lots of other states," he said. "It's hard for me to believe that a publicly traded company can break the laws and still be trusted in other states or by Wall Street. "If Entergy wants to join Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and others in breaking laws, they do so at their own peril."

Shumlin said that Entergy not only signed off in 2002 on the memorandum of understanding stating it would abide by the PSB's decision, it also publicly supported Act 160 while it was being discussed.

"They would have to go before a judge and say ‘We didn't tell the truth, again, when we agreed to comply with Vermont law.' That's a pretty tough sell to a judge."

Pat Parenteau, professor of law and senior counsel at the Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School told the Reformer the state may not have to sue Entergy to force it to shut Yankee down.

Instead, the PSB might be able to order Vermont Electric Company, which transmits Yankee's electricity to Vermont and the New England grid, to not accept power from the plant.

Because Velco's switchyard is in Vermont, it also requires a certificate of public good to operate and the PSB might have the power to modify the certificate to keep Velco from transmitting Yankee's power.

A spokesman for Velco said he could not comment on what the PSB or Velco might do if Entergy keeps the plant online past March 21, 2012.

A spokeswoman from ISO-New England, which distributes power throughout the region, also could not comment on actions not yet taken.

A spokesman from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said it could not determine what power FERC might have in this situation unless it had a filing that it could review.

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


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