by Meredith Angwin
In my opinion, Governor Shumlin doesn’t want to shut down Vermont Yankee. He just wants to look as if he wants to shut down Vermont Yankee.
My reasoning is below.
In January, in federal court, Judge Murtha ruled that Vermont was attempting to shut down Vermont Yankee on the grounds of nuclear safety, and regulating nuclear safety is a federal prerogative. Entergy had argued its case by showing many situations in which the state legislators spoke about nuclear safety, sometimes with the ironic comment that they couldn’t say the “s-word” so they would have to call it “reliability.”
Cavan Stone wrote a blog post on this “s-word” business The Control-H Defense. You use control-H to substitute one word for another. Do the substitution, and you aren’t regulating safety at all. You changed the word.
(You can read Judge Murtha’s decision and related material on this page of the Energy Education Project. )
Cherry-picking safety statements
In the Vermont brief that appealed Murtha’s ruling, Vermont claimed that the judge had cherry-picked a few things a couple of legislators had said. From those few statements, Murtha had decided Vermont was attempting to regulate nuclear safety. Vermont claimed it wasn’t interested in regulating nuclear safety. A few legislators were out of hand…said things they shouldn’t have said, maybe…no big deal. Vermont wasn’t attempting to regulate nuclear safety. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Governor Peter Shumlin Vermont claims that it wants to shut down Vermont Yankee in order to build renewables (yes, you read that right). The desire to shut down Vermont Yankee is all about renewables, and nothing about safety. That is the main message in Vermont’s appeal brief. I discuss this in my post: It’s the Renewables, Stupid. Vermont Files a Brief.
Clearly, with the federal appeal coming up, Vermont is being extra-careful. The state wants to be sure that nothing it does could give the impression that that the state is trying to regulate on the basis of nuclear safety. Right?
Nothing could be further from the truth.
After all, the election is coming up faster than the court case, and the election is more important to Governor Shumlin.
The Department of Public Service and the NRC
Vermont is trying its hardest to look as if it is regulating nuclear safety.
Liz Miller, the Shumlin-appointed head of the Department of Public Service (DPS), recently joined a lawsuit by an intervenor. The DPS and the intervenor sued the NRC, claiming that NRC had granted Vermont Yankee’s license extension improperly, because of a water quality permit issue. DPS and the intervenor lost the suit.
After they lost the suit, Miller asked the NRC to increase their oversight of Vermont Yankee until the NRC begins to regulate nuclear safety to DPS standards. DPS thinks Vermont Yankee needs more oversight.
The NRC turned her down, though someone from NRC came to Vermont to explain to her how the NRC does business. You can read about this in my blog post about VSNAP, in the section on the Panel and the Plant, and in the Brattleboro Reformer article: NRC says Vermont Yankee doesn’t need increased oversight.
I really tried. I did. I tried. Now, vote for me.
A victory for Vermont in court will depend on Vermont proving that it had no intention of regulating nuclear safety. It seems absurd to me that Vermont would join lawsuits against the NRC, insist the NRC isn’t doing enough oversight, and so forth…while simultaneously trying to prove in court that the state has no interest in controlling or regulating nuclear safety. If they want to win in court, the state’s actions can most simply be described as “counter-productive.”
In my opinion, however, Shumlin is going for his own kind of win-win. Win the election by appealing to the part of his party that wants Vermont Yankee shut down. Win the election by keeping the Progressive Party on his side, by showing how hard he is trying to shut down Vermont Yankee. Every time you look around, there is his DPS, trying to protect everyone from the inadequate federal regulation of nuclear safety.
At the same time, the DPS is taking actions that will probably assure the state will lose in court, or at least, these actions will increase the probability it will lose.
So Shumlin will have his cake and eat it too. Win-win. He wins the election. He convinces everyone he is trying to shut down Vermont Yankee. But Vermont Yankee keeps operating! Not his fault, he tried, but in the meantime, it stays as a source of tax revenue for the state, and a source of employment in Windham County and neighboring regions. Win-win for Shumlin.
He tried. He may succeed. Win the election, lose the court case. Win-win for Shumlin. In my opinion, at least.
This will another blog post. Vermont Yankee recently sued the state again, this time because the state increased its generation tax by about seven million dollars a year. I will cover this later, it’s another subject. But I couldn’t write “a source of tax revenue for the state” without mentioning this.