Yankee At Center Of Dueling Media Campaigns

02/23/10 7:34AM By John Dillon
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(Host) A public relations campaign is under way as the Senate gets ready to vote this week on the future of Vermont Yankee.

Entergy has launched radio ads and enlisted allies in the business community in an effort to stop the vote. Opponents of the plant are on TV with ads saying it should be retired on schedule when its license expires in two years.

VPR's John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) Like any political campaign, Entergy is using surrogates to make its arguments. Here's John O'Kane, a lobbyist for IBM, at a Statehouse news conference urging the Senate to delay the Yankee vote.

(O'Kane) "Why the rush? If we're doing this thinking this is a way of scoring some political points and it doesn't really matter, we're wrong. This is a decision that will have consequences."

(Dillon) That sounds a lot like the radio ad Entergy launched this week.

(Entergy Ad) "The Vermont state Senate is attempting to prevent the Public Service Board from doing its job. Why the rush to judgment? This could have dramatic consequences for Vermonters."

(Dillon) The campaign on both sides is focused on a very small group of people - the 30 members of the Senate. But like any political contest, both sides are trying to boil the debate down to a simple image or message.

Entergy and its supporters say the Legislature is putting the state's energy future at risk by taking Yankee out of the picture.

A TV ad from the Vermont Public Interest Research Group raises another kind of risk. The ad features Seth Gardner, an East Montpelier dairy farmer.

(VPIRG ad) "So on the farm, I have a lot of pieces of equipment. And as equipment gets old and unreliable, unsafe, I retire it. The same thing with a nuclear reactor. It's unsafe, unreliable, it's leaking radiation, it's time to retire it. And I do not want to get stuck with the clean-up bill."

(Dillon) VPIRG is also paying for Internet ads that pop up when a user searches the web for Vermont Yankee issues. VPIRG energy policy director James Moore says the ads are aimed at getting the public more involved.

(Moore) "What we're doing with our ad campaign is encouraging Vermonters to make their voices heard in Montpelier. This is democracy, and it doesn't work if we leave it up to the corporate interests to run the show."

(Dillon) Yankee spokesman Larry Smith says the company first wants the vote delayed until several reports are finished - including one that looks at Yankee's reliability now that officials have disclosed the plant has underground pipes leaking radioactivity.

But ultimately, Smith says, Yankee wants the Public Service Board to decide the plant's future.

(Smith) "Our message is to urge a yes vote by the Senate in order to get this matter before the Public Service Board, which has always been our goal. They have the expertise on utility matters."

(Dillon) Neither VPIRG nor Vermont Yankee has disclosed how much they're spending on the ad campaign.

For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.

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