House, Senate At Odds Over Decommissioning

04/21/10 7:34AM By John Dillon
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(Host) The Vermont House and Senate are at odds over a bill that would require Vermont Yankee to set aside money to restore the site after the reactor's life has ended.

It's not unusual to have disagreements between the two chambers. But as VPR's John Dillon reports, this dispute may have more to do with Yankee's future than its potential shutdown.

(Dillon) Let's try to decode what's happening in the Statehouse over the latest decommissioning bill. First, remember that over the last several years, the legislature passed - and the governor vetoed - bills that would have required Entergy Vermont Yankee to set aside tens of millions of dollars to dismantle the plant after its license expires.

But the governor backs the latest version. So do Entergy supporters in the House, where the bill passed unanimously. The bill is now in the Senate, where it's been referred to the rules committee - the legislative version of purgatory.

Senate President Peter Shumlin says there's not enough time to deal with the legislation this year.

(Shumlin) "I'm not going to ask any committees to look at it until we've passed all the other major bills of the session. It's just not realistic. So it's a tough hill for us to climb coming over this late and needing as much work as it does."

(Dillon) Shumlin says the bill is too weak. The legislation gives the company 20 years to come up with $20 million in a bond or line of credit to restore the site back to a green field that could be used for other purposes, such as a new power plant.

But why are Yankee supporters - like Governor Jim Douglas and Vernon Republican Patti O'Donnell - in favor of a bill that could cost Yankee money? O'Donnell says it's because this latest bill takes a different, less onerous approach.

(O'Donnell) "It actually sets up in statute what was agreed on by Entergy when they bought the plant. I don't have a problem with that."

(Dillon) The legislation is also seen by Yankee supporters as a key step to overturning the Senate's vote this winter that could force the plant to shut down when its license expires in 2012. Yankee's allies go through a checklist they say needs to be addressed before the Legislature re-considers that vote. The list includes stopping the radiation leaks, disciplining executives who misled the state, and canceling plans to spin off Yankee into a new corporation.

O'Donnell says the bill addresses the decommissioning question - another item on the checklist.

But Shumlin said the House bill does not solve the decommissioning problem. He said taxpayers could still get stuck footing some of the bill.

(Shumlin) "The House did good work. But to give them another 20 years to fill up a fund that they promised to fill up before doesn't win my confidence and probably doesn't win the confidence of most Vermonters.

(Dillon) But O'Donnell suggests that Shumlin's opposition may also have to do with his campaign for governor. His position on the bill lines up with many anti-Yankee activists, and could win him support in the Democratic primary.

(O'Donnell) "I really wish we could just get together and do the job, but I don't think that's going to happen. Unfortunately, it's an election year. And some people's elections are getting in the way of what needs to happen in the Statehouse."

(Dillon) Meanwhile, Democratic leaders in the House say if Shumlin and other senators feel the bill is too weak, then they should take the time to fix it.

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

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