Environmentalists Say Groundwater Ruling Will Impact Vermont Yankee

03/04/11 7:34AM By John Dillon
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(Host) Environmentalists say that a recent court ruling on groundwater protection has implications for a case involving Vermont Yankee.

As VPR's John Dillon reports, the court ruled that the state has to protect groundwater quality when it reviews pollution permits.

(Dillon) Late last month, the Environmental Court ordered the state to reopen a solid waste permit for the Omya Corporation. The company quarries marble and converts it to calcium carbonate where it's used in everything from paint to toothpaste.

Local residents challenged the solid waste permit because they were concerned pollutants would reach groundwater.

Environmental Court Judge Merideth Wright said the state has to consider the impact of the company's waste disposal practices on the state's groundwater resources.

Kim Greenwood is the staff scientist with the Vermont Natural Resources Council, a statewide environmental group. She said Wright's ruling is the first to interpret a 2008 state law that says groundwater - like the state's rivers and streams - should be held in public trust for all Vermonters.

(Greenwood) "I think the implications of this decision are huge, as they should be, because this decision recognizes that the public trust applies not only to groundwater quantity but also to groundwater quality."

(Dillon) Greenwood says that the court ruling has direct bearing on arguments that VNRC has made about radiation leaks at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. The leaks have contaminated groundwater with tritium, an isotope of hydrogen.

(Greenwood) "What we said in Vermont Yankee was that was that groundwater is a public trust resource and that you can't discharge a pollutant to the groundwater without a permit and that Vermont Yankee doesn't have a permit, and that Vermont protects its groundwater resources using the public trust and that Vermont Yankee has violated that because of the discharge and this decision validates that position."

(Dillon) A spokesman for Entergy Vermont Yankee said it was too soon to consider the impact of the court's ruling. Mike Twomey is an Entergy vice president for external affairs.

(Twomey) "I haven't read the decision to see whether there's any implication from that decision on what we're dealing with at the plant. But I can tell you this: We have been very aggressive in dealing with the tritium situation at Vermont Yankee. There's been no public health and safety effects as a result of what we've been dealing with. We have pumped more than 300,000 gallons of tritiated water out of the ground."

(Dillon) VNRC made its arguments about Vermont Yankee in a Public Service Board case involving the tritium leaks. The board just wrapped up hearings on the issue. And Kim Greenwood of VNRC says she now expects that the Environmental Court decision will be brought to the board's attention.

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

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