Legislature Wants Entergy To Pay State’s Legal Bills

05/04/11 7:34AM By John Dillon
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(Host) Later this week, a federal judge in Brattleboro will hold the first hearing in Entergy Vermont Yankee's legal challenge against the state of Vermont.

The litigation may take years to resolve - and it is likely to be very expensive. But now the legislature plans to make Entergy pay the state's legal bills.

VPR's John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) The hearing on Thursday before U-S District Judge J. Garvan Murtha concerns the timing of the case. Entergy wants to operate Vermont Yankee for another 20 years, and the company wants a quick ruling on its request to bar the state from enforcing Vermont law. That law says that unless the Legislature gives its approval, the plant should be closed when its current license expires next spring.

The case has already reverberated around the Statehouse. With state officials as defendants in the complex litigation, House Speaker Shap Smith warned lawmakers to hold on to all their emails and letters concerning Entergy Vermont Yankee.

(Smith) "Members must preserve and should not delete. Let me emphasize that: should not delete, any written or electronic documents related to Entergy Nuclear or the Vermont Yankee site. If the body or the members fail to comply with this request for a document hold, the court may impose penalties."

(Dillon) Entergy's case hinges on the concept of federal "pre-emption." The company says that federal law trumps a Vermont statute that says Yankee has to get permission from the Public Service Board and the Legislature to operate until 2032. 

At one level, the issue is about state's rights. And legal observers predict that this suit could be appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Litigation of this kind can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. But lawmakers say they've found a way to make Entergy foot the state's legal bills.

(Klein) "My take on the lawsuit is that they're telling the state of Vermont that the state of Vermont is irrelevant."

(Dillon) East Montpelier Democrat Tony Klein chairs the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He supports a provision recently added to a comprehensive energy bill that would allow the state to bill Entergy for the cost of the litigation.

Klein points out that utilities routinely cover the state's legal costs in rate cases before the Public Service Board.  

(Klein) "When it comes to any of these issues we think our laws are very relevant and need to be protected, and there's a cost that comes with it. And if you're going to sue us - just like a rate case if you want something and we're part of the decision-making process, then taxpayers and ratepayers shouldn't have to bear the price."

(Dillon) Entergy Vermont Yankee declined to comment on the legislation.

The energy bill that contains the bill-back provision is close to final passage in the Legislature.

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

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