Despite Entergy's Court Win, Yankee Still Needs State Permit

01/20/12 5:50PM By John Dillon
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(Host) Despite a big win in federal court, Entergy Vermont Yankee still needs permission from state utility regulators to operate for another 20 years.

As VPR's John Dillon reports, the next move for Vermont Yankee will likely take place before the Public Service Board.

(Dillon) The three-member board regulates Vermont utilities and power producers. And the board was in the middle of reviewing Yankee's request to run for another 20 years when the case was put on hold while the Legislature debated the issue.

Federal Judge Garvan Murtha's decision this week says lawmakers over-stepped their authority by delving into safety issues at the plant. The judge said questions of radiation health and safety can only be decided by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

But the judge also left a clear role for the PSB to review Yankee's continued operation.

Public Service Commissioner Elizabeth Miller heads the state agency that represents utility consumers.

(Miller) "We have said from the beginning that the state has legitimate and important oversight over this facility. And Judge Murtha's opinion does not purport to define or restrict the state's ability to decline to renew a certificate of public good on any grounds not pre-empted or not violative of federal law. So what my expectation is that over the next several days we will be focusing on what those next state steps should be."

(Dillon) Sandra Levine is a lawyer with the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental group involved in the Yankee case at the PSB. She says Murtha's ruling allows the board to decide whether Yankee's future operation is in the public good.

(Levine) "They will retain their traditional state authority to take a look at economics, reliability, environmental issues, things of that nature. It's always been clear that matters of radiological health and safety have been off-limits for the Public Service Board. I would expect the board to reopen the proceedings."

(Dillon) Entergy declined to comment on its case before the PSB.

Vermont lawmakers are also mulling their next steps. House Speaker Shap Smith says he wants a detailed review of the decision by the Legislature's legal counsel. Smith is concerned about a section of Judge Murtha's ruling that says the Legislature cannot stop Yankee from storing radioactive waste that's produced after March 21st.

(Smith) "I'm trying to understand based on the decision on what's best for the state of Vermont. And I'm disappointed that the judge has decided that Vermonters should not have a voice with regard to the storage of nuclear waste on the banks of the Connecticut River. And I'm concerned that the voice of Vermonters is being taken away and is being replaced by bureaucrats in Washington at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission."

(Dillon) Lawmakers may also try to raise new taxes on Vermont Yankee or focus on environmental issues at the plant.

For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier

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