Ruling on Vermont Yankee disappoints plant foes
Area anti-nuclear activists, who have been hoping to see the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor shut down for years, say they’re disappointed in a U.S. Appeals Court ruling this week against Vermont’s attempt to shut the plant through legislative action.
Their comments came after the affirmation Wednesday of a lower court-ruling against the state, whose legislators passed laws making it harder for Vermont Yankee to operate for another 20 years. The three-judge panel’s ruling said legislators were concerned about the plant’s safety but tried to hide that because they were aware that nuclear safety is the sole province of the U.S. government under federal law.
“I’m not surprised, but I am disappointed,” said Randy Kehler of Colrain, a member of the Safe and Green Campaign to shut down the Vernon reactor. “It was yet another example of putting a higher priority on alleged corporate rights than the rights of states. We cannot count on any help from the federal judiciary to uphold the right of a state to determine its own energy future.” Kehler said that regardless of the three-member panel’s ruling, he believes the plant is operating illegally, in violation of a Vermont state law, and that plant opponents need to “find ways for people to more loudly” protest the continued operation of the plant.
The judges’ consideration of some legislators’ comments about their concerns over nuclear safety “has a chilling effect” on open discussion by state legislatures everywhere, and was insulting to legislators for essentially calling them liars, added Kehler, a point echoed by Raymond Shadis, a consultant for Brattleboro, Vt.based New England Coalition.
“The elephant in the room, which has not been addressed by the litigants, by district court or the appeals court, is the question of free speech rights,” said Shadis. “Legislators should not have to be guarded about any casual remark they make when they’re in committee meetings, which in Vermont are informal to say the least. They’re talking about stuff, and it’s part of the political stew. Incoming legislators should not have to be read their Miranda rights.”
Yet Deb Katz of Rowe, president of Citizens Awareness Network, said, “We’re disappointed, but we also feel that states’ rights were upheld,” because the decision pointed to Vermont state Public Service Board’s right to consider whether to issue a Certificate of Public Good based on economic, environmental and aesthetic criteria.
“We believe that the PSB is going to rule against Entergy,” Katz said, particularly because of recent concerns that have been raised about Entergy’s financial problems. The company recently announced it would lay off 30 of its workers, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has agreed to launch a financial evaluation of Vermont Yankee and two other Entergy nuclear plants.
“They’re laying off 30 workers, but they can afford lawsuits,” said Katz. “What’s the priority, safety or their bottom line?”
Hattie Nestel of Athol, who as recently as Aug. 6 has been arrested more than 30 times for protests at the plant, along with other members of a Shut it Down affinity group, sees the appeals court’s decision as another example of why it can’t be left to the state or federal government, including the courts, to force the closure of a 41-year-old nuclear reactor that she and other critics believe is unsafe. “We can’t depend on the state, and we certainly can’t depend on the federal government,” she said. “History shows that when people get on the street, when they care enough ... when they’re determined and are willing to sacrifice their time, energy and their lives, things change.”