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The Fight Over Shutting Down Vermont Yankee

Nuclear Showdown in Vermont

by DAN DEWALT

Entergy Nuclear of Louisiana, which operates the Vermont Yankee (VY) nuclear reactor in Vernon Vermont has launched an attack on the state of Vermont with the help of the federal courts.

Vermont state law gives the state the power to decide whether to allow further operation of the reactor past March 21, 2012 (the expiration date for VY). When Entergy bought VY, they agreed to this law and swore that they would not try to abrogate it. This was an outright lie on Entergy’s part, and they sued the state as soon as it was decided that further operation of this crumbling, leaking and led-by-liars reactor would NOT be in the interests of the state and they were not given permission to continue operation past March 21.

Federal Judge J. Garvan Murtha, a Bill Clinton appointee to the federal bench in 1995, gave Entergy all that they wanted and denied Vermont the right to legislate on this matter. The judge misconstrued testimony and completely ignored the case presented by the state to show that the Vermont legislature acted within the purview allowed by federal law. In his decision he cites quotes referring to safety that are either unattributed or taken out of context, having been expressed outside of the actual process of crafting the legislation. Some quotes cited even fail to distinguish between legislators and advocates who were speaking in committee hearings.

This ruling goes hand in glove with current Federal policies that enrich the 1% and keep power firmly in the hands of America’s largest corporations. It affirms that corporate profits trump the interests of the citizenry. And it’s based on the laughable notion that only the Federal government can be trusted to keep us safe from radiological accidents caused by corporate malfeasance and profit-driven lax practices.

The executives of Entergy have lied under oath repeatedly to the Vermont legislature. Reactor officials testified that there were no pipes in the ground underneath the plant, but that falsehood was exposed when the source of tritium leaks at the reactor in 2011 were found to be coming from a network of underground pipes located precisely where they claimed there were none. Entergy repeatedly warned that VT would lose a reliable energy provider if VY went off line, but VT utilities have chosen to buy future power elsewhere and not one watt of VY power will be purchased by any Vermonter. Entergy tried to bribe the legislature (in Louisiana talk, they called it a gift offer) and have run roughshod over every aspect of the state’s self governance, relying on their tight association with the NRC, which abets rather than regulates the industry, to ensure that their reprehensible actions are allowed to occur unchecked.

The state of Vermont is fighting back, considering all possible moves that can be made to rein in this corporate behemoth, but Federal law and the courts are limiting the State’s possible responses. It is an outrage that a federal judge would ignore a lengthy and well documented trail of lies and deception on the part of a powerful corporation, and choose instead to basically accuse the Vermont legislature of lying about its intent when passing the legislation. He chose to accept Entergy’s lawyers’ claim that the legislature was trying to address radiological safety issues, which are exclusively under federal jurisdiction, and he rejected the legislature’s defense that they were responsibly considering issues of environmental safety and economic benefit to the state.

In the past, when the federal government passed heinous legislation that flew in the face of decency and common sense, such as the fugitive slave act, Vermont took appropriate and defiant action. The legislature responded to that abomination with the swift passage of a habeas corpus bill that effectively prevented a fugitive slave from being returned. President Millard Fillmore threatened to call out the U.S, army to enforce the law, but Vermont didn’t flinch, and his threat came to naught.

Direct defiance (or nullification) of the federal government edicts by states was somewhat common in the pre-civil war days. Today, the legislature feels more timid about direct defiance, thinking that the legal appeals process is the only avenue that they can realistically utilize.

But Vermont citizens are seeing it otherwise. Thoroughly fed up by the brutish greed and callous disregard shown to them by Entergy, they are organizing to take direct action against the corporation, both in Vermont and elsewhere in the country. Citizens in VT, NH, MA and NY will be targeting Entergy corporate headquarters and other installations from March 22 onward.

Luckily for them, Entergy is further alienating the citizenry by attempting to leverage their district court victory into a scorched earth devastation of the state, demanding no further accountability to the state’s Public Service Board, denying the state’s request to access radiated water wells on the reactor site for further testing, demanding that Connecticut River water quality and temperature permits be nullified and that the state pay over four million dollars to the corporation to pay for their high priced lawyers during the trial.

This brazen, relentless and vicious assault is irritating Vermonters of all stripes and it seems that Entergy will soon feel their wrath. While the corporation may feel secure with the federal court (so far) protecting them from the civilly obedient legislature and governor, it remains to be seen if they will be able to withstand the storm of protest that is brewing over the horizon.

Dan DeWalt is an activist and journalist based in New Fane, VT. This article originally appeared in ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent Project Censored Award-winning online alternative newspaper, which can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net