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The Commons
News

Miller bows out of Vermont Yankee case

Originally published in The Commons issue #394 (Wednesday, February 8, 2017). This story appeared on page A4.



VERNON—A former state regulator has decided that she won’t be assisting Entergy in its effort to sell Vermont Yankee.

Burlington attorney Elizabeth Miller has given notice of her withdrawal from state Public Service Board proceedings concerning Entergy’s proposed sale of the shut-down Vernon nuclear plant to a New York-based decommissioning company.

Miller previously had been involved in Vermont Yankee matters as a state official. Her plan to advocate for Entergy made news last month and raised questions about a “revolving door” between state government and the private sector.

“I have no interest at all in causing a distraction from the review of this important transaction, and so I sought and received client permission to withdraw,” Miller said. “I remain very confident that I could have assisted Entergy in seeking approval of this new transaction.”

Entergy announced in November plans to sell Vermont Yankee to NorthStar Group Services, which has pledged to decommission and restore most of the Vernon site no later than 2030 and possibly as soon as 2026. That’s decades faster than Entergy had been planning.

The sale, which is scheduled to close by the end of 2018, requires approvals from both the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the state Public Service Board.

Entergy has no shortage of legal representation in the state proceeding. Vermont firm Downs Rachlin Martin is involved, and three New York-based attorneys from the international law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan have filed notices of appearance, documents show.

Entergy also had enlisted Miller, who’s now in private practice but previously served as state Public Service Department commissioner and chief of staff under former Gov. Peter Shumlin. In those roles, she had been an Entergy adversary during a particularly tumultuous time that included tritium leaks and a relicensing fight.

Miller’s involvement in the proposed Vermont Yankee sale came to light in late December, and it sparked criticism from anti-nuclear groups like Citizens Awareness Network (CAN) and New England Coalition (NEC).

CAN executive director Deb Katz said Entergy was trying to “grease the wheels” for a sale approval due to Miller’s influence and knowledge of Vermont Yankee affairs.

New England Coalition trustee and staffer Clay Turnbull complained of a “revolving door” transforming state officials into lobbyists.

Miller didn’t run afoul of a Shumlin administration policy limiting involvement in private ventures related to a former state official’s duties. The Shumlin policy banned such activities for one year; Miller left state government in May 2015, and Entergy/NorthStar application was filed in December 2016.

Nevertheless, Miller on Feb. 3 filed notice of her withdrawal before the Public Service Board. Entergy subsequently confirmed that Miller won’t be representing the company but otherwise referred questions to her.

Miller said she wouldn’t comment on her work with clients aside from a short statement issued Feb. 6. In addition to saying she does not want to cause distractions, Miller also said she believes that the Entergy/NorthStar deal is a positive development.

“The sale of Vermont Yankee to NorthStar will allow much earlier decommissioning and site restoration, which could be very beneficial to Vermont,” she said. “And that is where the focus deserves to be.”

The state’s regulatory review of the Vermont Yankee sale is just getting started and is expected to continue throughout this year and possibly into 2018.

Both the NEC and Windham Regional Commission (WRC) recently have filed to become “intervenors.” That does not indicate opposition to the sale; rather, intervention allows an entity to become a formal party to a Public Service Board case in order to protect its interests.

In a request for intervention filed Feb. 3, the WRC cited the proposed Vermont Yankee sale, NorthStar’s promise of earlier decommissioning, and related site restoration standards as reasons why the matter is related to “the orderly redevelopment of the region.”

New England Coalition’s Jan. 27 filing cited orderly development, economic benefits, aesthetics, environmental impact and “public health and safety” as reasons why the nonprofit should be allowed to intervene.

“The effectiveness, completeness and timing of decommissioning the Vermont Yankee site under federal and state standards — including the ‘greenfield’ conditions Entergy agreed to when it purchased the facility — directly affect the mission of NEC and the interests of its members,” the coalition’s motion says.

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