Deb Lazar/The Commons
Judge J. Garvan Murtha presiding over last month’s hearing over Entergy’s request for a preliminary injunction to prevent Vermont from enforcing laws that regulate nuclear power at the Vermont Yankee nuclear station in Vernon.
News editor Randolph T. Holhut contributed to this story.
Originally published in The Commons issue #110 (Wednesday, July 20, 2011).
BRATTLEBORO—Entergy Corp. lost its bid for a preliminary injunction to keep the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant open while its lawsuit winds through the federal court system.
Did the state, however, really win round one?
On Monday afternoon, U.S. District Court Judge J. Garvan Murtha issued an 18-page decision denying Entergy’s request. He also set Sept. 12 as the trial date for the Entergy v. Vermont lawsuit.
“The motion is denied, because Entergy has failed to show that any irreparable harm it may incur between now and a decision on the merits would be, or is likely to be, ameliorated by a preliminary injunction in the short time before this Court decides [its lawsuit],” Murtha wrote.
After the ruling came out, bloggers, journalists, and citizens all weighed in as they attempted to interpret what it means for the future of the Vernon plant.
Chad Simmons of the Safe & Green Campaign described the judge’s decision to deny the injunction as “happy words.”
“There’s definitely a lot to do,” said Simmons at a Tuesday symposium sponsored by Safe & Green. “But we’re here because people power worked and democracy worked. We really should be happy about the decision that came down yesterday.”
Donald M. Kreis and Pat Parenteau, both attorneys and professors at the Vermont Law School, debated their readings of Murtha’s ruling and the likely outcome of the trial.
Like the ancient Druids, “we’re studying entrails. We have no idea, frankly,” said Parenteau, the senior counsel to the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic and Professor of Law, about attempting to analyze Murtha’s thoughts.
Still, the lawyers said, the preliminary injunction filing played as a sideshow to the main event of preemption — whether the federal government’s jurisdiction over nuclear safety will shield the 39-year-old nuclear power station from any state regulation.
Last month, lawyers for Entergy appeared in U.S. District Court in Brattleboro asking for an injunction that would allow the plant to stay open past the expiration of the Vernon plant’s original 40-year operating license on March 21, 2012.
Although Vermont Yankee received a 20-year license extension from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in March, Entergy has not received a Certificate of Public Good (CPG) from the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB), and the Vermont Senate voted last year to direct the PSB not to issue a CPG for the plant.
Entergy contends that Vermont overstepped its regulatory bounds with Act 160, a 2006 law that gives the state Legislature veto power over the continued operation of the plant.
In two days of testimony, Entergy’s legal team stressed that only the NRC has the authority to regulate nuclear energy.
The state’s legal team countered that Entergy had agreed to the terms of Act 160 and was attempting to go back on previous agreements it had made with the state.
Murtha refused to act on Entergy’s request to invalidate Act 160.
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