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Voices / Letters from readers

State’s VY approach is legitimate policy, not an ‘act of violence’

In a sort of surreal thrill ride of an opinion piece [“Diplomacy, war, and the future of VY”] in The Commons and The Reformer last week, Jeffrey Lewis led us on an historically charged adventure in search of violence, war, and economic decay, culminating in a public-relations nightmare. What’s puzzling is why he tried use Entergy Nuclear’s litigation against the state of Vermont as his example.

First, he dismisses the attorney general’s legal arguments in the face of “a well-reasoned decision” by Judge J. Garvan Murtha without offering any evidence.

How reasoned is Murtha’s embrace of Entergy’s argument based on proactive clairvoyance, when it flies in the face of a Supreme Court ruling penned by Samuel Alito that instructs the lower courts to consider the text of the laws, rather than some notion of legislative intent?

Why did Murtha not seem to take into account the testimony of Entergy’s own management, saying that legislators voted no because they couldn’t trust Entergy not to lie to them, not because of radioactivity safety concerns.

From the hands of the good judge, we then slide into the world of Clarl von Clausewitz’s 19th-century military strategy. Seeing no Henry Kissinger on the horizon to perform some miraculous last-minute diplomacy, Lewis despairs for the lost chance and concludes that violence is the inevitable next step:

“’War,’ wrote Clausewitz, ‘is an act of violence to compel our opponents to fulfill our will.’ Exactly.”

Exactly? Suddenly, the state of Vermont’s efforts to defend itself from litigation, as well as its normal process of crafting and passing legislation, are redefined as acts of violence?

This logic would have to extend to citizen actions, so that puts us on a par with terrorists in his eyes.

The only trouble is that among the myriad groups and individuals from across the entire region who are putting their energies into the defense from Entergy, with all of their diverse and even divergent ideas about how best to meet their common goal, the one message that has been universally embraced is that of non-violence. That would be the opposite of violence.

It means that no matter how outraged we might be at the hubris and arrogance of a Louisiana company’s actions, we will not allow that outrage to color our actions when we speak out against them.

If people are arrested at Entergy’s corporate headquarters, they will do so by stepping over some boundary. That step will be taken with respect for the law officers who are present and with respect for anyone else who is there, including VY employees.

If we are looking for violence, we’d find it more quickly by looking at Entergy’s record of walking away from an entire region when damage repair from Hurricane Katrina proved to be too expensive to the company’s profit margin. The people who were stranded and abandoned without power in the aftermath of a giant storm felt the collateral damage, but Entergy couldn’t have cared less.

Instead, Lewis cites “policy consistency” as his first example of collateral damage. Most would refer to this as an election result. In this case, the Douglas administration, which had served as an Entergy cheerleader, was replaced by a Shumlin administration that has been consistently clear about where it would stand on the VY question.

The state government has never been anti-nuclear-power or anti-business. What the government is, is anti-bad-business. Our governor and representatives know a snake oil salesman when they see one, and they know that a healthy business climate depends upon a healthy business community.

Entergy is a runny-nosed germ-fest in Vermont’s business community. Even Entergy’s peers in the nuclear industry have complained about how Entergy is giving them a bad name with its lax practices.

Vermont is interested in promoting businesses that will not lie, pollute, or put people’s health at risk. Knowing that Vermont cares about such things is enough to attract many businesses that recognize quality of life as important for good employee retention.

If the state’s vigilance at preventing corporate malfeasance saves us from being visited by another corporation that behaves badly, we will all be the better off for it. Our economic future lies in our citizens’ entrepreneurship and energy, not with corporations milking us for profits.

Mr. Lewis advocates diplomacy, equating Entergy and the state as two equally empowered actors. But Entergy is not an equal to our state. Entergy is a for-profit corporation that is required by law to answer only to its stockholders.

The state, on the other hand, is us. It is charged with protecting our interests and reflecting the wishes of a majority of the population. Its legal and moral duty is to represent and, in this case, protect us from danger, whether it come from flood, fire, or corporate malfeasance.

The state is charged with legislating and executing our laws, not to negotiate deals with bad-actor corporations. In Vermont, Entergy will be in breach of contract after March 21. The company knew when it bought the plant that it had to get another Certificate of Public Good after March 21, 2012.

Rather than earn it, they want the judge to force the state to give it to them. The idea that we would agree to give Entergy close to 20 more years of operation in exchange for a pledge to fully fund the decommissioning fund is laughable. Entergy has already shown its willingness to lie. To trust this company would be the height of folly. Besides, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, not the state, has jurisdiction over the decommissioning fund.

The Public Service Board has recently asked Entergy what it intends to do with the spent fuel, since it has no permit to add more to the on-site storage after March 22.

Instead of dreaming about cooperating with Entergy to engineer a soft landing in 20 years, let’s let the company concentrate on the hard work of answering the questions that remain in the domain of our regulators.

Let’s not mistake Entergy for anything other than just another company trying to take advantage of a small state.

Let’s stop trying to demonize legitimate state actions and citizen concerns by cavalierly calling them “acts of violence.” It’s good for a laugh for all the wrong reasons and debases the discussion.

If people want to root for the corporations against the people, then they should do so; trying to disguise the bias as an objective viewpoint doesn’t fool anybody.

Dan DeWalt

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Originally published in The Commons issue #142 (Wednesday, March 7, 2012).

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