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Supporting the state

Elected officials join Vermont Yankee foes in public rebuke of the plant’s owner

BRATTLEBORO—The atmosphere may have been festive and peaceful on the Common on the afternoon of April 14, but the more than 1,000 people who came to what was billed as a “rally to support Vermont and defend democracy” had a serious goal: closing Vermont Yankee as soon as possible.

And, standing in agreement with them were three of the state’s top elected officials.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, Attorney General Bill Sorrell, and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders all spoke at the rally, and all three laid out the case for why Entergy, the owner of the Vernon nuclear reactor, should follow Vermont law.

“Without you, we will not succeed in beating the corporate powers of Louisiana,” Shumlin said. “That’s why your presence here is so important.”

In a fiery 10-minute speech, Shumlin listed what he called the promises that Entergy failed to keep during the decade it has owned the plant.

Shumlin said Entergy promised to shut down the plant in 2012, and that they’d run the plant as they bought it. “But the first thing they did once they bought it was to pump 20 percent more juice through it than it was designed to generate,” he said.

Shumlin pointed out that Entergy maintained that the plant decommissioning fund had so much money in it that they didn’t need to add to it.

He brought up the ill-fated Enexus spinoff of Vermont Yankee, a deal that collapsed when Wall Street funding dried up, and state regulators refused to sign off on the deal.

He said Entergy promised to report when things went wrong, and pointed out the cooling tower collapse in 2007 that was downplayed by Entergy until a photo was released showing water cascading over the wreckage.

Entergy has a history of not telling the truth, said Shumlin, such as testifying under oath that no underground pipes existed at VY, and having tritium-laced water leak out of them a short time later.

The promise of cheap power for the state’s utilities wasn’t true, he said; nor was Entergy’s promise to comply with Vermont laws regarding whether it was in the best interest of Vermont to keep the plant open.

“So I say, in a state where Vermonters value the truth, you’re here today to stand up for truth, stand up for Vermont, stand up for our democracy, [and] stand up for a renewable energy future,” he said.

It was a sentiment echoed by Sorrell and Sanders in their remarks.

Corporate “personhood”

Sorrell spoke about the turnabout in Entergy’s attitude after the Vermont Senate voted 26-4 in 2010 to direct the Vermont Public Service Board not to give Vermont Yankee a Certificate of Public Good to continue operation.

Framing the current lawsuit between Entergy and the state of Vermont as an example of corporate personhood gone wild, Sorrell said that Entergy had said it had no problem with the legislation that gave lawmakers a say on the plant’s future.

“But guess what? When that ‘person’ from Louisiana didn’t get its way — when 26 of 30 members of our Vermont Senate said no, what did the ‘person’ from Louisiana do? Support Vermont? Defend democracy? You know the answer. We were sued and the ‘person’ spent $4.5 million attacking Vermont’s laws.”

While Sorrell admitted that the January ruling in Entergy’s favor in U.S. District Court was “a setback,” he said that “this was only Round 1, and be ready, this could be a long fight.”

And, he said, “I am up for this fight. I’m going to support Vermont. I’m going to support democracy.”

Sanders took a broader view in his remarks, saying that the whole nation needs to have a say in its energy future.

“I want to know, if nuclear power is such a great investment, why isn’t Wall Street investing in it?” he asked. “Instead of engaging in dangerous nuclear power, or foreign oil, energy efficiency enables us to create jobs right here in the United States of America.”

Sanders also chided conservatives for supporting the concept of “states rights,” except for when those rights conflict with corporate power.

While the federal government has the right to regulate nuclear power when it comes to safety issues, Sanders said Vermont “has an absolute right” to regulate nuclear power on non-safety issues.

“Judge [J. Garvan] Murtha rendered an incorrect decision,” Sanders said.

While the tone of the speakers on Saturday was mostly serious, Shumlin, tongue in cheek, addressed an event that has brought him national attention, his encounter with a quartet of black bears in the backyard of his Montpelier home.

“They tried a new tactic on me — Entergy Louisiana. They showed up on my porch a few nights ago,” he said.

“That’s right, they were dressed up as black bears. So I want you to all be aware there’s nothing they won’t try. And this what they learned: real Vermont boys don’t wear pajamas."

And there was a surprise guest: Nobel Peace Prize-winner Jody Williams. The Putney native said that she “was going to Japan in a couple of weeks and find out why Fukushima sucks.”

A few weeks ago, to mark the first anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Williams and the other women Laureates of the Nobel Women’s Initiative issued a statement that called upon world leaders “to invest in renewable sources of energy and to work together in committing to a low-carbon, nuclear-free future.”

“Today, the mistakes made in Japan are repeated in every country that relies on nuclear reactors, putting millions of people at risk,” their statement concluded. “The time to invest in clean, safe sources of energy is now.”

Williams called herself “an activist from way back” and admits that her Nobel Prize, received in 1997 for her efforts to enact an international ban on the use of land mines, “just makes it easier to do my work.”

A long-time opponent of nuclear energy, Williams said she was impressed by how many people demonstrated in support of a nuclear-free Vermont.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #148 (Wednesday, April 18, 2012).

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