Legislature equal to the VY decision

NEWFANE — Although the proposal to strip the Vermont Legislature of its statutory role regarding continued operation of Vermont Yankee (House bill 331, “An act relating to removing the requirement of legislative approval of continued operation of a nuclear power plant”) has no real chance of passing , it still is worthwhile to point out why it is a terrible idea.

Its proponents argue that the Vermont Yankee decision is a technical one best left to the expertise of the Public Service Board, and not to a Legislature that will “play politics with it”

I will pass over the fact that “playing politics” is one of those vague (to the point of meaningless) terms, like “slippery slope” and “unintended consequences,” invariably raised in Montpelier by persons who oppose something but are losing their argument on the merits.

Instead, let me suggest why the Legislature got it right by crafting a system that recognizes the value of approaching the Vermont Yankee decision from two different perspectives.

As Gregory Jaszko, chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, stated in announcing the decision to extend Vermont Yankee's operating license, that agency provided but one of the required approvals. He recognized that the federal licensing role concerns plant safety, while a state's interests may properly include economics, the environment, and reliability. Those topics, which are within Vermont's jurisdiction, obviously involve both broad public policy as well as technical issues.

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For the last 234 years, Vermont has addressed its public policy issues through a legislative process. That approach recognizes that the people, acting through their elected representatives, can best explore and balance the complexities involved in decision making. It then enables us to craft public policy decisions consistent with Vermont's interests and values.

Having the Legislature perform that role regarding Vermont Yankee simply follows our long-accepted approach, and there is no valid reason for abandoning it.

At the same time, the Public Service Board is appointed to carry out the more narrowly focused, and sometimes technical, tasks needed to regulate our utilities.That, too, is an important and valuable role, although a narrower one than making overall public policy decisions. The members of that board are appointed by the governor for six-year terms and, at the moment, all of them are appointees of our former governor.

Both roles are indispensable in making any careful decision about Vermont Yankee, and dispensing with either of them destroys the integrity of the process.

That is also why the law passed and then signed by the former governor mandates that process. It requires that the broader legislative decisions be made before the narrower board technical decisions, because no board consideration would be needed if the legislative policy determination (as proved last year in the Senate) were against continued operation.

There certainly is no valid reason to change the law now and to retroactively strip the Legislature of its role, simply because you don't like its decision.

And that is precisely what this ill-advised proposal tries to do.

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