Environmental groups cry foul in Connecticut River legal battle

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(Host) The Douglas Administration has helped Vermont Yankee in a legal battle over the company’s plans to increase the temperature of the Connecticut River.

But environmental groups are crying foul.

They say the administration’s last-minute involvement is improper.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The case has been winding its way through state Environmental Court for months.

Yankee wants a state permit to raise the river temperature by one degree as measured about a mile downstream. Environmentalists have challenged the plan. They argue that the warmer water will harm the river’s ecosystem.

The Environmental Court temporarily blocked the company from heating the river, while the case is being heard.

This week, the Douglas Administration weighed in. Public Service Commissioner David O’Brien said in a letter that if the court blocks Yankee’s plans, it would lead to less electricity production, and higher power costs.

(Obrien) “The letter I think speaks for itself. I mean basically what we felt was important to communicate to the court is what the potential system and ratepayer effects would be of continuing this stay through the summer.”

(Dillon) The environmental groups involved in the case questioned the timing and the substance of O’Brien’s statement.

(Deen) “I guess the expression is they jumped out of the bushes at us.”

(Dillon) David Deen is a state legislator and river steward with the Connecticut River Watershed Council. He says the price Vermont pays for power is locked in by contract until 2012, so there should be no effect on Vermont ratepayers. And he said O’Brien’s letter left opponents little time to prepare before a court hearing.

(Deen) “I haven’t time to go through all of that Public Service Board stuff relative to cooling and what the cost might be etc. to even verify what the commissioner is saying is accurate and that it’s being presented in a way that indicates the true impact of the continuation of the stay.”

(Dillon) The New England Coalition, an anti-nuclear group, has asked the court to disregard O’Brien’s letter. The group says it injects political pressure into the court proceeding. Diana Sidebotham is the coalition’s president.

(Sidebotham) “It strikes me as another bit of shenanigans on the part of the administration. And I don’t say that with any pleasure. I was really quite shocked when this occurred.”

(Dillon) O’Brien says he can’t understand the uproar. He says he’s trying to protect ratepayer’s interests.

(O’Brien) “I fail to understand how better and more extensive information before a court could possibly be a negative thing.”

(Dillon) Unless the court renews the stay, Yankee would be allowed to increase its thermal discharge starting in mid-June. A trial on the case is expected this summer.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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