Questions about dry cask storage to be decided by existing Legislative committees

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(Host) Legislative leaders have made an important decision about one of the top energy issues of the session. They’ve determined that Vermont Yankee’s plans to store its nuclear waste in dry casks will be handled by the existing committee system.

VPR’s John Dillon reports on the implications of that decision.

(Dillon) The issue of how lawmakers review the radioactive waste proposal is important because the nuclear plant is in a hurry to get its plan approved.

State law says legislators have to sign off on the proposal and many lawmakers see dollar signs. They’d like to tax Yankee for its dry cask storage and use the money for other energy projects.

But there’s language in state law that indicates proposals for a nuclear waste site must be reviewed by a special House-Senate Energy Committee. That panel, which hasn’t met in years, is required to hold hearings and determine if the waste plan is good for the state.

But Senate President Peter Welch says it makes more sense to have the issue handled by the existing committees. He says the Legislature’s legal counsel told him that the lawmakers can decide where the waste plan gets reviewed.

(Welch) “And what I think what it’s going to end up being is a hearing on the substance, but also a negotiation.”

(Dillon) On Wednesday, House Speaker Gaye Symington invited Welch and other legislative leaders into her office to discuss how the Yankee waste plan will be handled. It’s clear many issues are on the table, including a tax on the waste and a time limit on how long the dry casks would remain at the Vernon site.

(Symington) “The question of dry cask storage has been determined to be in the hands of the Legislature. And so in discussing dry cask storage then the issue will come up: Do we put limits around that dry cask storage, and say yes there can be dry cask storage but only under the following circumstances? There’s either a fee or there’s a limit to the amount of storage that we allow.”

(Dillon) Entergy, the company that owns Vermont Yankee, is leery of any fee or tax on its waste. The company says it already provides a good deal on electric rates. Entergy wants a simple wording change in the statute that would exempt it from legislative review.

But Mark Sinclair of the Conservation Law Foundation says lawmakers should take their time and study the plan carefully.

(Sinclair) “Entergy bought this plant knowing full well that there was no guarantee that they would get dry cask storage. There were no guarantees made to them. And the Legislature is under no obligation to approve dry cask storage if it is not in Vermont’s public interest.”

(Dillon) But CLF failed to persuade lawmakers that the Joint Energy Committee should review the plan. Yankee officials won the jurisdictional debate on Wednesday, and they’re ready to make their case before lawmakers in the weeks ahead.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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