(Host) Senator Bernie Sanders says federal regulators are taking the side of Entergy Vermont Yankee in its legal dispute with the state.
The case is being closely followed by the industry because it could determine a state’s role in overseeing nuclear power.
VPR’s John Dillon has more:
(Dillon) The Entergy Corporation has challenged the state’s authority to shut down the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant when its license expires next year.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has granted Yankee a new 20-year operating license but has so far stayed out of the Entergy lawsuit.
The NRC chairman said in March that Vermont has an independent role to play in nuclear power oversight. But at a Senate committee hearing in Washington, Sanders accused the NRC of changing its mind, and voting in secret to intervene on behalf of Entergy in the court case.
(Sanders) "What disturbs me very much is that my understanding is that yesterday in a 3-2 vote this commission decided to urge the Department of Justice to get involved in that fight. Now I don’t care what your view is on what Vermont Yankee should or should not be doing. In my very strong opinion, it is not your business to get involved in that fight."
(Dillon) The NRC did not dispute Sanders’ statement about the vote count. But Chairman Gregory Jaczko told Sanders he could not comment on what was discussed.
(Jaczko) "The matter in front of the commission was in one of our legal discussions and we generally like to keep those closed matters because it preserves the opportunity for our legal counsel to give us frank legal recommendations.
(Sanders) "You may like it. But your job is to represent the best interests of the people of the United States of America."
(Dillon) The role of the federal government in the court case could be critical. If the NRC weighs in on Entergy’s side, it could add considerable weight to the company’s argument that federal law trumps state law when it comes to deciding the fate of Vermont Yankee.
The state of Vermont says federal law does give the NRC the sole authority to regulate nuclear safety. But Vermont officials say a 1983 Supreme Court case also carves out a clear role for states in overseeing nuclear power, including regulating economic impacts. Elizabeth Miller is commissioner of the Public Service Department, the state agency that represents consumers in utility issues.
(Miller) "We strongly believe Vermont has a say in the continued operation of this facility for all of the reasons we’ve set forth in the litigation here. And our position is supported by statements by not just the chairman of the NRC but in the NRC’s own documents."
(Dillon) But Entergy says the state has overstepped its role by raising concerns about the safety of the Vermont Yankee plant.
NRC member William Ostendorff raised that issue with Sanders at the Senate hearing.
(Ostendorff) "Where there is an issue of potential nuclear safety issues being raised, then that’s a situation that might warrant NRC engagement."
(Dillon) Entergy has been lobbying hard to get the federal government involved in the Vermont case. The NRC told Sanders that Entergy has met with commission staff to discuss the litigation.
For VPR News I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.
(Host) A hearing in Entergy’s lawsuit is scheduled next week for federal court in Brattleboro.