Sorrell Says Other States Should Join Vermont Yankee Appeal

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(Host) Attorney General Bill Sorrell says he expects other states will join Vermont’s appeal of a federal court ruling that limited the state’s authority over the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

Sorrell says the ruling could have a chilling effect on state legislatures as they consider issues that cross over into federal regulation.

VPR’s John Dillon has more.

(Dillon) This past weekend Sorrell announced he would challenge U.S. District Judge Garvan Murtha’s ruling that struck down two Vermont laws that would have forced the plant to close next month.

The judge ruled that Vermont lawmakers were motivated by concerns over safety when they considered the statutes. Under federal law, safety is the sole province of the federal government in the regulation of nuclear power.

Sorrell says one reason for the appeal is that Murtha’s ruling is so broad that it could affect the ability of state legislatures to engage in wide-ranging debate.

(Sorrell) "Judge Murtha’s opinion going forward in issues that maybe don’t necessarily relate to Vermont Yankee, to nuclear power or even to Entergy issues, but to any other kinds of issues, there could be a chilling effect on legislative debate. And that could be a very unfortunate result of this decision."

(Dillon) The state of Massachusetts filed a friend-of-the-court brief on Vermont’s behalf during the trial stage of the case. Sorrell says he’ll reach out to neighboring states as the state presents its appeal.

(Sorrell) "Well, we certainly are talking and will be talking to states close by. But some of the other issues in the case -other states, and states across the political spectrum – might be interested in weighing in."

(Host) Vermont Law School professor Patrick Parenteau says Vermont has a good argument to make on appeal. He agrees with Sorrell that Murtha’s ruling could stifle legislative debate.

(Parenteau) "To attribute everything that’s said in the legislative session to the body itself is what is problematic about Murtha’s decision. It’s a very sweeping interpretation of the scope of federal preemption under the Atomic Energy Act. And it sets a whole bunch of land mines that could go off unexpectedly in these various legislative deliberations."

(Dillon) Parenteau said New York state may want to side with Vermont in the appeal because of concerns it’s had about Entergy’s Indian Point plant.

(Parenteau) "And many other states are facing decisions about aging nuclear power plants. So I would think if a combination of Massachusetts and New York attorney generals’ offices wrote a really good friend-of-the-court brief, then a number of other states would join in support of Vermont‘s position."

(Dillon) Parenteau says now that Vermont has appealed Murtha’s ruling, he expects Entergy Vermont Yankee to appeal as well. The company argued that Vermont utility regulators were not allowed to oversee Vermont Yankee, but the judge ruled against Entergy on that point.

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

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