Yankee decommissioning bill passes in House

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(Host) Democrats in the Vermont House have used a parliamentary maneuver to pass a bill that requires Vermont Yankee to show it has enough money to decommission the plant.

The move triggered hours of partisan debate and left some bitter feelings in the Statehouse. Republicans charged that the majority party had muscled through the legislation without respecting the traditional legislative process.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) As lawmakers worked late into the night this week, tempers grew short when Democrats forced a vote on the Vermont Yankee bill.

The majority party circumvented the normal procedure, in which a bill is sent to a House-Senate conference committee.

Republicans were caught by surprise. Stowe Republican Heidi Scheuermann was one of many in her party who expressed their outrage.

(Scheuermann) "I just think this is an awful way to do business in the public interest, and I’m stunned. I’m stunned. And I urge us to stick with the committee on conference and trust that the committee on conference."

(Host) The move by the Democrats was designed to block an effort by opponents to kill the decommissioning bill by delaying a final vote this year.

Democrat Tony Klein chairs the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee. He said he was simply trying to get the Legislature to approve the bill before adjournment this weekend.

(Klein) "So in terms of process, it’s about the same thing, minus about three days."

(Host) But Republicans continued to complain about the Democrats’ tactics. Burlington Representative Kurt Wright is a member of Klein’s committee.

(Wright) "I think that the process that has gone around this building right now is basically a travesty and is making us look bad in the eyes of Vermonters all across this state."

(Dillon) Republicans and the Douglas administration also took issue with the substance of the bill. It says that the owners of Vermont Yankee have to show they have enough money to dismantle the plant in 2012. The financial guarantee would be made by the Entergy Corporation.

Decommissioning is expected to cost about $900 million. The fund currently is worth about $360 million.

Public Service Commissioner David O’Brien is the administration’s point person on utility issues.

(O’Brien) "We find the legislation that they’re moving forward to be an affront to the process, the well-established process, and seems to be simply a measure to antagonize either Entergy or the governor on this issue, to what end I don’t know."

(Dillon) Some Republican members of the House were also antagonized at the way the vote occurred. House Speaker Shap Smith tried to lower the temperature after the lengthy debate.

(Smith) "I just remind members and ask members to try to keep in mind that we are all working for Vermonters and Vermonters expect us to respect each other and respect the fact that we have differences and engage in discourse in a civil and decorous way."

(Host) The Senate is likely to approve the bill before adjournment. But it faces a probable veto from Governor Jim Douglas, who opposed a similar bill last year.

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

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