Yankee Vote Becomes Issue In Gubernatorial Race

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(Host) The future of Vermont Yankee is emerging as a key issue in the Democratic gubernatorial race.

The Senate is set to vote this week on whether the plant should be re-licensed for another 20 years.

Lamoille senator Susan Bartlett is calling for the vote to be delayed, because she says it’s being rushed through the Legislature.

Senate President Peter Shumlin says vote will take place as planned.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) On many issues, there’s not a lot of difference among the five Democrats running for governor but some clear distinctions are emerging concerning the future of the Vermont Yankee.

One of the candidates is Senate President Peter Shumlin.

He’s scheduled a vote on Wednesday on a bill to extend Vermont Yankee’s license for another 20 years. Shumlin is urging members of the Senate to vote no and it’s likely that a majority of senators will support this position.

Lamoille senator Susan Bartlett is also running for governor.  She wants to close the plant in 2012 when its license expires but she says the issue is being rushed through the Senate. She wants to delay a vote until several upcoming reports have been released.

In a press release Bartlett said, "Holding a vote on Wednesday means that we will ignore the thoughtful, methodical process we already have in place to consider the facts. It’s more political theater than making good public policy."

Despite repeated attempts to contact senator Bartlett and her campaign staff, she was not available for comment.

Senator Shumlin says he strongly disagrees with Bartlett’s analysis.

(Shumlin) "None of those reports will tell us anything that we don’t know and we need to plan for Vermont‘s energy future – for our jobs future – and ratepayers need to know what to expect… I understand that politicians don’t always want to go on record taking courageous positions but it’s time to move ahead."

(Kinzel) How will this disagreement play out as an issue in the Democratic gubernatorial primary?  Middlebury College political science professor emeritus Eric Davis says Bartlett’s call for a more comprehensive process will be lost on many voters.

(Davis) "The future of Vermont Yankee is one of the two or three most important issues for those voters who’ll be going to the polls in the Democratic primary, whether it’s held in August or September. And I would say this statement – senator Bartlett, who already has liabilities in terms of relative lack of name recognition, has just made the path she has to climb to win that Democratic primary much steeper."

(Kinzel) The major debate in the Senate on Wednesday is expected to focus on an amendment to send the bill back to committee for additional study.  If this effort fails, most senators say they’ll vote against the license extension bill.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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