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January 21, 2010

Douglas: Leave Vermont Yankee Fate to 'Experts,' Not Lawmakers

IMG_0711 When it comes to Gov. Jim Douglas and Vermont Yankee, the more things change, the more things stay the same.

Despite the recent discovery of high levels of radioactive isotope in the groundwater near Vermont Yankee, Douglas continued to express his belief that lawmakers should allow state regulators to decide whether Vermont Yankee should continue operating beyond 2012.

As of yesterday, one monitoring well was found to have more than 23,000 picocuries per liter of tritium, which is higher than the federal environmental drinking water standard of 20,000 picocuries.

State health officials told lawmakers yesterday that water tested in a separate, concrete trench had tritium levels ranging from 720,000 picocuries to 2 million picocuries per liter.

Both lawmakers and Douglas have asked health investigators to ramp up their independent monitoring efforts and to post those results online — daily.

Douglas told reporters at his weekly press conference this morning that lawmakers should vote soon — though perhaps not today, as he recognized VY's support has waned considerably in the past week — to allow the Vermont Public Service Board to move forward and decide VY's fate.

"These decisions are best made outside the political realm," said Douglas. "How my administration presents that case to the Public Service Board will be determined by the outcome of the investigation that is under way now."

That said, Douglas is concerned about the recent tritium leak and its impact — on Vermont Yankee.

"The safety of the operation of that plant is my highest priority; it's what we need to feel good about in order to have it continue to operate and be part of our energy future. I take it very seriously and hope we get to the bottom of it very quickly," said Douglas.

Douglas said lawmakers should leave the VY investigation to the "experts" and instead focus on the state's economic problems.

"We need to have legislators focused on what is necessary to ensure the fiscal and economic health of Vermont," said Douglas. "They need to balance the budget; they need to invest in job creation; they need to address the economic problems on the table during this session."

When asked if Entergy can be trusted to give his administration a straight story, given the company's pattern of lying to lawmakers, the public and regulators, Douglas said his team's motto is no longer "Trust but verify." It's now "Verify."

"We have to be sure the information presented is accurate, but, to be perfectly honest, if someone is truly interested in deceiving the public official or public generally, it can happen," said Douglas.

Douglas said some are comparing Entergy's misstatements to federal regulators with the problems facing Burlington Telecom and some of its officials who didn't fully disclose that the city loaned the utility upward of $17 million in taxpayer money over two years.

Um, really? I can see the parallel in terms of misleading the public and public officials, but last I checked Burlington Telecom didn't leak radioactive isotopes into Lake Champlain or Burlington's groundwater.

If this pattern of obfuscation and deflection sounds familiar, just check out this week's "Fair Game" for an analysis of Entergy's long-standing "truthiness" standard when it comes to providing information to regulators. As you'll see, regulators often play a crucial role in reassuring the public when Entergy screws up and something leaks from, or falls off, the aging reactor.

Douglas said Attorney General Bill Sorrell was "looking into" Entergy's claims before state regulators. Sorrell would not say if such a probe was already underway.

"I’ve been declining and intend for the foreseeable future to continue to decline comment on the issue, other than to say that my office has a history of taking seriously matters relating to the veracity and reliability of statements and information provided to state regulator," Sorrell told Seven Days.

Yesterday, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group asked Sorrell to determine whether VY's current advertising campaign violates the state's consumer fraud laws.

Lawmakers recently reconstituted a special legislative panel to review what Entergy officials told legislators and consultants during a 2008 review of the plant's operations.

The panel was created in 2008 to determine the plant's reliability to operate for another 20 years. During that review, Entergy officials told consultants there were no underground pipes that carried radionuclides.

The governor said today that he is looking to replace his sole appointee to the panel — former state nuclear engineer William Sherman, who has decided not to continue serving on the group. The panel meets for the first time on Monday.

"I obviously will have to find a successor to Bill," said Douglas.

Douglas also said he expects Entergy to pick up the additional state monitoring of groundwater and surface water near Vermont Yankee.

When it was first licensed in 1972, Vermont Yankee was given a 40-year license. That expires in 2012, and the plant's owners, Entergy, have asked state and federal regulators to extend VY's life another 20 years. Entergy also wants to shift ownership of the plant to a spin-off limited liability company called Enexus.

The Vermont Public Service Board will host a technical hearing next Wednesday on issues related to the relicensure of Vermont Yankee. Both the state Department of Public Service and the New England Coalition have asked for the case to be reopened and for some of Entergy's assertions to be reexamined, given the news that Entergy officials misled regulators under oath.

Despite the recent revelations and concerns, Douglas remains a supporter of Vermont Yankee's ability to deliver low-cost power for the state.

"I've said all along this is an important part of our energy mix," said Douglas. "It's been a cost-effective, emission-free source of electricity that has served Vermont well because our retail electric rates haven't gone up like they have in other places."

Asked if the tritium leak also raises concerns about whether Entergy, or the new firm Enexus, will have enough money to decommission the plant, Douglas again deferred to the "experts."

"The plant needs to be decommissioned at some point, and the resources need to be there to accomplish it," said Douglas. But he believes regulators should decide how much and how quickly the decommissioning fund should be shored up.

As of December 31, the value of the Vermont Yankee decommissioning fund was $428,369,568, a slight drop from November 30, when it was $428,451,492. In September 2007, the fund was roughly $440 million.

"Verify"??? the ENTIRE audit was done to verify and they couldn't because reliable verifications depend on the source to be honest.

Douglas's lasting gift to VT on his way out the door, a 40 year old nuclear power plant that will be someone else's problem.

Thanks Jim.

Douglas thinks that the voters should have no say in this.

He believes that our elected representatives should just rubber stamp whatever his administration decides.

No. It's time to stand up against Entergy and their leaks and their lies.

Entergy - LEAKS and LIES

@ One_Vermonter: The Public Service Board is not part of the Douglas Administration. It is an independent judicial body consisting of energy experts. 2/3 of which, by the way, are leftovers from the DEAN ADMINISTRATION.

Douglas is right: the decision should be left to the experts at the PSB, not to the wondrous, deer-in-the-headlights incompetents in the knitting-club known as the Vt. Legislature. I'm not sure there are 10 actual college degrees in the entire House and Senate combined, and is ANYONE in the Legislature an engineer or an energy expert? Please.

Actually, I think that Vermonters should have much more influence over a decision like this than a small roomful of "experts" who can't be held to account for their decisions.

Say what you will about the legislature -- but they have to stand in front of the voters every two years.

This decision should NOT be made by a few government bureaucrats. It should be made by Vermonters and their ELECTED officials. Democracy isn't perfect ... but it's better than all of the alternatives.

@Sean - Which 2 were appointed by Dean? Oh and please include links to the proof because I actually think you might be lying. But that's typical of anything related to Vermont Yankee

Also could you please tell me what "club known as the Vt. Legislature. I'm not sure there are 10 actual college degrees in the entire House and Senate combined," as you described them, should decide? I mean essentially what you are suggesting is to get rid of an entire branch of our gov't, how very democratic of you.

Hey but based on your rhetoric you probably love the supreme court decision today too.

More obfuscation from Shady "Hot 2" Totten. Shady, how come you never called out VPIRG (Vermont's Purveyors of Ignorance Regarding Generation) when they LIED about the cost of "renewable" power in their shameless attempt to kill 650 jobs? How 'bout it, Shady? You never mentioned that the VPIRG report said renewable power would cost 7.3 cents/kwh, but the utilities who would be stuck buying that intermittent power told everyone it would cost at least 10 cents. The main stream media had it, where were you? C'mon Shady, explain yourself! These are the same bozos who pushed the SPEED program which will ensure that Vermont utilities MUST buy renewable power at 20 and 30 cents/kwh. (Vermont Yankee supplies 1/3 of the state's power at 4.2 cents/kwh and it's offer of 6.1 cents in 2012 is still less than the 6.9 cents/kwh that Hydro Quebec is charging now) VPIRG also said in its report that we can lose Vermont Yankee and cut our eletric bills in half at the same time. Gee, I can't imagine why they never fleshed that out. While you're at it, explain how Vermont will meet its GHG targets in the future without Vermont Yankee. Guess what, Shady? They can't do it, but I'm sure you'll happily post whatever pathological liar Tony Klein comes up with for an excuse. Without Vermont Yankee, power costs will be too high to attract any new businesses by 2012 when the economy finally starts to pick up. Shady, thanks for doing all you can to kill every last thing that is affordable in Vermont

@Get Real - You should get your facts straight before you ramble on and on. Wrong on SPEED wrong on rates and just flat out wrong.

Please actually explain how rates will go up? I mean, you know, beyond just saying they will go up.

Oh and by the way, the only one that has LEGALLY be proven to be liar between Entergy Louisiana and VPIRG is the one you are defending.

All three Public Service Board Members were appointed by Governor James Douglas.

-David Coen in 2007
-James Voltz in 2005
-John Burke in 2009

One or two of these men were FIRST appointed by Howard Dean -- but Douglas re-appointed them.

Regardless, the issue of relicensure is way too big to leave Vermonters and their ELECTED representatives to be left out of the process.

For Jim Douglas to say otherwise is outrageous.

1. "This decision should NOT be made by a few government bureaucrats. It should be made by Vermonters and their ELECTED officials. Democracy isn't perfect ... but it's better than all of the alternatives."

I see. Then I'm sure you agreed with all the people who said that the voters themselves should decide whether we have gay marriage in Vermont.

Let the people decide everything, right?

2. And I guess I was right about who first appointed the current members of the PSB, huh? Dean. That's right, Dean.

3. Get Real was right: VPIRG's "report" was fraudulent.

I agreed with the people who said that the LEGISLATURE should decide the gay marriage issue.

The LEGISLATURE is accountable to the people. If the people don't like gay marriage, they can vote out the legislators that voted for it.

And I agree with the people who say that the LEGISLATURE should have great influence over the future of VT Yankee.

The VT Yankee issue should NOT be put on a ballot as a referendum. Our ELECTED representatives should decide the issue. If we disagree with the outcome of their votes, we can vote them out.

This decision should be made by people who are directly accountable to the people -- not 3 unelected bureaucrats.

By the way, this signals a huge flip flop for Jim Douglas.

In 2006, he signed the law that said that the Public Service Board can't renew VY's license without legislative approval.

After granting the legislature this power, Douglas now says that they shouldn't have it ????

His current position isn't based on principle. It's based upon political expediency.

Hey @GetReal, Just looked up that VPIRG report, which I didn't write about you are correct. Must be I was at my monthly ACORN training.

Interestingly, VPIRG isn't the source of the 7.3-cent price claim for in-state renewables. It was the Department of Public Service (via a consultant they hired to look at VT Yankee alternatives).

Yer pal,


Entergy/Vermont Yankee has been shown to lie to the people of Vermont REPEATEDLY. Let the legislature decide.

"The VT Yankee issue should NOT be put on a ballot as a referendum. Our ELECTED representatives should decide the issue."

You're a hypocrite. You want "democracy," but not to the point of actually letting the voters decide. Why are you afraid of letting the full electorate decide the issue? Oh, I know: because you know that you will not get the outcome you so badly want. Gee, how transparent can you be?

Do you like the courts better than the voters? Great! Let's go that route then. After all, it was the Vermont Supreme Court that really decided the gay marriage issue back in 2000. Well, then, let the PSB -- which is a COURT -- decide the VY issue as well.

And you're just plain wrong in saying "3 bureaucrats" shouldn't decide VY. The PSB is not "bureaucrats" and you know it. You're using that pejorative term on purpose. You know that they are judges, not bureaucrats. They are not beholden to the Governor or anyone else. They are totally independent. And, even better, they are judges with sophisticated expertise that absolutely no one in the Legislature has. You are engaging in political spin by calling them "bureacrats," on purpose, to get your way.

You are not process-oriented, you are results-oriented. You say that the voters can vote the Legislature out of office if we don't like their vote on VY. But you want them to vote down VY first, and then even if the voters vote them out of office, you will have gotten the result you want. Of course, if you thought for a nanosecond that the Legislature wouldn't vote to shut down VY, but the PSB or the electorate would, you'd be screaming to let the PSB decide the issue, not the Legislature.

I'll live with whatever decision the PSB makes, good or bad, but not the morons and political hacks in the Legislature.

Sean, the electorate would probably vote in free creemies, beer, and pizza for all Vermonters, but that doesn't mean it should happen.

Oh and by the way. the PSB is a BOARD, not a COURT. It is quasi-judicial, but not judicial. It is not part of the state's judiciary system.

There is nothing hypocritical about supporting the legislative process.

Big decisions like this should require the input of our ELECTED representatives. Jim Douglas agreed in 2005 when he signed a law saying exactly that ... now he's flip flopping.

Our state reps stand for election every two years. If you think that they are "morons" then you have the right to campaign against them and try to replace them with people you like.

It is the established process in Vermont. That's the process that we've used for centuries. That's the process that I support.

Now Jim Douglas says that it isn't a good process. He wants to change the process. But this decision is too important to leave to 3 unelected bureaucrats (these guys are not judges - they are in the executive branch of government - appointed by Jim Douglas.)

Gee, no matter how many times you repeat your pre-programmed, VPIRG-supplied, anti-VY "talking point," you're still wrong: the PSB is an independent board. It is not controlled by the executive branch and it's members are not bureaucrats. And they were originally appointed by Dean.

I agree with you that this decision is important -- it's too important to leave to a bunch of people who have no freakin idea what they're doing, and some of whom are shamelessly willing to use VY as a political punching bag to further their own crass, naked, political ambitions.

Jim Douglas agreed that the Legislature should have a role in the decision to relicense VT Yankee or not when he signed a bill in 2005 saying just that. Now he's flip flopped.

Now Jim wants to change the rules. He does not want Vermonters to have a say in this important decision.

But we live in a representative democracy. And our elected representatives will have a say in the outcome of this decision. Don't like it? Then move to a country that has a dictatorship.

This choice shouldn't be made by 3 unelected "experts". It should be made by Vermonters.

@ VPIRG robot known as "one_vermonter": "Now Jim wants to change the rules. He does not want Vermonters to have a say in this important decision."

Neither do you.

Let the voters decide.

What are you afraid of?

would not surprise me one bit if, when he leaves office, Douglas ends up on the Entergy payroll in one capacity or another, particularly given he has long been in their back pocket and shown such loyalty to them over all these many years.

Sean, I don't know anything about VPIRG and you don't know anything about me.

We just have an honest difference of opinion.

I'd LOVE it if the voters could vote on this issue - that would be great - but we don't have a referendum process in this state.

But, you aren't arguing for a statewide referendum. You're arguing for 3 guys (who aren't accountable to anyone) to make this decision for all 600,000 Vermonters. That's not democratic.

We elect representatives and they make the decisions. It's called REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY. It's worked for us for 200+ years -- and it's better than all of the alternatives.

You want 3 guys to decide for all of us. I think that the people who make this decision should have to answer to the voters.

I respect our elected representatives. You think that they are "morons".

If you think that they are morons, work to boot them out of office ... but don't tear down the democratic process just because you disagree with our elected officials.

@ VPIRG robot known as "one_vermonter":

"You respect our representatives?" "It's not democratic?" Dude, it was the Legislature that you claim to respect and love so much that CREATED the Public Service Board and entrusted it with the power to make ALL decisions concerning energy in VT.

You're terribly sad and confused.

"You want 3 guys to decide for all of us."


You need to learn your sorry-ass, addled-brain, pathetic history.

Do you dispute that the Legislature created the PSB to decide exactly what you now are saying it should not be allowed to decide?

C'mon. It's pathetic. Get a clue. Don't argue if you don't even know the history of what you're talking about.

The true history is that in 2005 Jim Douglas signed a bill into law granting the legislature the authority to approve or deny the relicensure of VT Yankee.

Read about it here:

Name calling and insults won't change that history.

Our elected reps have that power. Jim Douglas helped give them that power. Now he says that they shouldn't have that power.

The PSB has a role to play but they can't be the only people to make this important decision. Our elected officials should be (and are) involved with the process.

That's how our democracy works.

Please stop wrapping your obvious anti-VY zealotry in the mantle of democracy. As I said, if you thought for one second that this particular term of the Legislature would be in favor of re-licensure, you'd be yelling that the decision should be made by a different body, or that the vote should be delayed.

I believe in the established legal process to make this decision -- which means that the legislature must give it's approval before the PBS can grant VY relicensure.

Jim Douglas agreed with this process too -- in fact, signed the bill in 2005 which granted the legislature this power.

But now Douglas has changed his mind.

He sees that the process that he helped establish no longer favors the outcome that he desires. Now he wants to change the process to help VY.

The rules of the game won't be changed just because Jim Douglas and his friends at VY are losing.

@ VPIRG robot: You seem to be confused. Where is Douglas asking the Legislature not to vote?

He's asking them TO vote -- to vote to send the decision to the PSB.

Yesterday Douglas said, "I think the best outcome is to get it out of the political world and let the professional regulators make a decision."

This is at odds with the law that he signed in 2005 which put this issue in the "political world" of the legislature.

Why not follow the law that Jim Douglas signed?

Did you call Jim Douglas a "VPIRG robot" when he signed that legislation in 2005?

Cut the "democracy" crap. Your purpose is not to observe democracy. It is to shut down Yankee by whatever means necessary. You'd happily put the decision in the hands of a dictator if you knew for sure he'd shut it down.

If you support democracy, you'll support the democratic process which is in place. Our elected representatives will decide Yankee's fate ... not just 3 guys who are unaccountable to anyone.

The "3 guys", whose Board was created by the Legislature for exactly this purpose, and 2 of whose current members were originally appointed by Dean, are accountable to the entire state of Vermont.

Give your freakin "democracy" crap a rest, VPIRGbot. Nobody's buyin it.

Again, are you an ENTERGYbot because you support extending the life of Vermont Yankee?

And why did the Governor sign that law in 2005 saying that the legislature has the power to decide this issue?

This wasn't a controversial point in 2005. But now that the Governor and Entergy are on the losing side of the issue, they want to change the rules & get the legislature out of the way. Luckily, that's not going to happen.

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