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April 29, 2010

Burlington Selected to Join Elite 'Carbon War Room'

Covershot Burlington is among 15 cities from around the world that will take part in a 30-month challenge to develop new, market-driven solutions to combat climate change.

The Carbon War Room, a non-profit organization founded by Virgin mogul Sir Richard Branson, made the announcement Wednesday.

The thrust of the Carbon War Room, and the Green Capital Global Challenge, is to connect private investment and entrepreneurs with environmental projects – building a new economy based on green development that in the end is both good for the environment and investors' bottom line, said Joe Reinert, a spokesman for Mayor Kiss.

Mayor Bob Kiss attended a Carbon War Room forum in Vancouver, Canada in February during the Winter Olympics at the invitation of Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who co-hosted the forum.

Continue reading "Burlington Selected to Join Elite 'Carbon War Room'" »

April 01, 2010

A New Prognosis for Health Care Reform in Vermont

IMG_0851 Vermont's effort to move ahead on health care reform is getting caught in a tug-of-war between three gubernatorial candidates, all of whom have a say in how bills move through the state senate.

The Vermont senate’s gubernatorial trio failed last week to settle differences over a sweeping health care reform effort and hoped to come to a mutual agreement this week.

Instead, two of the senators want to amend the bill over the objections of a third.

Sen. Doug Racine (D-Chittenden), chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, has crafted a bill to design a system by early 2011 that gives lawmakers and the next governor a set of choices on how to implement and finance it.

Racine wants a three-to-five-person panel composed of non-political experts in charge.

"We like the board because it gives credibility to whatever is recommended by having some respected Vermonters involved in directing the work," said Racine. "It would also remove a lot of election-year politics, and the board, though appointed by political entities, would be free from directly engaging in politics."

Meanwhile, Sen. Susan Bartlett (D-Lamoille), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, wants existing legislative committees to be in charge as a way to save money and ensure the governor doesn’t have too much say on the panel.

Continue reading "A New Prognosis for Health Care Reform in Vermont" »

March 25, 2010

Who's Killing Vermont's Quality Seals?

Babyseals_front* * Updated Below with Response from Douglas Administration * *

While I was paying attention to health care reform, taxes, Burlington Telecom and Commissioner David "Sunshine" O'Brien for this week's column, I missed a huge story — Vermont's quality seals are being clubbed to death to close the state's $150 million budget gap.

WCAX-TV had the story on Sunday, and pols began to chime in shortly thereafter.

Sen. Doug Racine (D-Chittenden), one of five Democrats hoping to become the next governor, said the seals had been "rendered meaningless," and their eradication was "a black eye for the state of Vermont."

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture announced Monday its plans to kill off the quality seals as part of budget cuts, a process that quietly began on January 1. The agency did not give the number of dead seals in Vermont to date.

As someone who's lived in Vermont almost my entire life (so far), this was news to me. Do we have seals? Otters, sure. But, seals?

And, apparently they are not just any seals but quality seals. All that clean country living, no doubt. Which is why they are costing us money.

Where is PETA? Greenpeace? Where is Paul Watson and his merry band of righteous Sea Shepherds?

Today, Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie broke ranks with Gov. Jim Douglas and decried the clubbing of Vermont seals. Dubie is the putative Republican candidate for governor this fall.

Continue reading "Who's Killing Vermont's Quality Seals?" »

March 08, 2010

Maritime Museum Eyed as Moran Plant Tenant

Local-moran_0 The redevelopment of the Moran Plant will be the main item for debate at tonight's Burlington City Council, including a request to sign a deal allowing the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum to become the project's crucial third tenant.

Last fall, the Green Mountain Children's Museum pulled out of the project, leaving only two possible anchor tenants — Ice Factor, a Scottish-based company that wants to create an indoor, family adventure center, and the Lake Champlain Community Sailing Center. The city then sought, and received, proposals from nonprofit groups interested in occupying up to 7000 square feet of ground floor space in the Moran Center at Waterfront Park redevelopment project.

Burlington College, Burlington City Arts, the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts and the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum offered proposals. Here's a description of the Maritime Museum's proposal:

Continue reading "Maritime Museum Eyed as Moran Plant Tenant" »

February 25, 2010

Vermont Senate Delivers a Blow to Vermont Yankee

IMG_0788 By a decisive 26-4 margin, the Vermont Senate today voted to deny Vermont Yankee a chance to receiving a 20-year license extension to continue operating the 620 megawatt nuclear power plant beyond 2012.

At least for now.

The vote came after nearly three-and-a-half hours of debate — and three failed attempts to derail the bill — before a Senate chamber packed largely with VY opponents, some of whom had trekked north from Brattleboro to witness the vote.

The Vermont legislature is the only elected body that has been given the authority to give an up or down vote on the future of nuclear power plant. Not surprisingly, all eyes were on Montpelier yesterday.

News outlets from The New York Times to Mother Jones were tracking the news. In fact, the Times' Matthew Wald was on the scene in the Senate chamber.

The Senate's action comes one week after Pres. Barack Obama announced billions in federal loan guarantees to build two new nuclear reactors in Georgia. The vote is seen as a rebuke of that effort.

Not so, said Sen. President Peter Shumlin (D-Windham). "This was not a debate about new nukes versus old nukes, this was a vote about old nukes," he said.

Continue reading "Vermont Senate Delivers a Blow to Vermont Yankee" »

February 23, 2010

Nuclear Showdown in the State Senate

VermontYankeeNPP Don’t expect a giant mushroom cloud to appear over the golden dome in Montpelier tomorrow when the state senate debates a measure allowing for the relicensure of Vermont Yankee beyond its scheduled closing date of 2012.

Check out Seven Days' recent news package examining the Vermont Yankee debate.

It's likely that the senate will vote down the measure, but not before taking up a motion to send the bill back to committees for further review of the economic impact of shutting down the plant in 2012.

In short, though the senate will probably vote against relicensure, I don't suspect this issue will go away anytime soon.

Besides, it's not as if the plant has to shut down tomorrow. In fact, its operators plan to replace roughly 120 fuel assemblies in April. Each assembly lasts as long as four-and-a-half years. Despite the senate vote, which could call into question VY's future, the refueling will go ahead as scheduled.

"The refueling outage will not be affected by the legislative vote," said VY spokesman Larry Smith. "Refuel outage will not be affected by the tritium leak if we do not find it and stop it before that. The plan is to find it and fix it before the outage."

By its own admission, Entergy's drop-dead date for a decision on relicensure isn’t until April 2011. That’s an eternity in politics, and Entergy knows this is not a short-term fight. Vermonters' trust will take months to regain.

It's also a possibility that a negative decision could end up in court.

A WCAX poll last week proves how far Entergy has to go: Nearly half of 400 Vermonters polled say VY should be closed in 2010, with another quarter not sure and only a quarter in favor of giving it another 20 years to operate.

Even if no other measure is taken up in this legislature, another vote could occur in 2011. That’s when a new legislature will be seated, along with a new governor and lieutenant governor.

Hmm ... think this will be a campaign issue?

Continue reading "Nuclear Showdown in the State Senate" »

February 04, 2010

Entergy Assembles Lobbying Teams to Rebuild Vermonters' Trust

VY Entergy announced late Wednesday that it has assembled a team of its top government affairs and communications specialists to assuage concerns of Vermont officials and rebuild trust.

The move comes one day after Entergy placed a top official — Jay Thayer — on administrative leave. Thayer was one of several Entergy Vermont Yankee officials who lied to regulators and a special legislative oversight panel about the existence of underground pipes. Those pipes may be the source of an ongoing tritium leak at Vermont Yankee.

It's a sign that Entergy is in damage-control mode by placing some of its top lobbyists and corporate communicators in Vermont to answer increasingly tough questions about its business practices in Vermont.

In recent weeks, not only has tritium been found to be leaking — heavily in some areas — at the plant, but Entergy officials admitted they lied to regulators under oath, as well as a special legislative panel, about the existence of underground pipes that carry radionuclides.

Continue reading "Entergy Assembles Lobbying Teams to Rebuild Vermonters' Trust" »

January 29, 2010

VT Yankee: Closing in on Source of Tritium Leak?

VT-Yankee-10x22-crop-w Vermont Yankee continues to focus on a key underground pipe that carries steam away from the nuclear power plant's turbines to its main reactor stacks as a possible source of a tritium leak.

However, Vermont's top radiological health officer, Bill Irwin, told Seven Days that it is too soon to determine if this was the underground pipe leaking tritium into nearby groundwater.

The main focus of investigation and excavation is a pipe about 12 feet below the surface, said Irwin, called the advance off-gas system.

"It's very early on, but as a tritium source the drain line related to this off-gas system has been identified early on as a possible source, and excavation started a couple of days ago," Irwin told Seven Days via phone from the Vernon-based power plant.

Yesterday, around 4 p.m., workers encountered steam coming from the area of the pipe and halted work to further determine what steps should be taken, said Irwin. Samples from the ground did not prove to have tritium at high enough concentrations, but further digging will occur.

"Plant officials had hoped it would be indicative of a leak, but a sample taken last night and reported today proved they need to go deeper before they can confirm whether this is the source," said Irwin. He cautioned that finding the true source of the leak could be weeks, even months, away.

Continue reading "VT Yankee: Closing in on Source of Tritium Leak?" »

January 28, 2010

Gov. Douglas Calls for 'Time Out' on Vermont Yankee

Vermontyankee Less than week after urging lawmakers to take a vote this session and allow utility regulators to decide Vermont Yankee's future, Gov. Jim Douglas said Wednesday afternoon he is pulling back his full-throttled support for the embattled power plant.

The reason?

On its face, it's because Douglas says Entergy has violated the confidence and trust of Vermonters.

"I have lost trust in the current management team and I have been disappointed that changes have not already been made," said Douglas. 

The announcement came on the heels of a rough hearing before the Vermont Public Service Board Wednesday morning, and increasing calls from legislative leaders asking the Douglas administration to withdraw its support for Entergy's proposal to spin off Vermont Yankee's ownership to a new, limited liability company, Enexus.

On Wednesday, the Agency of Natural Resources also revealed it is investigating Entergy's discharges into the groundwater, and possible illegal discharges into the Connecticut River, thanks to recent tritium leaks.

As well, Attorney General Bill Sorrell also confirmed he is investigating whether Entergy officials lied under oath before the PSB.


A rough day at the office for sure. But, Douglas didn't fully back away completely from his support for Entergy. Throughout thick and thin — from cooling water tower collapses to missing fuel rods — Douglas and his Department of Public Service have still urged for an extension of Vermont Yankee's operating license.

"When we can again say with resolute clarity that we can depend on the management of the plant and ensure public health and safety, only then can we move forward with the consideration of the plant’s long-term future," said Douglas.

Entergy officials were disappointed by the governor's statement.

Continue reading "Gov. Douglas Calls for 'Time Out' on Vermont Yankee" »

January 27, 2010

Entergy Tells Miffed Regulators: "This Company Gets It"

PSBHearing The state's top utility regulators — the three-member Vermont Public Service Board — took the unusual step today at a hearing of expressing strong displeasure with Entergy for providing incomplete information and misstatements to the board, the state, the legislature and the public.

"I know Entergy has heard this already, but they should hear it anyway — such conduct is unacceptable," said PSB Chairman James Volz, who read a prepared statement at the onset of the hearing.

The PSB has several requests, including one by the state's public utility watchdog, the Public Service Department, to reopen Entergy's case to relicense Vermont Yankee beyond 2012, owing to recent revelations that Entergy lied to regulators under oath.

Volz said it appears as if Entergy has "provided false information for an extended period of time."

"I, and the other two members, are deeply concerned by the accuracy of the information Entergy has provided," said Volz.

Entergy's misstatements to the PSB and others, coupled with the current tritium leak, raise questions about operational reliability, the cost and timing of decommissioning Vermont Yankee, the adequacy of the decommissioning fund and Entergy's managerial and technical competence.

"This board is dependent on Entergy providing timely and accurate information," said Volz.

PSB member David Coen told Entergy that one of the major claims supporting VY's relicensure — an economic benefit to the state — was severely undermined by the allegations of misleading the public, coupled with the coinciding tritium leak.

"There is a sense of insecurity and no confidence," said Coen. "So keep that in mind. There is no price that is high enough for the trust of Vermonters."

Continue reading "Entergy Tells Miffed Regulators: "This Company Gets It"" »

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