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VNRC Disappointed with Yankee Ruling; Future of Plant Still Uncertain

In a much-anticipated decision, Judge Garvan Murtha, of the United States District Court of Vermont, ruled on January 19, 2012 that the State of Vermont is preempted by the Atomic Energy Act from enforcing legislation that would have compelled Vermont Yankee to shut down in March of 2012.

VNRC submitted several briefs arguing that the Vermont Legislature was entitled under the proper authority of energy planning to determine the fate of the Vermont Yankee plant to promote renewable energy development. The Court’s decision did not invalidate this as a valid exercise of the state’s authority; however, in the end, Judge Murtha said that the legislation the state was relying on to shut down Vermont Yankee was primarily motivated by safety concerns  – and thus preempted by the federal Atomic Energy Act.

VNRC is disappointed that the Vermont Legislature’s track record in promoting renewable energy (which does not include nuclear power) was not recognized as a primary motivation for the state’s position on closing the plant. Still, Judge Murtha was careful to recognize that the Court’s decision “does not purport to resolve or pass judgment on the debate regarding the advantages or disadvantages of nuclear power generation … nor does it purport to define or restrict the State’s ability to decline to renew a certificate of public good on any ground not preempted or not violative of federal law.”

This means the Public Service Board (PSB) will ultimately determine whether to issue a certificate of public good (CPG) for continued operation of the plant, and it can consider such issues as need, energy planning, reliability, cost, and other state concerns such as land use.

VNRC is currently participating in the Public Service Board’s docket regarding this matter, where we have argued, among other issues, that the plant’s contamination of groundwater – a public trust resource – must be addressed. The PSB’s handling of the CPG will be closely watched. Stay tuned for more on this important issue!

Read VNRC’s briefs on the case here and here.