State's attorney appeals Vermont Yankee nuclear plant ruling

Sat Feb 18, 2012 4:29pm EST

Feb 17 (Reuters) - Vermont's Attorney General appealed
on Saturday a federal judge's ruling that had prevented the
state from shutting down its only nuclear power plant,
escalating a two-year battle over state's rights and atomic
energy.	
    Last month, U.S. District Court Judge J. Garvan Murtha ruled
that federal law preempted a state law that would have shut the
Vermont Yankee plant in March, at the end of its original
40-year operating license.	
    Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin says the state secured the
right to decide whether it continues running as a condition of
operator Entergy Corp's purchase of the plant in 2002.	
    Although Vermont is the only state in the nation with
authority over its nuclear facilities, the debate is being
closely followed by other states like New York that want more
say over whether to continue running older plants.	
    "We have strong arguments to make on appeal. The district
court's decision improperly limits the State's legitimate role
in deciding whether Vermont Yankee should operate in Vermont
beyond March 21, 2012," Attorney General William H. Sorrell said
in a statement on Saturday.	
    "The court's undue reliance on the discussions among our
citizen legislators, expert witnesses, advocates, and their
constituents has the potential to chill legislative debates in
the future. Left unchallenged, this decision could make it
harder for ordinary Vermonters to clearly state their views in
future legislative hearings," Sorrell said.    	
    The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City will
hear the appeal, he said.	
    While debate over the safety of nuclear energy has
intensified since last year's Fukushima disaster in Japan, the
battle over Vermont Yankee goes back several years. 	
    In February 2010, the Vermont Senate, then headed by now
Governor Shumlin, voted 26-4 against authorizing the Public
Service Board to issue a certificate of public good that the
state required in order to keep the 620-megawatt plant running.	
    But last year, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) --
which has authority over the nation's nuclear fleet - extended
Vermont Yankee's original 40-year operating license for another
20 years until 2032.	
    "We as a state have had many important and legitimate
concerns with Entergy Louisiana and its operation of Vermont
Yankee that are not reflected in (Murtha's) opinion," Shumlin
said in a statement on Saturday. "I support the Attorney
General's work in getting a positive result on appeal."	
	
    STATUS CONFERENCE MARCH 9	
    Judge Murtha blocked the state from shutting the reactor
before March 21, but required Entergy to seek the certificate of
public good from the Board. Entergy has now filed for that
certificate, which would extend operations another 20 years.	
    New Orleans-based Entergy Corp, the country's second-biggest
nuclear power operator, said on Saturday it was ready to respond
to the appeal and committed to ensuring the plant, which employs
600 people, continues to generate power.	
    The Public Service Board has scheduled a status conference
on the Vermont Yankee case for March 9, according to state
utility regulators.	
    In its filing with the Public Service Board, Entergy said
the Board already "has a fully sufficient record, without taking
any additional evidence, to issue a decision either amending the
existing certificate of public good or issuing a new one to
authorize operation of Vermont Yankee for twenty years."    	
    Entergy originally filed with the Board in 2008 and hearings
were held in 2009 before the state senate voted in 2010 to stop
the Board from deciding on the certificate.    	
    The Public Service Board is a quasi judicial board that
supervises rates, quality of service and financial management of
the state's utilities, including Vermont Yankee.	
    In his Jan. 19 decision, Judge Murtha ruled the state laws
were preempted by the Federal Atomic Energy Act because the
state laws were enacted with radiological safety concerns in
mind. The safety of nuclear power is a federal issue, not a
state issue.	
    One state act required legislative approval for continued
operation of the plant after March 21, 2012 before the Public
Service Board could decide to grant a certificate of public
good.    	
    The state gained authority over the plant in 2002, when
Entergy bought it from New England utilities and agreed to seek
a new certificate of public good if it decided to run the plant
beyond March 2012 when its first license expired.	
    Other states like New York are keen to have that kind of
power over the state's nuclear plants.    	
    New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to shut Entergy's
2,063-MW Indian Point plant in part because it is located within
the heavily populated New York metropolitan area just 45 miles
north of Manhattan.    Entergy hopes to keep running the two
reactors for another 20 years after their federal operating
licenses expire in 2013 and 2015.