On the evening of Wednesday, November 7, over 250 members of the public from Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts packed the elementary school gym in Vernon, Vermont, for the first of two public hearings held by Vermont’s three-member Public Service Board. The topic at hand was whether the Public Service Board should grant the Entergy Corporation a “Certificate of Public Good” that would legally authorize the company to run the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor in Vernon for twenty more years past the original 40-year license period, which ended on March 21, 2012. Given Putney Friends Meeting’s continuing witness against the ongoing operation of this aging reactor, I went to see if I could speak at the hearing.
What happened next is in some dispute. According to the Brattleboro Reformer, “Supporters of the continued operation of Vermont Yankee outnumbered opponents by a margin of three-to-one at Wednesday night’s Public Service Board hearing in Vernon.” This same story was reprinted in the Rutland Herald, picked by the Associated Press, and quoted on NHPR later Thursday night. Yet, this was not my experience.
The actual tally of speakers was that 39 members of the public, most of them employees at Vermont Yankee, spoke in favor of granting the 40-year old reactor a twenty-year extension. In opposition, 34 members of the public, none of whom worked for the company, spoke against granting the extension on the reactor’s operational life. This hardly seems like a three-to-one ratio to me. Five other people also signed up to give testimony at the hearing, but were not able to speak because time ran out. Thankfully, these people will have another chance to be heard-—as will other concerned citizens, including interested members of our Meeting–at the Public Service Board’s second public hearing on November 19th. (For more information, go to the Vermont Public Service Board’s website at http://psb.vermont.gov/calendar/7862/public2.)
As it was, I was one of the 73 citizens who got to speak at the hearing. While I spoke in opposition to the continued operation of the reactor, I was also deeply moved by the testimony offered by many of the plant’s workers and their family members. These are good, dedicated, and hardworking people who understandably want to protect their jobs. I was particularly impressed with one young man, a Keene High student whose dad works at the reactor. This teenager was thoughtful, prepared, and eloquent. I laughed when his mom walked up to the microphone next to give her testimony and started by saying, “That’s my boy.” She had every right to be proud of her son, who stood up for his dad’s job and their family’s livelihood in clear, personal, and moving terms. The loss of over 600 jobs, especially in this economy, has to be factored into the Public Service Board’s decision.
During my two minutes at the podium, I also acknowledged that NASA climate scientist James Hansen might well be right that we will need some modern, fourth generation nuclear energy plants to help transition us away from our dangerous, fossil fuel economy in the next decade or two. Yet, I pointed out that this does not mean that it makes good public policy sense to keep an aging, leaking, and frequently malfunctioning nuclear reactor operating for the next twenty years. Even the pro-industry Nuclear Regulatory Commission admits that Vermont Yankee has the “least robust” design in the entire fleet of US nuclear reactors. It has a second generation design at best.
An even bigger problem, and one not addressed by any of the VY supporters at the hearing, is that the Louisiana-based Entergy Corporation has simply not established itself as a good corporate neighbor that deserves the public trust, reliably serves the public interest, or respects the people and government of Vermont. The ten years that Entergy has owned the Vermont Yankee reactor have been ten years of corporate lies, misinformation, cover-ups, deferred maintenance, broken agreements, underpaid taxes, state law violations, and expensive lawsuits that harass the state of Vermont for trying to represent its people and decide Vermont’s energy future democratically.
It is for this reason that giving the Entergy Corporation a Certificate of Public Good is opposed by Vermont’s Governor, its Attorney General, its Department of Public Service, and its State Senate, which expressed its opinion in a 26 to 4 vote as far back as 2010. Even the Republican candidate for Governor who just lost his election bid against Peter Shumlin—and who supports nuclear power in principle—joined the twenty-five other Vermont Senators in 2010 to oppose giving Entergy a Certificate of Public Good. As Randy Brock put it before the vote, “The dissembling, the prevarication, the lack of candor have been striking, and there’s not enough time to be able to correct that through management changes or through the kinds of things we had hoped with time, we could resolve.”
I couldn’t have said it any better. Entergy is not a reliable corporation that deserves a Certificate of Public Good. For more information on how to demonstrate against the continued operation of VY in Montpelior on November 17 or offer short testimony at the next interactive TV public hearing at many towns around Vermont on November 19, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steve Chase is a member of Putney Friends Meeting and a professor of environmental studies at Antioch University New England in Keene, New Hampshire, where he lives with his wife Katy.