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Political notes from Free Press staff writers Terri Hallenbeck, Sam Hemingway and Nancy Remsen



Nuclear politics

VY vote this year? Maybe

Once upon a time, the Legislature was balking at voting on Vermont Yankee’s future and the governor who was pushing for a vote. Now that tritium is leaking into groundwater at the plant from pipes that company officials said didn’t exist, things appear different.

Gov. Jim Douglas, a longtime supporter of the plant, for the first time last week said the Legislature should hold off on a vote.

Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on the Legislature to vote sooner rather than later, against the Vernon plant’s continued operation after 2012.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Matt Dunne on Jan. 21 called for a vote. Fellow candidate Deb Markowitz chimed in last week. So did the Washington Electric Cooperative board.

House Natural Resources and Energy Committee Chairman Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, said Monday he wants the state Public Service Board to turn Vermont Yankee owner Entergy Corp. down on its corporate restructuring plan and indicate it plans to turn the plant down on continued operation.

"If they don’t I believe the Legislature will take action before adjourning for the summer," Klein said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, said in December that the Senate might be ready to vote on Vermont Yankee this year, and it’s beginning to look like that could happen.

House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, said legislators are awaiting a revised report from the public oversight panel on the plant’s reliability. The panel has re-formed to look at corrected information following Entergy’s admission last month that the plant does have underground pipes with radioactive material that it had previously denied.

That report is due back Feb. 16, though panel member Arnie Gundersen told Klein’s committee last week it might take longer.

Smith said he did think the Public Service Board has enough information to reject the corporate restructuring plan.

VY and the election

No matter what happens with a vote this year on Vermont Yankee, last week’s surprise announcement by Douglas that he wanted a timeout on decisions about Vermont Yankee drew a clearer-than-ever picture that the issue of the nuclear power plant’s future is going to be hanging still when a new governor takes office next January.

If you thought Vermont Yankee was a big election issue before, it just became even more so. It will be a new governor’s Public Service Department that will be advising the Public Service Board on such matters.

That has not escaped the notice of the candidates who hope to replace Douglas. As mentioned above, two of the Democratic candidates called for a decision against continued operation after 2012.

Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, the Republican candidate, joined Douglas at his Yankee announcement last week. Dubie agreed with Douglas that a "timeout" was needed on Vermont Yankee decisions and focused most of his comments on concern for the 650 jobs at the plant.

"I am deeply concerned about the 650 people who work for Vermont Yankee; I am concerned about their jobs and their families; I am concerned about all the small businesses in the area that depend on VY and its employees. My cousin is an IBEW member who works at VY. I am concerned about his uncertain future.," Dubie said. "And I am extremely disappointed that VY management has compromised those jobs through repeated breaches of faith with the State of Vermont and its people."

There was strong speculation in the Statehouse that Douglas’ change in stance last week was at least partly about bringing Dubie over to the skeptical side of the issue as a growing number of Vermonters don’t like what’s going on at the plant.

Afterward in the next room, Shumlin, one of the Democratic candidates who hopes to replace Douglas, said that Douglas’ call for a change in management at Vermont Yankee won’t solve anything.

— Terri Hallenbeck

Note: For regular readers, we're now breaking up the Tuesday buzz into separate items rather than one long one.

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Say Flip Flop anyone!

Looks like Gov Jim Douglas and Lt Gov Brian Dubie have become the ultimate Flip Floppers - it only took a week for tehm to see the tea leaves and change their tone!
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