From the Courtroom to you: Day 2

Update from Ben Walsh, VPIRG Clean Energy Advocate

Vermont Yankee hearings, Day 2

If Day 1 of the Vermont Yankee court case was a roller coaster, the second day was more of a “slow and steady wins the race” kind of day.  From witness one through the close of the day’s proceedings nine hours later the state largely just kept adding to their lead in the case.

Vermont 2, Entergy still 0

Since Entergy decided to call just two witnesses on their behalf on Monday, the state’s legal team had all day Tuesday to call their witnesses and tell the story of what really happened since Entergy Louisiana bought the plant in 2002: Vermont decided to retire VY on schedule due to a whole slew of legitimate issues, and Entergy didn’t object to the state’s involvement at all until they stopped getting their way, at which point they (in technical terms) threw a hissy fit.

The first witness the state called was none other than Speaker of the State House of Representatives Shap Smith.  There was quite a buzz in the building going into Speaker Smith’s testimony – it’s a rare thing for a sitting Speaker to be called to testify in a federal court case.  The state used the Speaker’s testimony to reiterate all the things the state was concerned about leading up to the vote in the Senate: Entergy’s misstatements around the buried pipes that leaked radioactivity into the soil, its failure to fully fund VY’s decommissioning fund, its weak case on the economic benefits, etc.

Speaker Smith also brought to light an interesting revelation – after the Senate vote, then-Entergy executive Curt Hebert threatened (my word, not the Speaker’s) to close Vermont Yankee if the House voted to retire VY on schedule.  Those of you following along at home are probably picking up on a pattern here.  That’s the exact same threat Entergy used in this courtroom not three months ago to try to get Judge Murtha to grant them a preliminary injunction.  “If you don’t do what I want, I’m packing up my toys and going home!” they say.  Childish?  I’ll let you be the judge.

The second witness was former Vermont Yankee VP Jay Thayer.  Remember him?  He’s the guy that got put on paid leave (oh, what a punishment!) for falsely telling the state that VY doesn’t have any underground pipes.  If you’re wondering, he’s since been promoted.

The main nugget from his testimony?  He admitted that the state was, in fact, very careful not to tread on areas of federal preemption like radiological health and safety.

The last two witnesses the state called, Peter Bradford and Bruce Hinkley (both were consulted by the legislature as part of their oversight of Yankee) largely demonstrated two things – there are lots of areas the state can “legitimately” regulate, and safety and reliability do very much overlap.  As James pointed out yesterday, if a plant has to shut down for safety-related reasons, it isn’t exactly reliably producing power anymore.

My favorite part of the day was without a doubt Entergy’s attempt to cross examine Peter Bradford.  The man’s been regulating electricity and nuclear power for nearly four decades now.  He was appointed to the NRC by President Jimmy Carter, and approved by the US Senate.  Let’s just say it was the most entertaining verbal ju-jitsu I’ve ever seen, and Entergy’s high-priced lawyer lost, hands down.  In the end all their lawyer accomplished was giving him an extra half hour to reiterate his points.  Even the journalists in the room were having a hard time holding back their laughter.

The bottom line for the day?  The state punched a nice big hole in Entergy’s “safety, safety, safety” mantra, and Entergy’s crack team of lawyers failed to do the job they were paid to do.

Duane Peterson, the Chairman of VPIRG’s Board of Trustees and Co-director of VPIRG Energy will be back tomorrow with a report from today’s closing arguments.