It's the day before the vote, of course, but many of the Anti-VY screeds start "The day after Vermont Yankee is shut down." They go on to say that "nothing will happen, your lights won't go out" etc etc etc. Okay. Here we go.
The Day After The Vote against Vermont Yankee, nothing will happen. The PSB will have the same instructions (none) that it had the day before the vote. Vermont Yankee will continue to make power and track down the tritium leak. Nothing will change. Don't worry about it. There will be some parties in the anti-VY camp, of course.
Temporary parties, I hope. He who laughs last, laughs best.
A few days from now, I expect the whole business will move to the courts. I am not a lawyer, nobody has talked to me about this, and this is just my opinion. But I see three routes for challenges.
1) Even states can't break contracts
Two hundred years ago, the State of Georgia legislature decided that it had made a mistake in selling some land. Actually, the legislators had been bribed and let the land be sold for peanuts, even by 1800 standards. Well, no problem, they thought. No problem whatsoever. We'll just pass a law which wipes out that little mistake, and says the land was never sold. However, in 1810, the Supreme Court ruled they couldn't do that. A state legislature that makes a contract is obligated to stick to the contract. A later legislature can't wipe it out by a new law. The Fletcher Versus Peck case of the Marshall court is one of the cornerstones of American law.
Which brings us to Vermont Yankee. The sale of Vermont Yankee to Entergy, and the rules under which Vermont Yankee had to operate and sell power, were set out in a contract called the Memorandum of Understanding. It was a contract with the state, signed in 2002 by the Public Service Board of the State. It says nothing about legislative approval being necessary for continued operation of the plant.
In 2006, however, the state passed a law, Act 160, saying the Public Service Board could not approve nuclear plant operation without a confirming vote from the legislature. As I read it (and I am not a lawyer) this ex post facto changing of a contract could be challenged in court according to a precedent that has stood for 200 years. This is a precedent that stood because it deserves to stand. Who would buy or sell with a state if the next legislative session could declare the contract null and void, or put new, onerous terms into the contract?
2) The State may declare, but the NRC rules
In general, the NRC, not the state, decides whether a nuclear plant can continue operation. The state legislature may declare that it has authority, but the federal courts may not approve. Whether people like this or not, I think it is necessary. The FERC has some types of regulatory powers over hydro plants, and the NRC has powers over nuclear plants. There are cases where actual expertise is more important than local politics.
After Vermont Act 160 was passed, nothing happened, so there were no NRC or court challenges to this act. Now it will almost certainly be challenged, and we will see what happens.
And it wouldn't be the first time somebody wasted their money trying to regulate Vermont Yankee in inappropriate ways. As I said before, I am not a lawyer, but the Vermont Yankee versus Natural Resources Defense Council case of 1978 may well be relevant. The Supreme Court settled that case in Vermont Yankee's favor.
3) The Department of Public Service and the Public Service Board might just ignore Act 160
The legislature passed Act 160, but I don't see any Public Service Board signatures anywhere on the document.
The Department of Public Service and the Public Service Board may choose to continue with their charters as originally defined, and issue (or not issue) a Certificate of Public Good to VY according to their own rules and procedures. After all, these agencies are set up to be different from the legislature precisely because they are supposed to make judgments based on safety and economics and all that good stuff, not on politics. If they decide to just follow their charters, this would obviously throw the whole matter into the court system.
A little personal note here, with some history. There used to be a group, chaired by the PSB Commissioner O'Brien, called VSNAP, Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel. I went to several of the hearings VSNAP held about VY.
Some of the senators and representatives on that panel were not exactly polite to Mr. O'Brien. In one memorable hearing, a representative wrestled the microphone out of his hands several times. In another hearing, a senator prevented O'Brien from starting the published agenda, basically by out-shouting O'Brien. My impression was that these legislators were trying to make it clear that they had no respect for O'Brien or for the PSB.
That is just my opinion. I know, I know. You hadda have been there. VSNAP stopped meeting because the meetings were such an unmanageable circus. Everyone, even the shouting senator, will acknowledge that. As he said to me recently: "I guess I was a bad boy." (Time to re-read the book Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers?)
I don't think this was the best way for the legislators to win friends and influence people.
The worm may (or may not) turn at this point. The Public Service Board may just decide to ignore the legislature, just as the legislators disrespected the PSB. After all, PSB has a charter, and that is all it needs to issue a certificate.
Conclusion and an Appeal for Help
The day after the vote, nothing will happen.
This is my best guess, and I think the future will be interesting.
My appeal for help? I am not a lawyer, and I hope some lawyers will weigh in, comment, and make this a stronger post.