Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Vermont Yankee and the Public Service Board: Will the PSB Release the Determination or Hold New Hearings

As I noted in an earlier post, Judge Murtha's recent ruling means that Vermont Yankee needs to apply for a Certificate of Public Good from the Public Service Board (PSB). An over-simplification of the Judge's ruling might be:
All those junk laws that the legislature passed in 2006 are not constitutional. The Memorandum of Understanding holds and the PSB must rule on the Certificate. And the PSB can't consider radiological safety or insist on below-market power prices for Vermont utilities.

The PSB must rule, but in what time-frame and on what grounds?

March 21 is not a deadline for the PSB

The first question that came up was whether Vermont Yankee needs this Certificate from the Public Service Board by March 21, when the old certificate expires. The answer is "no." The Public Service Board can take as much time as it wants: the current certificate remains in effect until it rules. As the Judge wrote: Furthermore, Vermont law provides that a license subject to an agency’s notice and hearing requirements does not expire until a final determination on an application for renewal has been made.

Will the PSB hold more hearings?

The PSB does not have a deadline, and it is not clear whether future hearings will be required. The PSB might just issue a ruling.

Back at the time of the infamous Senate vote, in early 2010, the PSB was no longer holding hearings on the Vermont Yankee certificate renewal. The rumor was that the PSB had gathered all the information they needed for their determination about a certificate. However, the Vermont legislative actions (now overturned) meant the PSB could not release their ruling at that time.

I call this a rumor because the PSB made no public announcement that "we have ceased to hold hearings on this docket." On the other hand, they weren't holding any hearings. As you can see by the PSB website for the relicensing docket, the last hearing was held in May, 2009, with all briefs due to the PSB by August 2009. By late 2009, the PSB was done. They were ready to make a determination.

Will the PSB issue the ruling they prepared in 2009 or early 2010? Or will they re-open the docket to more hearings?

Entergy Wants an Immediate Determination

Entergy filed several requests with the PSB on January 31. The first one asked for an immediate ruling on the Certificate of Public Good, based on the information the PSB had already gathered. The second one asked that the lawyers who represented Entergy in the federal court case be permitted to represent Entergy before the PSB.

The PSB did not grant these requests (so far) but they did set an end date for comments on Entergy's requests. As reported by Terri Hallenbeck of Burlington Free Press, the Public Service Board has asked that comments on Entergy's requests be submitted by March 2. As Hallenbeck writes, you can expect the state and the plant opponents to say the Board should take more testimony before issuing a ruling.

Opinions and the Rule of Law

If you go to the Vermont Digger website opinion section, you can see the usual suspects weighing in with the usual arguments. These arguments are supposedly arguments for more PSB hearings, but gee, they sound so familiar. What about those tritium releases? Entergy is staffed by liars. We must appeal the judge's ruling. It's time for civil disobedience and direct action against the plant. Etc. When I read these screeds, it's almost like the ruling never happened. The opponents are stuck on the same page they were before.

However, actually, things have changed for the better. The PSB is the next step, and the State may also appeal the federal ruling. Yet things have definitely changed for the better. As my husband wrote while I was still in the hospital: The Rule of Law has been affirmed.

Links to Original Documents: On this blog, I often link to original documents. However, I got tired of chasing links for these documents around the State of Vermont sites, Federal court sites, and so forth. So I put a bunch of relevant Vermont Yankee documents on my own site:
You can link there to the Memorandum of Understanding, the recent Federal ruling, Entergy's request for attorney reimbursement, and January 31 filings by Entergy about the PSB docket. I will add more documents as needed, or by request of my readers.
Statue of Justice from the Czech Republic. She is holding a book of the law. I have always liked this image better than the traditional "scales" image. The scales don't visually acknowledge that the weighing is not a stand-alone activity, but is done in context of the law.

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