Thursday, December 1, 2011

A State of Confusion: The Suit About the Water Quality Permit

In mid-November, the State of Vermont sued the NRC, claiming that the license extension granted to Vermont Yankee was not valid because the NRC did not have proof that Vermont Yankee was in compliance with the Clean Water Act.

Actually, the anti-nuclear group, New England Coalition (NEC), started this suit, and the state joined in. Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) is acting as the lawyer for NEC. The Vermont Department of Public Service is pursuing this suit, along with NEC/CLF.

Meanwhile, several other groups have joined the lawsuit: New York State, Riverkeeper, and Scenic Hudson have asked to be friends of the court. The Brattleboro Reformer has an excellent article on the lawsuit and the various parties to it.

If you can figure this one out, please tell me. If Vermont Yankee did not have an appropriate water quality permit, why didn't the state do something directly about it? As the Reformer article notes: Under the doctrine of "cooperative federalism," states are allowed by choice to enforce standards such as those set out in the Clean Water Act. In fact, states are allowed to impose even more stringent standards than required by federal law.

In other words, the state had the power to enforce permit requirements. A state can even enforce special permit requirements. For example, cars sold in California need to meet stronger pollution control standards than the national standards set by EPA.

For some reason, though, Vermont is suing the NRC, claiming it was the NRC's obligation to make sure that Vermont Yankee had an up-to-date permit. Apparently, the state didn't care about the permit, except that the state wanted to be sure that the NRC cared.

I don't understand it. Or maybe I do.


Okay. I am not a lawyer, and I don't understand this one. However, the scuttlebutt I have heard is that the state extends water quality permits routinely, unless something is changed, because it costs everybody an arm and a leg to actually reapply and re-assess such a permit. Apparently, the state made the decision (sometime in the past) that nothing much had changed at Vermont Yankee, and the water quality permit could be extended. Then, just a few months ago, with the change of governor, the state suddenly had a change of heart. The state was shocked, shocked to discover Vermont Yankee was operating on an extended water quality permit! As a matter of fact, they sued the NRC about it.

As I said, I am not a lawyer, and I am in state of confusion about this one. I thought I might try calling lawyers about it, but decided that even the lawyer's answers would be beyond me. If Vermont Yankee didn't have an appropriate permit, why did the state let them operate? If Vermont Yankee did have an appropriate permit, why is the state suing the NRC?

It doesn't make any sense, but at this point, "not making sense" is what I expect from the current state administration in its dealings with Vermont Yankee.

The Casablanca graphic is free-floating around the web, shocking as that is.

1 comment:

Joffan said...

The usual rule of thumb applies:

It doesn't make any sense at all - therefore it's politics.