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Following energy issues in the state of Connecticut and beyond.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Vermont Yankee Owner Scores Victory in Court

Efforts by state lawmakers to shutdown the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant were dealt a setback Friday when a federal judge ruled that the facility can remain open beyond its original shutdown date later this year.

The Associated Press reports that the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge J. Garvan Murtha is a victory for the plant's owner, New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. The ruling comes following a three-day trial in September in which officials for the utility company argued that Vermont's efforts to close the plant (shown at left) are prohibited by federal law.

In an unattributed written statement, Entergy officials had this reaction to Friday's ruling: "We're pleased with the decision, which Judge Murtha issued after a thorough review of the facts and the law."

The case is being watched closely by opponents of nuclear power around the country because a finding in favor of Vermont officials would likely have set a legal precedent in future court battles. Entergy is also a prominent player in the nuclear power industry in the Northeast, operating the Pilgrim plant in Plymouth, Mass. and Indian Point in Westchester County, N.Y.

 The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted a 20-year extension of Vermont Yankee's license last March. But Vermont law requires the lawmakers there to support the extension as well and a bill to grant legislative approval was rejected by the state Senate and was not acted upon by the House.

The New Haven Register's sister paper, the Brattleboro Reformer, has more on the judge's ruling as well as efforts by Entergy to have the case moved to a federal court.

Cheryl Hanna, a professor of constitutional law at the Vermont Law School in South Royalton, told the Register that the message Judge Murtha's decision sends, both to lawmakers from the Green Mountain State and elsewhere, is that "there has to be legitimate articulated reasons beyond health and safety concerns that you're looking to use to shut down a nuclear plant."

"Vermont lawmakers didn't do a particularly good job articulating their reasons for want to shut down Vermont Yankee beyond the safety concerns," Hanna said. "Federal law prohibits safety concerns from being the primary motivation in going to court to shut down a nuclear plant."

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