Edible landscapes and Entergy argues for federal preemption (transcript added)
Darrin Nordahl, the author of Public Produce: The New Urban Agriculture, has chronicled the growing movement to put edible plants in public spaces--like Vermont's vegetable garden on its State House lawn. He was a guest last year on Equal Time, and we'll check in with him about what's growing in public landscapes around the nation. A recent article of his was published by Blue Ridge Press, which is based right here in the Green Mountain state--at least partially. Editor Glenn Scherer explains why they were interested in edible public landscapes and how the Blue Ridge Press came to be partially based in Vermont.
Also, the New England Coalition against Nuclear Pollution argued September 10 to the Vermont Public Service Board that, contrary to what Entergy is saying, Vermont has broad latitude to regulate Vermont Yankee without falling foul of federal preemption law. Ray Shadis, a consultant to the New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution, will explain what's at stake.
Carl Etnier hosts.
Download the audio for this episode here.
CE: Hello. I’m Carl Etnier, today’s host for Equal Time radio. My theme as usual is energy, food and the local economy at the end of the age of oil. We’ve got a great show coming up for you today taking up both food and energy matters.
Here in the beginning we’ll be looking at what’s happening in these bad economic times, at a time when long-term unemployment is at the highest levels since measurements began in the 1940s. And Republicans in Washington are blocking just about any legislation the Democrats are trying to pass to get the economy going again. So, what can be done?
Well, in Washington, one of the main obstacles to meaningful action is the rules of the US Senate, and in particular the way the Republicans have filibustered more in this Congress than any other Congress before. For state and local governments, and also for independent citizen groups, filibuster doesn’t apply. They don’t have to wait for permission to act from a minority party representing a small minority of the US population. What meaningful action can they take?
Darrin Nordahl is the author of the book Public Produce, and he’s chronicled the growing movement to put edible plants in public spaces like Vermont’s vegetable garden on its State House lawn. He was a guest last year on Equal Time when his book came out. We’ll check in with him on this show about what’s growing in public landscapes around the nation. A recent article of Darrin Nordahl’s about this growing movement was published by Blue Ridge Press which is based right here in the Green Mountain State, or at least partially. We’ll talk with Blue Ridge editor Glenn Scherer about their decision to publish his article.
Also, the New England Coalition Against Nuclear Pollution argued last week to the Vermont Public Service Board that contrary to what Entergy is saying, Vermont actually has broad latitude to regulate Vermont Yankee without falling foul of federal preemption law. And Ray Shadis will explain what’s at stake with the argument about where the state has room to act with regard to regulating Vermont Yankee, and where he thinks the line goes between Vermont action and federal action. That’s something that applies to the controversy about the tritium that’s been leaked from the plant into the ground water, and it also applies to the decision of whether or not to grant the Certificate of Public Good to Entergy to continue operating the plant for another 20 years after its scheduled close down date in March of 2012.
When you hear the name Blue Ridge Press, it naturally evokes images of Montpelier, Vermont, right? Well, maybe not. But surprisingly enough, Blue Ridge Press is at least partially based right here in Montpelier. Blue Ridge editor Glenn Scherer is with us on the phone to talk about the organization, and why they chose to publicize food gardens on public lands.
CE: Glenn, welcome to Equal Time.
GS: Hey, Carl. How’re you doing?
CE: Good, thanks. And I should give a disclaimer here, a full disclosure that Glenn and I worked together to put the first vegetable garden on the State House lawn, along with numerous other people last year, and I’ve published for Blue Ridge Press in the past. With that out of the way, why don’t you tell us, Glenn, what is Blue Ridge Press, and how did it come to be based here in Montpelier partially?
GS: Well, it originally started in the southeast which is where its name came from, Blue Ridge Press, but it has since grown to be national, and what Blue Ridge Press is is a national non-profit, educational publishing service which publishes articles about the environment and columns about the environment. We’ve reached 40 million American newspaper readers in three years. 400 newspapers have published our pieces in 45 states, and we’ve even appeared on Newsday, Baltimore Sun, and on the websites of Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune and USA Today. So, pretty successful organization, and it’s just two of us – David Lillard, my partner’s down in West Virginia, and I’m up here in Vermont.
CE: And how does Blue Ridge Press work?
GS: What we do is commission commentary from top writers, journalists and thinkers. We’re foundation-funded, and these folks write pieces for us on every environmental issue you can think of, from climate change to community gardens, and then we distribute to these 4000 newspapers, and away we go, and these things get published all over the country. What we’re proudest of is we reach small and mid-sized newspapers. We offer the columns for free, and so we get published in even tiny newspapers, sometimes as small as 700 circulation. We’re happy to publish Darrin’s piece. He had originally published an article on Grist that just really chronicled what’s happening with public gardens around the US. We wanted to let people know around the country what was going on with that.
CE: Was that important to Blue Ridge Press’ mission?
GS: Well, especially the fact that we publish in so many small and mid-sized newspapers, we just thought it was like planting seeds. This column in particular goes out and says to people: ‘Hey, anywhere you see public land, or even corporate land, or a lawn, anywhere you see a green lawn, vegetables could be growing or fruit and could be feeding people who need it, feeding the hungry.’ There are a lot of hungry people out there with the unemployment rates the way they are.
CE: If people want to read Darrin Nordahl’s article for Blue Ridge Press or any of the other previously published articles of Blue Ridge Press, where would they go?
GS: They could go right online to www.blueridgepress.com, and they could read all the columns we’ve published in the past three years there. They could also talk to their local newspaper editor and say: ‘How come you’re not publishing Blue Ridge Press?’ or ‘I’d like to see Blue Ridge Press every week when the columns come out.’
CE: And many of those columns hold their value for a while, so you could look at the past three months’ worth of columns and find something that’s still worth publishing in your local newspaper, I guess.
GS: Well, certainly the one that we had you write about tritium and nuclear energy, I think, would be very worth reading. And, many others, too.
CS: Very good. Well, Glenn Scherer, one of the editors of Blue Ridge Press, who is based right here in Montpelier. Thanks so much for joining us.
GS: Thanks, Carl.
CE: Now we go on the phone to Iowa where Darrin Nordahl is based. He’s the author of Public Produce. We talked to him last year about the book. And he’s the author of the most recent article from Blue Ridge Press on growing produce in public lands. Darrin, welcome back to Equal Time.
DN: Good afternoon, Carl. Glad to be back again.
CE: So, before you give us the update on what’s happening this year on growing produce in public lands, why don’t you just basically recapitulate the argument that you made last year – the case for using public spaces for growing produce, and you were arguing last year even having public employees in charge of tending it, which is different from the model that we’ve used for the State House lawn where volunteers do all the work.
DN: Yeah, what we’re seeing is, especially with the downturn in economy, and concerns over rising oil prices and the provenance of our food, and this great desire for local, fresh, organically grown produce, that community governments are actually looking at all the land under their control, and it’s varied – it’s street medians, it’s that narrow space between the sidewalk and the curb, it’s underutilized pieces of park land, it’s flood plains, it’s transportation easements – everything that actually belongs to the municipality. Instead of growing ornamental plants, they’re growing edible ones. And those edible ones, because they’re grown on public lands, are free for anyone, for the passerby to pick. But most people or most communities are finding the most success in growing them for their local food banks and food pantries and soup kitchens, and really getting fresh produce to those who need it most.
CE: I was just talking to somebody from the Vermont Food Bank over the weekend, and she was telling me that there really is a lot of demand for fresh produce at the food pantries and that even things like kale that a few years ago were considered to be kind of strange by people who are clients of these systems. Thanks to a lot of educational efforts that Northeast Organic Farmers Association here in Vermont has done, and Food Works, and the food bank itself, and other organizations, people are really learning how to incorporate these things into their diets, and the fresh produce is flying off the shelves.
DN: Exactly. You know, that’s one of the things across the country since the downturn in the economy; food banks have noticed a surge in demand for food assistance, and produce is one of the items that is almost always scarce in the food banks and the food pantries. A lot of it does come to education. I mean, we don’t eat as diverse a diet as we probably should, and a lot of the stuff that is readily available to food banks at one time, the people who demand food assistance, might have turned up their noses at it. But with a little bit of education, and even some partnering with some non-profit groups and organizations, food festivals, and recipes, and what-not, you can actually see that a lot of the food that is being offered the people may not even recognize is actually quite desirable, quite tasty.
CE: Tell us some of the stories of what you’ve observed, or what you’ve learned about as you surveyed growing vegetables and other food crops in public lands around the country.
DN: It’s amazing because it is so diverse. I’d like to say that my book has played a huge role in spawning this, but that’s not been the case. I mean, it really just is a product of the times, and resourceful Americans just looking at land that they have available and just figuring out what they can do with it to meet the needs of their community. And so, it’s something that I thought would be very successful and popular in progressive states. But that’s actually not the case. What we’re finding is that growing fresh food for the community is actually a bipartisan issue. It’s happening in Dallas, Texas. It’s happening down in Florida, in Seattle, in Vermont, Montpelier as you’re aware obviously, and San Francisco, and throughout the Midwest. It really takes various forms, and my book really tries to organize and argue for a policy to really get a variety of public land under cultivation. It is interesting; one of the things that I’ve seen is the State House or Capitol lawn being turned over into growing of edible plants.
CE: That’s in three states right now, correct?
DN: In Sacramento, California; Madison, Wisconsin; and of course Montpelier. And in city halls, I’ve noticed this in Bainbridge Island, which is a little suburb outside of Seattle, Washington; Baltimore, Maryland; Provo, Utah. It’s basically areas that elected officials are making statements that food system planning is a responsibility of the federal government, but sometimes you can’t wait for Capitol Hill to react, and state house or city halls can act faster. So we can actually do something ourselves in our own communities to provide fresh food to the people who need it. They’re looking at ornamental landscapes outside these city halls and state houses, and they’re planting fruit trees and vegetables.
CE: Yes, as of August of this year, you can add Montpelier, Vermont to the list of city halls that have, actually it goes back farther, but there were some perennial landscape edible plants that were planted in August as part of the village building convergence of the Transition Town Montpelier put on in the Montpelier area, including some blueberries, some edible herbs and some medicinal herbs. But for years, on the side of City Hall, really unchronicled, untrumpeted, the teen center has been raising vegetables in beds there. It’s just wonderful to walk past it and see these tomatoes and potatoes and other veggies grown by teens right outside of city hall. The teens have their teen center in the basement.
DN: That’s great news, and that’s also a very important part of public produce is to get the children involved. Children today really have no reference where food comes from other than the supermarket or their parents’ kitchen, and it’s amazing to me to see the ignorance in kids of where this food comes from. They’re not to blame. A lot of it, the blame, is on their parents and just society in general, and how we produce our food. The utter amazement that I’ve seen in kids’ eyes that are able to actually see where the vegetables that they commonly eat, where they come from, and actually encourages them to eat a more healthful diet, too because things that they actually have taken a part in in raising from a seed, that wonderment actually provokes even more curiosity at how they might actually taste, and they actually find out that they enjoy vegetables.
CE: In Vermont, we get a lot of maple syrup from our maple trees, but despite that I don’t generally think of maple trees as being edible simply because maybe it’s such a difficult and long process to turn the sap into the syrup, or the sugar that we love so much, but I was surprised to see outside of the Morse Farm, Sugar Shack where I was sitting eating a creamy yesterday afternoon, to see this mini-van with Rhode Island plates pull in and a family of four piled out and obviously they were just finishing up a conversation about what this place is all about, and a girl who must have been ten years old asked as she got out of the car: “So what is a maple tree?” So we need some education even on things like that as well.
DN: (laughs) Exactly. That is true. And what we’re seeing is, not only outside of the teen center as you mentioned, but edible schoolyards become very, very popular. Another way to introduce this public produce in the public grounds around the schools, and kids are actually learning about food, about growing it, about harvesting it, and also about preparing it. It’s actually becoming, in some schools, a core part of the curriculum. Just like Physical Education has become a core curriculum in our schools, Edible Education is being advocated for as well.
CE: There’s so much you can do around food and education. I was just talking with some teachers the other day about this, and one of them is saying you can teach huge parts of the curriculum through food. If you want to teach about biochemistry, you teach biochemical cycles in plant cells, for example.
DN: That’s a great idea. Yeah, I never thought about that, but absolutely right.
CE: Well, let’s talk about perennials. Last year, Vermont and Sacramento were in a bit of a race to be the first State House in modern times to plant vegetables on the State House lawn, and despite our colder climate, we beat Sacramento by a week or so. But you’re right, part of that was they didn’t know we were coming, I think.
DN: Yeah. I think you’re right, Carl.
CE: But this year, you’re right, they added a fruit tree grove.
DN: Yes, and you know, public orchards have actually become very, very popular. There are inherent advantages of perennials over annuals, and we need to explore both in our public landscapes. But obviously, perennials last much longer; they don’t require as much maintenance. And so especially in today’s tough economic times, municipalities and state governments are financially strapped and have to cut staff and cut various programs, it does become difficult to actually grow the necessary produce, or to upkeep any landscape, so what they are looking at doing is planting perennials because once they’re established they don’t need supplemental water, they produce fruit year after year without the addition of pesticides or fertilizer or herbicides. That’s one of the advantages of doing it, and because they do provide so much food for a community. A single tomato plant might only provide enough food for one hungry family, but a peach tree or a pear tree may provide so much food for so many families. And they don’t tend to ripen all at the same time, too, so you get a little bit longer opportunities throughout the growing season.
CE: I’ll give credit where credit is due. I was in Sacramento maybe five or six years ago, and noticed that they had right around their State House this whole grove of orange trees, which we don’t have the possibility of emulating here in Vermont, but we could plant other trees. It was pretty amazing to see all those orange trees right in the middle of the city, but the first way I noticed it was, scattered about the steps of the State House were all these orange peels. I was pretty put off that the citizens of Sacramento were so sloppy that they were just throwing their orange peels on the ground, until I realized that it was squirrels who were climbing the trees and harvesting the oranges, and of course squirrels – they don’t know trash cans, and they just left them on the steps of the California State House.
DN: That’s fantastic (chuckling).
CE: We’re talking with Darrin Nordahl. He’s the author of Public Produce, and he’s coming to us from Iowa where he is a city planner, is that correct?
DN: Yeah, I’m the urban designer for the city of Davenport.
CE: Thank you. Well, what about the issue of when you have perennials you have, sometimes, spoiled fruit that falls to the ground. How do various cities handle that?
DN: Well, there are very different ways of doing it. In Iowa, we acquire farmstead property along flood plains, as an example, where you just cannot build on anymore. The owner decides to sell the property, and we no longer allow structures in the flood plains. A lot of the remnants of these farmsteads are all the orchards. We have quite a bit of apple orchards in flood plains in Davenport, Iowa. The key is to get people out there to harvest the fruit before it falls. If no one is aware of it, then you’re going to expect a lot of fruit drop. The idea is we try to get the word out and organize harvesting parties, and this is actually becoming quite popular around the country, too, where citizens will get together and spend an afternoon on a Saturday or a Sunday, and go to various trees in the neighborhood and harvest all the fruits. That which doesn’t get picked does fall to the ground, but if it’s on a hard surface like a sidewalk, that would be problematic. But a lot of our fruit trees are in lawns, and off they fall, and it’s a shame that some of the food didn’t go those in need or hungry, but they get picked up by our lawn mowers, and we move on. So the mess is something that is there, but it’s not a big deal, and is not something that anyone is concerned about. But the idea is how can we actually get to the fruit before it spoils, before it falls to the ground, and that’s where you do need citizen support, to organize a source of roving armies of pickers, so to speak, to visit the trees.
CE: So when times have been good maybe people haven’t been so concerned about harvesting the fruit that’s been growing right there in the middle of the city, because it’s so easy to go to the store and buy fruit, but as times are more difficult, more people who are unemployed have time on their hands and less money, then I think it could become more and more attractive, and this problem will sort of solve itself, and that no food resource I hope will go unused in the future as people learn more and more about what’s around them.
DN: Exactly. Not only that, but I think people are starting to realize finally, or relearn, that an apple fresh off the tree tastes different from an apple off the supermarket shelf. Even when times are good, it’s that desire for something that’s more flavorful that keeps people coming back.
CE: So, tell us about this policy of no structures in flood plains. It’s getting a little bit off subject here, but it’s really interesting because in the Montpelier area where we’ve been flooded, and we were flooded several times in the 20th century, then there’s talk about where the flood plains are going to be drawn, and if a structure is built in the flood plains then it needs to be jacked-up so the space would be above the flood plains, but I haven’t heard of a policy discussed of just prohibiting structures in the flood plains. So tell us about the thinking behind that, please, Darrin.
DN: Yes. We don’t have any form of flood protection. We are actually the largest city in the nation without formal flood protection on the Mississippi River, and we know that the Mississippi will flood, and while other people build dikes and floodwalls, we do not; we just allow it to flood. What has happened in the past was people have built significant structures in the flood plain and they have been damaged over the course of the years, and it cost the taxpayers a lot of money to go and eventually have to abandon the property, the city has to tear it down, and we turn into some sort of open space. So Davenport has adopted a policy that while we will not force anyone within a flood plain now to evacuate their building, if they want to sell their property to the city, we have a flood acquisition program. We’ll buy it from them; we will raze it, and then turn it into open space. So, our two principal waterways, Mississippi River and then we have a creek in the center of town, Duck Creek, which flood on a regular basis, once every six to seven years, we’re gradually purchasing up property and returning what was developed land into parks, open spaces or opportunities for entrepreneurial objectives. So if they’re going to grow food, we might look at it from a municipal point of view, but we might also look at it from someone who actually wants to cultivate that land as part of a business venture as well. But the idea is that everything that we have along the flood plains is generally considered open space, bike pass, sports courts, even parking lots, grasses, trees, but no structures.
CE: Okay. Well, let’s use that as a segue way. You mentioned cultivating public land as a business venture. What good stories have you heard or observed about sort of a private-public partnership where a private person or company is given exclusive access to some public land to produce food for profit that they can then sell?
DN: We’ve seen a lot of good success in the northern climates. In California, and parts of the southeast and the southwest where you have very, very warm weather throughout the year and you can grow variety of stuff outdoors year round, it’s a great advantage for raising food. But then in the northern climates that you know Carl, it becomes very challenging to provide fresh food throughout the year. What we’re seeing in these northern climates are public-private partnerships where the municipality is working with entrepreneurs to secure land, usually it’s vacant land that the city owns. We’re looking at doing that in Davenport on the parking lot in the downtown that’s really underutilized, and begin to look at how we can actually erect greenhouses, or hoop houses, or other sort of cold frames - anything to extend the growing season here, and then turn that over to the entrepreneur to actually run as a business throughout the year.
Des Moines was actually doing something where they’ve been engaged in growing ornamentals for the parks department. They need to have these petunias and pansies and other flowers and grasses and stuff for the ornamental landscapes, and now they are actually starting to look at growing food as well. So there’s been a lot of interest in how we can extend that growing season to the extent that the municipality won’t have the staff, and that really does take a lot of time and effort to manage the greenhouse facilities, and so they’re more interested in actually turning that over to a private venture. But it’s providing some start up capital, providing some land, and in some cases in Davenport we’ve even discussed actually providing the greenhouses themselves and seeing if we can source some older ones, or seeing if they can be donated, or if we can produce them for a modest price, and then turning everything over to the entrepreneur.
CE: Well in your book Public Produce, and then last year on the show, Darrin Nordahl, you argued that municipalities ought to be asking their employees as part of their job descriptions to be growing produce on public lands. So as you see, this sort of public-private partnership with entrepreneurs growing produce, have you begun to rethink that model with public employees doing the growing?
DN: It depends. Right now, we have a situation where a lot of our parks employees are mowing grass, and we have to hire a huge team of seasonals just to mow the grass. What we’re discussing right now is that there’s an opportunity where instead of just mowing the grass, maybe they actually are tending the fruit orchards and the vegetables. But I think there’s room for both, and actually this notion of urban agriculture is multi-faceted. It comes at a variety of scales and it comes from a variety of places. So I certainly think there’s room for more. But I think what first has to happen is the municipality has to make a policy that food system planning is the objective of local government or state government. Then they best figure out how they can actually meet that demand. So in some cases it will be public-private partnerships where entrepreneurs are doing a lot of the work. In other cases it is the municipal staff who are tending the grounds in parks around city halls and libraries. Instead of mowing grass and pruning boxwoods into gumball shapes, they are actually staking tomatoes and pruning fruit trees.
CE: Spoken like a true planner. Food system planning by the city is crucial. Is there a website for the book, Public Produce, Darrin Nordahl?
DN: I encourage everyone to visit my website, www.darrinnordahl.com and they can read not only a synopsis of the book but the previous radio interview I did with you, Carl, a year ago, as well as links to my articles and my speaking engagements.
CE: We’ll have a link to darrinnordahl.com on our website www.equaltimeradio.com. We’ll also give a link to www.blueridgepress.com where you can read Darrin Nordahl’s latest article on Public Produce. Darrin, thanks so much for joining us again.
DN: Thank you, Carl. Always a pleasure.
CE: Coming up next here on Equal Time, we’ll be talking to Ray Shadis. He’s a consultant to the New England Coalition Against Nuclear Pollution about Entergy’s attempts to move the goal lines on the boundary between state actions in regulating Vermont Yankee and allowed federal actions. We’ll be back right after this.
Welcome back to Equal Time Radio. I’m Cart Etnier, today’s host. We’re going to be spending the rest of the time talking about Vermont Yankee, which has been more or less out of the news for a while, but yesterday in the Times Argus and Rockland Herald Susan Smallheer wrote:
The issue of federal preemption at the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor over last winter’s radioactive tritium leak continues to simmer. In a filing Friday with the Vermont Public Service Board, the New England Coalition, a non-profit anti-nuclear organization, said that Entergy Nuclear’s attempt to reexamine the issue of preemption is unnecessary, and the company has failed to offer any valid reasons for another bite at the legal apple.
With us to discuss the issue of preemption is New England Coalition’s Ray Shadis from Maine. Hello, Ray.
RS: Good afternoon. How’re you doing?
CE: Welcome back to the show. Doing well, thanks. So why don’t you begin by explaining to us what federal preemption is, what the theory is behind it, and how it works.
RS: Federal preemption with respect to nuclear power is something that came at us in the late 50s and early 60s when Congress was anticipating deploying commercial nuclear power stations. When they began to site the first few stations, the states where those sites were located wanted to have some say in the operation of the plants, how large they would be, what will happen to the nuclear waste, what sort of emergency provisions there might be in the event of a nuclear accident, those natural kind of concerns that come when the news hits you that a nuclear power station is coming your way. The nuclear industry, then just beginning, complained that if states regulated nuclear then they would be subject to overlapping regulations and the multiplicity of them; that they could not standardize their plans because each state would have its own regulation. Congress and the federal government then assumed what is termed The Doctrine of Federal Preemption, that is to say there would be one regulator of nuclear energy and that would be the federal government. Their concern was nuclear safety and that anything that related to nuclear safety would be under federal control. In exchange for this, the federal government guaranteed the states and the citizenry full panoply of hearing rights. So any major licensing action nuclear power station opens the door to citizens attempting to get a hearing and to go through the hearing processes. In the case of Vermont Yankee, it has its own unique little history because back in the year 2000-2001 when Entergy first came on the scene with a proposal to buy Vermont Yankee, New England Coalition and others warned the state that if the plant was purchased by an out-of-state entity and was run as a merchant plant, it would no longer be in the rate base, and there was no longer real effective regulation by the state. It is out there strictly under federal control. Entergy at that time had contemplated three major actions. This is something that came out in the investigations of the hearing. One action was the extended power upgrade; they plan to increase one big step the thermal power of Vermont Yankee by 120 per cent. The second was the deployment of…
CE: Increase the power by twenty percent…
RS: To 120 per cent… being too careless here… to 120 percent of what it was designed for. The second thing was the deployment of dry cask storage, to take the fuel from the overcrowded spent fuel pool, and start putting into dry cask cylinders in the outdoors. The third item was license renewal, to extend the license from 2012 when it’s scheduled to terminate, out to 2032. Entergy agreed at that point, that they would bring all three of these propositions before the Vermont Public Service Board and subject them to Vermont jurisdiction. The other thing that they agreed to at the time was to abide by all existing Vermont regulation and by all agreements that they have made with the state of Vermont. So now we wind the clock forward…
CE: Hold on a minute, Ray Shadis of the New England Coalition, so you’re saying that at the time that Entergy purchased Vermont Yankee from the Vermont utilities that owned it at the time, they agreed to pretty much give up any argument of federal preemption and the main issues that were facing Vermont Yankee at the time?
RS: Well the words ‘federal preemption’ were not mentioned. What they agreed to do was to submit their proposals for license extension, dry cask storage and power upgrade to the Vermont Public Service Board for their approval. By applying for what is termed a Certificate of Public Good, this triggers an investigative hearing process and the opportunity of course for citizen intervention under Vermont law. So they agreed to do that.
CE: Okay, so they agreed to do that, and now it sounds like they have changed their tune. I haven’t read their filings with the Public Service Board but I read quickly through last week’s filings by your organization, the New England Coalition, in which you were arguing very strongly that Entergy was wrong to be invoking federal preemption.
RS: Well, one of the things that comes out of this hearing process is that the Vermont Public Service Board under Vermont law has the right to condition or to add any conditions to any Certificate of Public Good they issue. In fact, because the agreement was in place, they added the conditions to the Certificate of Public Good for the sale that Vermont Yankee would come before them on these other issues. In our upgrade case one of the conditions they added would be that there would be inspections of each refueling outage for a certain period of time of the steam generator, that was a big piece of internal equipment the integrity of which was in question. Entergy abided by that. On the dry casks storage, New England Coalition had proposed a number of conditions. Entergy agreed to them in negotiations, but the Public Service Board embodied them in the Certificate of Public Good. For a line of sight barrier, height of the casks, spacing on the casks where regulation with respect to the maintenance of the casks… Entergy abided by these.
CE: But your filing last week was in the case of hearings the Public Service Board is holding about the leaks of tritiated water into Vermont’s ground water from Vermont Yankee.
RS: Not just tritiated water…
RS: …not just tritiated water, but contaminated water, service water, and we don’t know what level of contamination there might be from any assortment of chemicals that are used at Vermont Yankee. So it’s important because the initial filing, the initial complaint here was brought by Conservation Law Foundation, and joined by New England Coalition, and we pointed specifically to ground water contamination with both radioactive and non-radioactive contaminants.
CE: Okay, so there’s a securing process about ground water contamination from Vermont Yankee; New England coalition has filed some testimonies saying that Entergy’s preemption arguments don’t apply. Tell us what Entergy is arguing in this case.
RS: Well, the interesting part of this is that there’s a lot of federal case law with respect to preemption. As you can imagine, the industry’s been deployed for forty years, and the states have time and time again tried to define the boundaries of federal preemption. So it comes down to this: at this point the controlling case is Pacific Gas and Electric, and the issue is interpreting what the Supreme Court had to say about that case, and what the federal courts had to say about that case. And it comes down to this: the states cannot regulate when it comes to radioactive hazards, radioactive contamination, radioactive safety issues, and they are obliged to keep a real arm’s distance to those issues. Part of the ruling was that the states could not interfere in nuclear power plant operations where there were radioactive issues attached, radioactive contamination safety, and so on. What Entergy is attempting to do at this point is to stretch that sentence, and stretch the meaning of that sentence to include all nuclear power plant operations. This is something brand new.
CE: So Entergy wants to get out of state jurisdiction for anything having to do with their operations, you were saying.
RS: That is absolutely correct. That’s their position at this point, and this is a brand new position. I don’t know of any other instance where any facility has tried to go that far, and it’s certainly brand new for Entergy where they have ceded this regulatory purview to the state with respect to the dry cask storage, power upgrade, and license extension. But here they are trying to draw a much wider loop to include all nuclear power plant operations.
CE: We’re talking with Ray Shadis. He’s a consultant to the New England Coalition Against Nuclear Pollution. Could you tell us about the Public Service Department, the state agency which is tasked with representing the interest of the consumers, what their stance is, what the state can do versus what the federal government can do in the case of the contaminated ground water?
RS: All of the interveners, except for the Union, the IPEW, and Entergy, all the remaining interveners are Vermont Public Interest Research Group, Conservation Law Foundation, and the Department of Public Service, have all filed very good briefs defending the State’s right to regulate Vermont Yankee when it comes to non-radioactive safety issues.
CE: That would be significant, I think, because the Department of Public Service has often been criticized for being too friendly with Vermont Yankee.
RS: Well, the outcome of this case or any other case remains to be seen, but the department has been consistently defending its legal prerogatives. It’s a territorial kind of defense, and it’s perfectly reasonable. I do have to say this, that when it came to Entergy Nuclear-Vermont Yankee submitting to state’s authority for its Certificate of Public Good, that it was I think largely through our prompting, but nonetheless it was the Department of Public Service that negotiated a memorandum of understanding that the Public Service Board eventually embodied in its ruling. They have been taking the lead on negotiation on any number of issues. Usually their focus is on the financial aspects of it; their interpretation of protecting the citizenry is generally narrowed to an issue of what the electric rates are going to be.
CE: Okay, we’ve got time for a quick question from Dick. Dick, thank you for waiting patiently.
Dick: Just some points first, then the question, if you don’t mind. Regarding the increase in the output to a hundred and twenty percent of the original capacity that is a commonplace occurrence that I know for a fact. There are numerous other plants throughout the country that have done similar upgrading of their units. That was built in the original design of these units. And for your guest’s information also, I assisted in the building of three different nuclear facilities so I do have some intimate knowledge of that fact. The safety factors that were built into these original designs certainly permitted that. Down the road, many of them, before they are even operational or licensed, they increase the capacity without any question from anybody. It just happened that they went from a 600 to a 700-megawatt facility; it was done without even anything other than at the licensing time it reads on their license…
CE: We’re about out of time, Dick. Can you get to the question please?
Dick: The question is this: what is the real objective of this organization, to shut down Yankee just to shut it down? Or are you trying to objectively improve safety issues, which you allege? But I’m questioning whether there are any real issues there in the first place?
CE: Good question.
Dick: The radioactivity that has been discharged from this facility as well as a number of the other ones is below the allowable levels anyway.
CE: Okay, thank you for the question. We’ve got one minute for Ray Shadis to respond.
RS: Okay, after hearing that, I don’t know where to start. Let me just start with the goals of New England Coalition. New England Coalition started in 1971, same time as Vermont Yankee was licensed. By basically asking questions about safety and then trying to enlarge the envelope of safety, increase safety margins, we move some of the danger. That was the first and primary goal. That did grow into the conviction that Vermont Yankee was unsafe at any speed and needed to be shut down. That has been the coalition’s position from the late 1970s forward. Nothing has changed. We work everyday to try to increase safety margins, to reduce the dangers of the plant, and yes absolutely would very much like to see it closed because we think it represents an untenable danger.
CE: Okay. Ray Shadis, consultant to the New England Coalition against Nuclear Pollution, thanks so much for joining us again in today’s show.
RS: You’re welcome.
CE: You can find out more about the New England Coalition at their website www.necnp.org. We’ll link to that on our website www.equaltimeradio.com. We’ll also have podcasts of the shows that Traven and I host. Well, ‘energy, food and the local economy’ is the theme on my show. I’m Carl Etnier. We’ve been looking at public land available for growing food means a two-fer - jobs for people plus fresh food for food pantries or for farmers’ markets. And Vermont Yankee, we just got a taste that the story’s not over yet, and that will come to a head in the Governor’s race where Peter Shumlin and Brian Dubie have very different views of Vermont Yankee. That’s it for today’s Equal Time. I’ll be back next week at this same time. Thanks to Dick for the call. Artie Levin produced the show. Thanks for tuning in.
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