January 20th, 2012

BREAKING: Entergy Wins in Murtha Decision, Because Apparently Lawmakers Considered Their Constituents’ Safety

by Philip Baruth

In case you’ve yet to get the disturbing news, Judge Murtha offered the State of Vermont what reporters have apparently agreed to call a “stinging rebuke” in the case against Entergy and the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant down in Vernon. The Legislature had no place, in Murtha’s opinion, attempting to regulate the nuclear facility “over safety concerns.” Yes, that’s right. Safety was a no-no.

The damning evidence? “Vermont’s efforts, Murtha said, were replete with references to safety. ‘There is evidence the statute was motivated by and grounded in radiological safety concerns,’ Murtha wrote in his 102-page decision.” And safety concerns, so the reasoning goes, are entirely and utterly a Federal concern.

And so, in a deft Catch-22, the only way that Vermont lawmakers might have protected the safety and security of their constituents — from a plant shown time and time again to be leaking radioactive material — would have been to successfully counterfeit an utter lack of concern with the issue in its entirety.

So this decision is now a part of history; it may be repealed, or not, depending on the Attorney General’s sense of the odds. But can we just, for a moment, pull back from the decision, the state and federal law involved, and Talk Sense briefly?

In essence, Murtha’s decision castigates state lawmakers for intervening on behalf of the safety of their constituents, their Prime Directive — more important than keeping schools robust, streets swept, taxes low, more important than any other issue can ever be, even in theory.

His disapproving reference to lawmakers’ use of the word “safety” — driven home by Murtha’s 192 uses of the word in his own decision — would, in a properly calibrated world, strike reasonable people as absurd. That’s right, you heard me.

To put it baldly, legislators should consider the safety of their constituents, radiological and otherwise, and they should do so unremittingly. And admitting that they’re doing so should not, in effect, be a crime with disastrous consequences. Legislators should not allow an overly lenient Federal regulatory structure to spook them from that obligation, because it is — in a word that VDB rarely uses — sacred.

So yes, the Feds have throughout the history of the nuclear industry denied states hosting nuclear facilities the right to discuss or demand safety. But that doesn’t make it right, or reasonable. And it’s neither.

So this decision stands for now. But the fight goes on. Allow VDB to quote one Ethan Allen, who had his own issues with Outside authority, and swore that rather than fail he would “retire with the hardy Green Mountain Boys into the desolate caverns of the mountains and wage war with human nature at large.”

What Ethan said.