.... try selling Vermont's purity to tourists and consumers when we are stuck with a nuclear waste dump or suffer the results of a leak or accident at an aging Vermont Yankee. What we need is a statewide energy policy, and we need it now. One that takes into consideration the real cost of electric generation, including its long-term toxic wastes, and one that considers the welfare of our citizens, our children's children, and the profit of Vermont's wholesome industries, not those of some out-of-state nuclear power owner. I would rather see windmills on ridgelines and solar panels reflecting across all Vermont roofs than risk the environmental purity of our state to the silent menace of radioactive contamination.
Pretty standard fare in Vermont. The state is full of people who talk like that. But the man who composed those words is, in fact, not just any opponent of nuclear power. Arnie Gunderson was recently appointed to the Public Oversight Panel for the Comprehensive Vertical Inspection of Vermont Yankee.
And for once, an inflated, august title for what is merely one more government committee may actually be justified. This body, you see, has the power to materially transform life in Vermont – by recommending that the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant not be relicensed to operate after the expiration of its original license in 2012. For reasons of safety, it should be said. Not aesthetics or because the plant violates the pantheistic sensibilities of some Vermonters.
Gunderson, as the quote above demonstrates, is not exactly an unbiased evaluator. He plainly has an agenda. And has had one for years now. Going back to the days when he was being paid by the New England Coalition to provide expert testimony regarding the sale of Vermont Yankee to the Entergy Corporation.
He was, needless to say, against it.
Clearly, Mr. Gunderson is emotionally invested in shutting down Yankee. Whatever his credentials – and they are impressive – he is not a disinterested observer.
So, why was he appointed to a position on this panel? Because Senator Peter Shumlin was doing the appointing and he has been waging jihad against Yankee for years.
Mr. Peter Bradford was appointed to the same board by Speaker of the House – and Democratic candidate for governor – Gaye Symington. Like Gunderson, Bradford has not been bashful about his feelings regarding nuclear power, having expressed such opinions as:
"Those who tell you... 'Nuclear energy just may be the energy source that can save our planet from catastrophic climate change' are inviting you into a dangerous la-la land in which nuclear power will be oversubsidised and under-scrutinised while other more promising and more rapid responses to climate change are neglected and... greenhouse gases... continue to pollute the skies at dangerous rates."
While Mr. Bradford was appointed by Ms. Symington, he has his own ties to Senator Shumlin. Bradford was employed by Shumlin as a consultant during the 2007 session of the legislature. He was paid $125 an hour ("not to exceed $12,000) to "develop and review cost and fiscal estimates, legislative options, and other recommendations relating to possible sources of financing for fossil fuel energy efficiency programs for buildings."
This was the time frame during which Senator Shumlin proposed a tax on Entergy of some $25 million to finance an all-fuels efficiency initiative.
Like Mr. Gunderson, Bradford
has an impressive enough resumé. But
he is not a neutral, non-partisan player, having made campaign
contributions to, among others, Peter Welch, Pat Leahy, John Kerry, and
Ralph Nader. He donated to Senator Shumlin's campaign for Lt. Governor
and also contributed , in 2006, to the Vermont House
Democratic Political Action Committee. As Speaker, Ms. Symington
effectively controlled that PAC.
The appointments of Mr. Gunderson and Mr. Bradford suggest not so much the assembling of a body of experts to conduct a rational, scientific inquiry as the tactics of an adversarial proceeding. A high stakes class action suit, for instance, in which the opposing lawyers round up "expert witnesses" who testify for pay and can be counted on to say what the attorneys who are paying them want the jury to hear.
Does anyone expect that Mr. Gunderson and Mr. Bradford will conclude that the plant can be safely relicensed?
And, as Emerson Lynn and others have ruefully argued, will anyone take seriously the conclusions of the panel on which they serve, whatever it reports?
One wonders why, if the Yankee opponents are so resolutely certain that the plant is unsafe, they feel the need to pack the committee in this fashion.
But, then, maybe Mr. Gunderson and Mr. Bradford got the nod because Al Gore, Ralph Nader, and Helen Caldicott were not available.