Public Sold Out by Vermont Public Service Board (VPSB)
keith harmon snow
(Article appeared as an OP-ED in the Brattleboro Reformer, Brattleboro VT, in December 2003.)
Several of the members of the Vermont Public Service Board (VPSB)
charged with defending the interests of ratepayers in Vermont in a watchdog capacity with Entergy and Vermont Yankee (and, by extension, serving regional ratepayers on the New England grid), have insider relations with the nuclear industry.
Throughout the past few years of VPSB hearings and negotiations with Entergy Corporation, Michael Dworkin, VPSB Chairman (1999-2005), has concurrently served on the Advisory Board for the Electric Power Research Institute, or EPRI, a nuclear industry think-tank and public relations firm funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and all major nuclear and electricity corporations.
EPRI serves to further nuclear interests of every stripe, from gaining public acceptance of nuclear waste to public approval for “next-generation” nuclear. EPRI states its purpose, in its website, as “Helping to preserve the nuclear power option by providing the scientific and technical basis to facilitate license renewal for existing plants and the development of designs for new plants.”
EPRI was founded in 1971. Among its first major initiatives
was helping to dismantle emerging solar technology programs, and forwarding the
development of the 1000-megawatt commercial prototype of the liquid metal fast
breeder reactor (LMFBR). Teamed with the U.S. Department of Energy, EPRI is
leading an international, industry-wide effort on the Advanced Light
Water Reactor (ALWR) Program.
VPSB Chair Michael Dworkin is also a member of the Board of Directors of EPRI’s Electricity Innovation Institute (E2I) that appears to be working to put a “clean” energy face in front of EPRI’s nuclear interests.
Similar to the Dworkin conflict of interest, since 1995, VPSB board member (2001-2007) David Coen has been affiliated with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, or NARUC.
How does NARUC serve the nuclear industry? According to their site NARUC’s mission “is to serve the public interest by improving the quality and effectiveness of public utility regulation.”
One of NARUC’s programs teams them with the US DOE in a cooperative arrangement to staff the Nuclear Waste Program Office. Giving the appearance of a “regulatory” body serving the public interest, NARUC is smoothing the way for the public to accept the nuclear industry’s plans for dealing with a burgeoning industry problem: spent nuclear fuel, irradiated reactor internals, and other highly radioactive nuclear wastes.
“VPSB gave way in terms of the sale of VT Yankee to Entergy,” said Debbie Katz, director of the Shelburne Falls-based Citizen’s Awareness Network. “VPSB gave way in terms of the rights to the decommissioning trust fund, leaving ratepayers in Massachusetts and Vermont to shoulder the burden of millions of dollars worth of costs. They are in the process of approving Entergy’s plan for a power ‘uprate’. They could have helped Vermont divest of nuclear power, but they didn’t. They gave the veneer of public participation and serving the public interest, but the bottom line [of VPSB] seems to be to support these corporations in whatever they want to do.”
Given the industry ties of Dworkin and Coen, both should have been required to recuse themselves from all dealings involving the nuclear power related decisions made over the past three years. While the information about their affiliations is posted on the VPSB web site, somewhere along the lines there was a major oversight in allowing two nuclear advocates such a major role in determining the outcome of fundamental decisions involving public health and safety in Vermont and New England.