In opening statements Monday to Federal Judge J. Garvan Murtha, Entergy's lead lawyer claimed that safety of Vermont's only nuclear power plant is at the core of the company's case. A matter, she said, that can only be regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The NRC has already re-licensed Vermont Yankee for another 20 years past the 2012 closure date and legal experts say the state has an uphill battle trying to shut Yankee down.
"They have the constitutional duty to prove that they would have done the exact same thing if they weren't regulating for safety reasons, so again, it's really shifting the burden to the state to really make out its case," said Cheryl Hanna with Vermont Law School.
Last year Vermont lawmakers overwhelming voted not to issue the power plant a certificate of public good to keep operating. Assistant Attorney General Scott Kline stated that the case is not about safety and rather about bad business practices and Entergy's unwillingness to follow Vermont law.
Much of Monday's witness testimony focused on economics. Two senior level Entergy employees explained how the company is a wholesale nuclear plant selling power all over the New England grid. Which means Vermont rate payers are not directly at risk.
"Essentially the state doesn't need Entergy and Entergy doesn't need the state, and because that message came out fairly clearly, that Entergy doesn't need the state and the state doesn't need Entergy, it really undermines the state's argument that it is regulating for economic reasons," Hannah said.
But others disagree. "I think the state has a very strong case here," said Sandra Levine with the Conservation Law Foundation. She says the case is simply about business and a deep mistrust between the parties. "Bottom line -- Entergy was not going to be a favorable partner for the state of Vermont going forward and the state has every right to consider that and act on that," Levine said.
The President of Entergy, John Herron, who was the first witness to take the stand, declined comment leaving court.
Legal experts say the judge is likely to take his time with the ruling. It could come in about a month's time. Because they say an appeal is probable no matter which side comes out on top.
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