The reactions by the two leading candidates for governor on the latest news from Vermont Yankee speaks volumes about each candidate’s approach to leadership — and each has its pros and cons.
Democrat Peter Shumlin, a long-time proponent of Vermont Yankee until shortly after it was purchased by Entergy, came out swinging and is more convinced than ever that a tough approach needs to be taken by the state to avoid sticking Vermont taxpayers with unforeseen costs down the road as a consequence of the tritium leaks.
Shumlin immediately called for Entergy to mount a greater effort to pump out the contaminated water from around the plant (there are currently only two pumps being employed for that use, and Shumlin has cited spills at other plants in which numerous pumps were put into place to catch contaminated water) and suggested that Entergy be held responsible for providing non-contaminated water to the residents of Vernon if that town’s ground water is found to be compromised later on.
It’s a tough approach, but it’s important to note that his suggestion is based on what other nuclear power plants in the country have done successfully in response to similar leaks. And it’s equally important to note that Shumlin’s first instinct is to protect the Vermont taxpayer from future liabilities, not to protect Entergy.
Republican Brian Dubie, on the other hand, has backed off of his earlier unqualified support of Vermont Yankee and Entergy and is now trying to qualify it with requests that Entergy demonstrate that the aging plant can be safely operated. Still, Dubie continues to throw his support to extend the plant’s operating license for another 20 years and has not suggested any further compensation from Entergy as a result of the spill.
Opponents of Shumlin’s will fault his eagerness to say “I told you so,” and with reason. He has been quick to categorize the leaks as hugely significant, while other state officials and, of course, Entergy, have played down the consequences.
“I have been saying for a long time that the crisis at Vermont Yankee is going to be both costly and devastating for those who live near the plant,” Shumlin said on Monday. “How many leaks and lies does Brian Dubie have to live through before he will stand up for the people of Vermont instead of the stockholders of Entergy Louisiana? We need a governor who gets it right the first time and has the courage to stand up to corporate power when it is wrong.”
It’s that bravado that rubs some people the wrong way, and it borders on being alarmist. The spill might turn out to be the biggest “man-made disaster” Vermont has ever faced, as Shumlin says, but we don’t know that now, and saying it is so is akin to fear-mongering.
Dubie’s response, however, was almost an apology for Entergy. He continues to minimize the potential cost of the leaks to Vermonters, has not commented on whether Vernon’s water supply might become contaminated and what to do about it if it happens (put it on Vermonters’ tax bills as an Entergy bailout?), and has given no indication that he would ask Entergy for anything other than their verbal assurance they’ll run the plant safely to get his continued blessing for the plant’s extension.
Dubie’s approach, in fact, mirrors that of George W. Bush’s administration when it comes to big business: champion lower taxes (but without any evidence it will stimulate more business growth), lower regulations (often at the expense of the environment), and run interference for big industry profits even though the public may be asked to pick up the tab if disaster strikes. Dubie even sided with Entergy when the company tried to create a shadow company to take on the task of decommissioning while letting Entergy (the company with the deep pockets) off the hook.
As Americans have learned time after time during the Bush years, when government drops the ball and lets industry operate without due restraint, industry does what it does best: maximize profits. And that is not usually in the best interests of the common good, as was proved by the collapse of the financial industry and real estate market, BP’s disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, among dozens of other examples.
Shumlin knows that a strong state leader carrying a big stick is crucial when it comes to dealing with Vermont Yankee’s recent spill if the public is to avoid being charged (directly or indirectly) for a company’s misdeeds or poor execution. More important is how the next governor will deal with the decommissioning costs of that plant, and who will pay — Vermont taxpayers or Entergy?
Shumlin’s approach may grate on a person’s sensibilities, but he was right early on with Entergy’s management of Vermont Yankee and his early skepticism has been prophetic. Why is that? Because he studies the issues; he applies a critical approach to understanding a problem and doesn’t accept the pabulum of industry double-speak; and his first instinct is to watch out for the little guy.
It’s another stark contrast between these two candidates in the race for the state’s top job.
Angelo S. Lynn