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Vermont bill would hold Entergy to promise

Dave Gram, Associated Press

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- Vermont lawmakers are looking to firm up a promise made by the owner of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant that it would take extra steps to clean up the plant's Vernon site.

Entergy Corp., based in New Orleans, promised when it bought Vermont Yankee in 2002 that it would take steps beyond the minimum required by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to restore the site after the plant no longer generates electricity.

The House Natural Resources and Energy Committee rescheduled, from Thursday until next week, testimony on a bill that would require Entergy to put $40 million into a special trust fund to pay for the difference between the federal and the more stringent state cleanup requirements.

An Entergy spokesman did not immediately reply Thursday to an email request for comment. The company has voiced strong opposition to similar legislation in the past, and former Gov. Jim Douglas twice vetoed similar bills.

The cleanup bill is expected to reopen a front in a long-running political and legal war between Vermont and its only nuclear plant. Gov. Peter Shumlin and fellow Democrats sought previously to force the plant to close through a series of legislative maneuvers that prompted Entergy to sue the state in federal court in 2011.

The company prevailed in the first round, but the case is now before a federal appeals court.

The new legislation also comes against the continuing backdrop of accusations by state officials that Entergy is breaking promises it made when it bought Vermont Yankee. Chief among them was a promise company officials made that they would shut the reactor down if they didn't have a new state permit in hand by March of 2012.

Vermont Yankee continues to operate 11 months past that deadline, with Entergy arguing that it was interference in the form of state laws that slowed the company's progress toward getting a new permit on time.

"They've had a history of backing away from agreements and promises, and we want to make sure we protect the residents of Vernon and, by extension, Vermont taxpayers from liability related to decommissioning the plant," said Rep. Margaret Cheney, vice chair of the House committee and a lead sponsor of the bill.

When a nuclear plant shuts down, the federal government requires that the reactor and other radioactive components be removed and radioactivity be reduced to a level deemed safe by the NRC. Some states, including Vermont, set lower radioactivity limits.

Lawmakers say that when Entergy bought Vermont Yankee, the company agreed to do a more thorough job of site restoration when the plant shuts down. They point to a memorandum of understanding signed by the state and Entergy at the time that said "the site will be restored by removal of all structures, and, if appropriate, regrading and reseeding the land."