MONTPELIER, Vt. — U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders said Thursday he had been told the U.S. Justice Department wont intervene in the federal lawsuit being brought against the state of Vermont by t he owners of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, but the Justice Department responded by saying it hasnt made a decision.
The announcement by the independent senator from Vermont came one week after New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. went to federal court to seek an order blocking Vermonts efforts to close its lone nuclear plant when its initial, 40-year license expires next March.
Vermont Yankee got a 20-year license extension this past March from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Entergy maintains Vermont is pre-empted by federal law from trying to close the plant, as it is by denying it a state certificate of public good.
Sanders announcement came two weeks after the senator used an appearance by all five NRC commissioners before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, on which Sanders serves, to grill the commissioners about a secret vote Sanders said the commission had taken the day before to urge the Justice Department to intervene in the Vermont Yankee lawsuit.
The commissioners refused to answer Sanders questions, saying they are allowed under the law to keep deliberations concerning legal matters under wraps.
Through a spokeswoman, the Justice Department said the agency has not yet made a decision.
“The department has not decided whether to intervene in this case,” said department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler. “We will continue to monitor the situation. The department has assured Senator Sanders that his views and the views of Vermont officials are being actively considered.”
Entergy spokesman Larry Smith said the company would have no comment.
Sanders called the word he had received of the Justice Departments decision not to intervene good news.
“While I recognize that it is the responsibility of the Department of Justice to monitor developments in all ongoing litigation, I am pleased that they have no plans to intervene, and I am confident that the department will see no reason to intervene in the future,” Sanders said in a statement released by his office.
Gov. Peter Shumlin led an effort in the Vermont Senate when he was leader there last year to block the state Public Service Board from issuing the certificate permitting Vermont Yankee from operating after next March. Shumlin also hailed the news Thursday, and issued a statement praising Sanders efforts.
Vermont is the only state in the country with a law requiring a yes vote from both houses of its Legislature before regulators can issue a certificate for the continued operation of a nuclear plant. The state Senate voted 26-4 last year to halt that process, effectively denying Vermont Yankee its needed permit. The House has never acted.
Entergy filed suit in federal court in April, and asked for a preliminary injunction to allow it to continue operating while the lawsuit is pending. U.S. District Judge J. Garvan Murtha held a two-day hearing on that request last week. He has not yet issued a decision.