REALITY CHECK: An Unexpected Shock -- Whaaaat?
The headline of the Jan. 2, 2014 "Banner" read as follows:. "Decision to close Vt. Yankee an unexpected shock." This is the final proof that the anti-nuclear forces in Vermont were as shortsightedly ignorant of the predictable consequences of their crusade as the pro-nuclear people accused them of being.
If they were "shocked" by their success in getting Vt. Yankee to close, then they didn't really expect to win in the first place. It might be that the anti-nukies were on some kind of feel good campaign that became self-perpetuating as it began to attract gullible followers among the public as well as the Legislature. Or, perhaps, did the anti-nuke campaign become a runaway truck that lost its brakes? Maybe some of them, the professional protester types, were just practicing to see if they could learn any good moves that might work elsewhere?
If you scan the plot of this story it becomes clear that the anti-nuke crusade really didn't win anything. They spent five years (or more) trying to prove that the plant was unsafe, but that accusation was shot down by the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Court battles that Vt. Yankee says cost them $5,000,000 to defend resulted in the Federal courts awarding Vt. Yankee the victory. We can't say for sure how much taxpayer money was wasted in those trials because much of our legal work was done by salaried state employees, not $1,000 per hour firms. The cost in time and energy spent by our government in this matter, which diverted them from their primary tasks, is impossible to calculate.
I am shocked that anyone professes to be shocked by this scenario. The state spent five years bashing the Entergy Corporation in every possible way, why should they act surprised when Entergy gives up? Entergy's ostensible reason for abandoning the fight is that the plant was no longer economically viable for a combination of reasons. If this is true, they were going to close soon anyway, so why fight so hard to remain open? I suspect that the whole "no longer profitable" rationale is shorthand for, "O.K., you want a divorce, here's your divorce." The generous exit package Entergy has put on the table is more of a settlement payment to avoid long term alimony than anything else.
My next question is the hard one. What will the anti-nukies do to help pay the costs of their "win"? The town of Vernon funds half of its budget with Vt. Yankee taxes. If the plant is closed, it is pretty close to valueless, so what replaces it as a tax ratable? A recent article in the Keene, NH, "Sentinel" points out that as a good neighbor Vt. Yankee contributed about $165,000 in 2013 to various charities such as United Way and the Brattleboro Drop In Center. The Drop In Center serves as a food shelf and daytime shelter for homeless people. Put down your anti signs and reach for your check books. I'm not holding my breath.
The most devastating cost of the Vt. Yankee plant closing will be the loss of six hundred jobs. Some will be immediately lost, some over a span of a few years. About half of these jobs are six figure incomes. The annual payroll of Vt. Yankee is in the neighborhood of $69,000,000. Any drop in that figure puts a big hit on consumer purchases from local merchants, not to mention the lesser amount that the Vermont Dept. of Taxes will vacuum up. The odds are that the majority of these used-to-be-employed people are not going to find similar work in Windham and Bennington counties. How many will move away is anyone's guess, but the prospect that most of them will be absorbed by existing industries or by significant new industrial development is bleak. "New industrial development" is almost an oxymoron in Vermont. This is especially true in the southern counties. The real shocker will be if any good at all results from the Vt. Yankee closing.
Weiland Ross is a Banner columnist.
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