Anti-Nuke Activists Celebrate Brattleboro Court Ruling

On July 18, a federal judge in Brattleboro ruled that the state of Vermont had a better case than Entergy Corporation of Louisiana. Entergy wanted the judge to force Vermont to let Entergy run its Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant until 2032. Vermont wants the nuke permanently closed by March 2012. “The fight is not over, but we are in a much better position now than we would have been if this decision had gone the other way,” said Vermont attorney general Bill Sorrell.

On July 18 the judge refused to force the state to let Entergy run Vermont Yankee past its scheduled closing date in March, while the case of Entergy v. Shumlin goes through the federal court system. Peter Shumlin has lived in Putney, Vermont, near Brattleboro, for almost his entire life. He is Vermont’s governor and a supporter of a nuclear free Vermont. Attorney general Sorrell said he would “be surprised” if Entergy v. Shumlin doesn’t end up at the U.S. supreme court.

The trial of Entergy v. Shumlin will begin at the federal court in Brattleboro on September 12 at 9 a.m. It’s likely to last three days, and the judge is expected to issue a decision in December. If he rules in favor of Entergy, Vermont Yankee will probably run until the federal appeals court in New York City and/or the U.S. supreme court overturn that decision. That wouldn’t happen for years, if it ever does happen. Experts disagree on whether Entergy would ever re-open Vermont Yankee if it’s forced to close for a year or more, and then gets permission to re-open from a higher court.

Two professors at the Vermont Law School on July 19 disagreed on whether Entergy or Vermont will ultimately win the legal fight.

More than 100 activists rallied on June 23 and June 24 from 7:30 a.m. until 9 a.m. outside the federal court in Brattleboro where the injunction trial of Entergy v. Shumlin was held. There will almost certainly be similar rallies in September. Organizers can be reached via


Vermont Yankee is three miles from Massachusetts and a stone’s throw from New Hampshire.

In April, Entergy sued Shumlin because the people of Vermont used the democratic process to order Entergy to close Vermont Yankee in March 2012.

Vermont Yankee, which opened in 1972, has been plagued by problems in the past few years, including a fire that could be seen from miles away, and a flood when hundreds of thousands of gallons of water poured out of a collapsed cooling tower. Vermont Yankee is the same make and model (General Electric Mark 1) as the reactors that are spewing deadly poison into the air and water in Japan.

In February 2010, as president of the state senate, Shumlin led the legislative vote to close Yankee. In November, he was elected governor. Closing the reactor was a center-piece of his campaign.

The trial is being held in the courtroom upstairs from the post office on Main Street in downtown Brattleboro. The rallies were on the sidewalk in front of the post office, said organizer Debra Stoleroff. She works for the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance

VYDA is an all-volunteer group. Another group that's working to close Vermont Yankee is the Vermont Public Interest Research Group

VPIRG has full-time, paid staff.

Stoleroff said, “VYDA and other organizations are currently planning actions leading up to and following March 21, 2012. This is the day that Vermont Yankee's license to operate expires. If you are interested either in supporting or engaging in non-violent civil disobedience, now is the time to get educated and involved. We are hoping to have an action planning camp sometime in August. If you are interested in forming affinity groups for actions, attending the camp would be a great way to get informed and involved."

Her e-mail address is

The Massachusetts attorney general, Martha Coakley, said in May that she will actively support Shumlin in the trial of Entergy v. Shumlin.

On June 16, the five members of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (who are appointed by President Obama, whose election campaign received funding from the nuclear power industry) refused to say whether they had voted in secret on June 15 on whether to ask the U.S. Justice Department to actively support Entergy in the trial of Entergy v. Shumlin. The NRC gets 98 percent of its funding from the industry it "regulates." The NRC has more than 4,000 employees. Since there are only 65 nuclear power plants in the U.S., closing even one of them would be likely to result in dozens of NRC employees losing their jobs.

On June 16, there was a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is a member of the committee. He asked the NRC members about their involvement in Entergy v. Shumlin.

"My understanding is that there was a vote yesterday at the NRC on the issue in fact of whether or not the NRC should be involved in this case," Sanders told NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko. "Can you tell me what the vote was, Mr. Commissioner?"

Jaczko and the other four commissioners refused to answer. They said the vote was secret.

Obama also appoints, and decides whether to promote, federal judges -- including the judge who will decide Entergy v. Shumlin.

Dr. Mike Rotkin is a nationally known expert on the relationships among powerful corporations, grassroots movements, and the federal judicial system. He teaches at the University of California, and was elected mayor of Santa Cruz (population 57,000) five times. In an interview with the Valley Post, Rotkin said Vermonters, and residents of New Hampshire and Massachusetts, can influence the judge’s decision in Entergy v. Shumlin. “Judges would like to maintain the illusion that the judicial process is never influenced by political considerations,” Rotkin said. “The reality is quite the opposite.”

Rotkin said people must act collectively if they want a judge to stand up to a powerful corporation. Preferably this should be done in highly visible ways, such as participating in marches and rallies. But writing letters to the editor of newspapers that judges are likely to read and signing petitions can also be effective.

"Nothing has a bigger impact on judicial decisions, from the local municipal court to the U.S. Supreme Court, than the judges' understanding of what the public wants to see them do,” Professor Rotkin said. “In Plessy v. Ferguson in 1898, the U.S. Supreme Court validated segregated schools. In Brown v. Topeka Board of Education in 1954, the same court overturned that decision. What changed was public opinion and the willingness of African Americans and their supporters to speak out and demonstrate against segregation."

More information on Vermont Yankee, and the grassroots movement that last year led the state to order Entergy to shut the reactor, is at:


This is an updated version of an article that first appeared on April 18.


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