Yankee protesters converge on Statehouse
By STEVEN M. PAPPAS
Staff writer | November 18,2012
MONTPELIER — Gary Sachs of Brattleboro was a long way from the gates of Vermont Yankee or the headquarters for Entergy on Saturday. He was in Montpelier, bringing his protest against the aging nuclear power plant and its owner to the steps of the Statehouse.
“I think it is important for those of us who know about Entergy and Entergy’s role in the state to be here and call them out on it because they are not being fair. They have not honored their word. They have violated agreements they have made with the state. They have not done what they said they would do,” Sachs said, standing outside Montpelier City Hall, waiting to line up to march down Main and State streets to the Statehouse.
Sachs, a longtime and vocal opponent of Vermont Yankee, drove up with several other activists and protesters from the Brattleboro area. In the crowd of about 125 people — many of them holding props, signs and slogans — Sachs said about 20 of the people were from his neck of the state.
He said they will go where they need to to make sure their message is heard.
Shortly before 1 p.m., the crowd, under police escort, made its way through the capital city. A three-piece band led the march, which included protesters as young as 4 and several in their 80s. Many of the protesters in Montpelier on Saturday were grass-roots activists, including members of town energy committees and church groups. Protesters from Keene, N.H., a town located across the border from Vermont Yankee, as well as individuals from neighboring Massachusetts towns, also were in the crowd.
They carried signs that stated “Put ‘er down” and “Freedom from corporate tyranny.” Many protesters carried pre-printed cards stating, “Retire Vermont Yankee as planned.”
At the Statehouse, the group — led by a dozen speakers — reiterated many of the reasons why they believe the Public Service Board should reject Entergy’s Certificate of Public Good, a request to remain licensed for another 20 years: reliability, lack of economic benefit, waste, pollution, broken promises, and more.
But there was one notable irony that lobbyist Bob Stannard pointed out to the gathering.
“You know you are making history today,” he said. “You know why? This is the first time people have come together in the state of Vermont to support the Public Service Board.”
On Monday evening, at locations across the state including the Department of Labor in Montpelier, members of the public will have the opportunity to testify before the board, outlining their concerns about keeping the nuclear power plant operational.
Historically, the PSB has been the target of much of the activists’ concerns on the Vermont Yankee issue.
And while the plea to offer testimony on Monday evening was repeated throughout the protest, the crowd was well aware of their efforts up to Saturday, and the rallying cry to keep up the fight at all levels was made.
Johanna Miller, the energy program director for Vermont Natural Resources Council, told the crowd, “Thank you for showing up today. Thank you for showing up on so many days before, and for investing countless hours to do the right thing and say goodbye to Vermont Yankee-Entergy. ... It has served its useful life. It is time for it to go. I am glad to see we are here in solidarity. We have a brighter energy future ahead of us (without Yankee).”
“(Entergy) is very persistent. They have a lot of money at stake in this debate,” said Sen. Anthony Pollina, a Progressive who represents Washington County. “Unfortunately for them, they are not as persistent as Vermonters are. We have even more at stake in this debate. ... That persistence is going to pay off.”
Inside the Statehouse, the Progressive caucus was meeting. At one point, as a show of solidarity, the entire caucus — about two dozen members — also joined the crowd.
Pollina pointed back to 2010, when the Vermont Senate voted against the relicensing of Vermont Yankee. He described that day as a “homecoming for citizen activism” because of all of the people who were crammed into the Statehouse for that historic vote. “We got here today because of all of you and all of us ... It is that kind of work that has to continue.”
Deb Katz of the Citizens Awareness Network yelled to the crowd, “We are Vermont Yankee’s employer and we are saying ‘you’re fired.’ We’ve had enough.”
Katz was critical of Entergy’s management in regard to informing state leaders about maintenance, underground leaks at Yankee, as well as questions raised about testimony given to officials that proved inaccurate. “When they talk about reliable, you talk about how they can’t be trusted.”
Katz also urged the crowd to tell the PSB to turn down Entergy’s request.
“It is essential we all stay involved at this point,” she said. “It is essential the Public Service Board has our support. They need to know we still care, and that we still say ‘no.’”
Organizers said given all of the other activities that were scheduled Saturday that took away some of their numbers, they were pleased with the turnout.
Sachs summed up, “We come because we know it’s important. We will always come out because of that.”