WASHINGTON — States cannot shut down nuclear plants over safety worries, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled on Wednesday, upholding a lower court’s decision that allowed the Vermont Yankee plant to keep running despite a seven-year effort by the Vermont Legislature to close it.
“The nuclear power industry has just been delivered a tremendous victory against the attempt by any state to shut down federally regulated nuclear power plants,” said Kathleen Sullivan, a lawyer for Entergy, which owns Vermont Yankee.
In hearings and floor debate, Vermont legislators referred often to the idea that they could not legislate over the safety of the plant, which is on the Connecticut River near the Massachusetts border, and would have to find other reasons to close it.
“Vermont tried to escape the prohibition by saying, ‘Oh, no, we were really trying to encourage energy diversity,’ ” Ms. Sullivan said.
The court also found that because the reactor operated in a competitive market for electricity, Vermont could not close it because it was too expensive.
The appeals court struck down one finding by the lower court, related to the Constitution’s interstate commerce clause, that would have given Entergy the ability to seek reimbursement from Vermont for its legal costs.
The state has not decided whether to appeal, said Christopher Recchia, the commissioner of the Vermont Public Service Department, which represents consumers before the body that regulates electricity rates. It has also not yet issued the “certificate of public good,” he said.
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